Janet Damita Jo Jackson (born May 16, 1966) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, and dancer. A prominent figure in popular culture, she is known for sonically innovative, socially conscious and sexually provocative records, and elaborate stage shows.
The tenth and youngest child of the Jackson family, she began her career with the variety television series The Jacksons in 1976 and went on to appear in other television shows throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, including Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes, and Fame. After signing a recording contract with A&M Records in 1982, she became a pop icon following the release of her third and fourth studio albums Control (1986) and Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989). Her collaborations with record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis incorporated elements of rhythm and blues, funk, disco, rap, and industrial beats, which led to crossover success in popular music.
Having sold over 100 million records, Jackson is one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. She has amassed an extensive catalog, with singles such as “Nasty”, “Rhythm Nation”, “That’s the Way Love Goes”, “Together Again” and “All for You”; she holds the record for the most consecutive top-ten entries on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart by a female artist with 18. In 2008, Billboard placed her number seven on its list of the Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, and in 2010 ranked her fifth among the “Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years”. In December 2016, the magazine named her the second most successful dance club artist of all-time after Madonna. She has been cited as an inspiration among numerous performers. Jackson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
The youngest sister of the “precious Jackson clan”, Janet Jackson has striven to distance her professional career from that of her older brother Michael and the rest of the Jackson family. Steve Dollar of Newsday wrote that “[s]he projects that home girl-next-door quality that belies her place as the youngest sibling in a family whose inner and outer lives have been as poked at, gossiped about, docudramatized and hard-copied as the Kennedys.”Phillip McCarthy of The Sydney Morning Herald noted that throughout her recording career, one of her common conditions for interviewers has been that there would be no mention of Michael. Joshua Klein wrote, “[f]or the first half of her recording career, Janet Jackson sounded like an artist with something to prove. Emerging in 1982 just as big brother Michael was casting his longest shadow, Jackson filled her albums not so much with songs as with declarations, from ‘The Pleasure Principle’ to the radical-sounding ‘Rhythm Nation’ to the telling statement of purpose, ‘Control’.”
Steve Huey of Allmusic asserted that despite being born into a family of entertainers, Janet Jackson has managed to emerge a “superstar” in her own right, rivaling not only several female recording artists including Madonna and Whitney Houston but also her brother, while “successfully [shifting] her image from a strong, independent young woman to a sexy, mature adult.”By forging her own unique identity through her artistry and her business ventures, she has been esteemed as the “Queen of Pop”. Klein argued that “stardom was not too hard to predict, but few could have foreseen that Janet—Miss Jackson if you’re nasty—would one day replace Michael as a true heir to the Jackson family legacy.”.
Jackson has also been recognized for playing a pivotal role in crossing racial boundaries in the recording industry, where black artists were once considered to be substandard. Author Maureen Mahon states: “In the 1980s, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Prince were among the African American artists who crossed over … When black artists cross over into pop success they cease to be black in the industry sense of the word. They get promoted from racialized black music to universal pop music in an economically driven process of racial transcendence.”The Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women’s Issues and Knowledge documented that Jackson, along with other prominent African-American women, had achieved financial breakthroughs in mainstream popular music, receiving “superstar status” in the process.
She, alongside her contemporaries, “offered viable creative, intellectual, and business paths for establishing and maintaining agency, lyrical potency, marketing and ownership.”Her business savvy has been compared to that of Madonna, gaining a level of autonomy that enables “creative latitude and access to financial resources and mass-market distribution.”A model of reinvention, author Jessie Carney Smith wrote that “Janet has continued to test the limits of her transformative power”, receiving accolades in music, film, and concert tours throughout the course of her career.
Musicologist Richard J. Ripani identified Jackson as a leader in the development of contemporary R&B, as her music created a unique blend of genre and sound effects that ushered in the use of rap vocals into mainstream R&B. He also argues her signature song “Nasty” influenced the new jack swing genre developed by Teddy Riley. Leon McDermott of the Sunday Herald wrote: “Her million-selling albums in the 1980s helped invent contemporary R&B through Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s muscular, lean production; the sinuous grooves threaded through 1986’s Control and 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 are the foundation upon which today’s hotshot producers and singers rely.”
Simon Reynolds described Jackson’s collaborations with her record producers as a reinvention of the dance-pop genre, introducing a new sonic palate. Den Berry, Virgin Records CEO and Chairman stated: “Janet is the very embodiment of a global superstar. Her artistic brilliance and personal appeal transcend geographic, cultural, and generational boundaries.”In July 1999, she placed at number 77 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll”. She also placed at number 134 on their list of the “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons of All Time”, number seven on the “100 Greatest Women In Music”, and at number two on the “50 Greatest Women of the Video Era”, behind Madonna.
In March 2008, Business Wire reported: “Janet Jackson is one of the top ten selling artists in the history of contemporary music; ranked by Billboard magazine as the ninth most successful act in rock and roll history, and the second most successful female artist in pop music history.”She is the only female artist in the history of the Hot 100 to have 18 consecutive top ten hit singles, from “Miss You Much” (1989) to “I Get Lonely” (1998). The magazine ranked her at number seven on their Hot 100 50th Anniversary “All-Time Top Artists”, making her the third most successful female artist in the history of the chart, following Madonna and Mariah Carey.
In November 2010, Billboard released its “Top 50 R&B / Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years” list and ranked her at number five. bShe ranks as the top artist on the chart with 15 number ones in the past twenty-five years, garnering 27 top ten hits between 1985 and 2001, and 33 consecutive top 40 hits from 1985 through 2004. Recipient of eleven Billboard Music Awards, she is one an elite group of musical acts, such as Madonna, Aerosmith, Garth Brooks, and Eric Clapton, whom Billboard credits for “redefining the landscape of popular music.”
Elysa Gardner of USA Today wrote: “Jackson claims not to be bothered by the brigade of barely post-adolescent baby divas who have been inspired by—and, in some cases, have flagrantly aped—the sharp, animated choreography and girlish but decidedly post-feminist feistiness that have long been hallmarks of her performance style.”Adrienne Trier-Bieniek stated, “scholars trace the origins of pleasure as a Black feminist commitment within popular culture to Janet Jackson” who inspired the feminist perspective found in many pop stars’ careers. Those who are considered to have followed in her footsteps have been referred to as “Janet-come-lately’s.”
Other artists who have drawn comparison to her include Mýa, Brandy, Tatyana Ali, Christina Milian, Lady Gaga, Namie Amuro, and BoA. Sociologist Shayne Lee commented that “[a]s Janet enters the twilight of her reign as erotic Queen of Pop, Beyoncé emerges as her likely successor.”Joan Morgan of Essence magazine remarked: “Jackson’s Control, Rhythm Nation 1814 and Janet. established the singer-dancer imprimatur standard in pop culture we now take for granted. So when you’re thinking of asking Miss Jackson, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ remember that Britney, Ciara, and Beyoncé live in the house that Janet built.”