On May 16, 1966, Janet Jackson was born into one of the most famous families in the world and still managed to stand on her own two feet, despite being the youngest of nine children. She has continued to remain a high-profile pop culture icon and is known for being one of the most successful entertainers of all time.
With a career spanning more than five decades, she has been considered a blueprint for a number of stars that have followed in her footsteps. Whether it’s for her showstopping performances or her feisty anthems, you can’t deny the impact Jackson has had on the likes of Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Bruno Mars, to name a few. To date, she boasts five Grammy Award wins, 11 American Music Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an Oscar nomination, seven No. 1 albums on the US Billboard 200, 10 No. 1 singles on the Hot 100, and over 77.1 million sales from her studio albums alone, according to Chart Masters.
Janet Jackson is a woman of many talents and continues to inspire a whole generation. Keep reading to find out how she managed to become the living legend that she is today.
Janet Jackson got into the family business
Janet Jackson entered the world of entertainment by default, whether she liked it or not. Her brothers — Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael Jackson — had already started to pursue their careers as The Jackson 5 in 1965, a year before she was born. As mentioned in her BBC Documentary “Taking Control,” by the time Janet was 5 years old, her brothers had already achieved four No. 1 singles on the US Billboard Hot 100, signed a record deal with Motown, and had their own cartoon television series.
Not before long, Janet followed in her brothers’ footsteps and appeared on “The Jacksons” variety program. She also performed Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” with her older brother Randy Jackson on an episode of “The Carol Burnett Show.” As she recalled in the doc, her work on the small screen caught the attention of television producer and writer Norman Lear, who saw her potential as an on-screen actor and cast her as Penny in the sitcom “Good Times.”
Life as child actor wasn’t always a good time
Before her groundbreaking music career, Janet Jackson was making waves as a child actor. In 1977, she made her acting debut as Penny in the CBS sitcom “Good Times.” According to IMDb, she appeared in 48 episodes and the final two seasons.
Even though Jackson started filming the show when she was just 11 years old, she was made to feel that her appearance wasn’t good enough. In a 2012 interview on “Anderson Live,” she reflected on her time on the popular sitcom, which wasn’t always a positive experience. Jackson explained she started to develop very early and that the women in charge of the wardrobe told her they had to bind her chest. Before they started to shoot the following season, she said she was told she was “too heavy” and that she “needed to lose weight.”
“I look back on those episodes and I go, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m not a heavy kid by any means,'” she shared with ABC News in 2011. “I internalized it and I never told anyone about it, and kept it inside for years.”
On the plus side, Janet Jackson’s impressive acting abilities helped her land roles in “Different Strokes,” “Fame,” and “The Love Boat” in the 1980s.
Early on, Joe Jackson was at the helm of his daughter’s career
After Michael Jackson decided dad Joe Jackson would no longer be his manager, the patriarch of the musical family used his time to manage Janet Jackson.
At 16 years old, Janet Jackson released her self-titled debut album in 1982. As noted in the BBC Documentary “Taking Control,” she did not get a chance to contribute much to the sound and the songs were already written for her. According to Billboard, the LP peaked at No. 63 on the US Billboard 200 and didn’t make much noise. Two years later, Janet dropped her second album, “Dream Street,” which failed to make much of an impact at all, only reaching No. 147 on the chart.
Janet had yet to make her mark on the music industry. However, things would change when she took her career and her life into her own hands.
Janet Jackson eloped with ’80s singer James DeBarge
Janet Jackson eloped with fellow ’80s singer James DeBarge on September 7, 1984. James is most known for “Rhythm of the Night,” a hit single he released with his family group DeBarge. Janet was 18 years old when she tied the knot with James, who was three years her senior. Joe Jackson, who was still Janet’s manager at the time, was not happy about their marriage and tried to put a stop to it.
And so, just one year later, the patriarch of the Jackson family had the marriage annulled after it was revealed that James was struggling with drug addiction. According to the doc “Taking Control,” Janet saw her marriage to James as a way of getting away from her controlling father. However, things didn’t go to plan when their relationship turned sour and she was set free from James in 1985.
Control took Janet Jackson’s career to new heights
After her first two albums, Janet Jackson was determined to rule her own destiny. After moving to Minneapolis, she recorded her third studio, “Control,” with hitmakers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, which proved to be a wise decision.
Released in 1986, “Control” was a huge success and identified with listeners. As noted in “Taking Control,” it was the first time fans heard Janet writing and singing from her own real-life, personal experiences. The record peaked at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and spawned five top five singles and her first No. 1 hit song, “When I Think of You.” As reported by Chart Masters, “Control” took Janet’s career to new heights and was a worldwide success, selling over 9.2 million copies.
Not only did the album introduce her music to audiences around the globe, but she finally started to be respected as a musician in her own right. Janet was no longer just considered the sister of Michael Jackson. She was Janet Jackson the powerhouse superstar.
Janet Jackson embraced being a sex symbol
1993’s “janet.” saw Janet Jackson re-invent her image once again. This time, she was ready to show off her sexy side. Jackson hired legendary fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier to shoot the album cover for the LP. In the photographs, Jackson is topless and in a pair of unbuttoned jeans, her breasts covered by the hands of her second husband, René Elizondo. Her label at the time thought the image was too risqué.
“That was supposed to be the album cover,” she stated in the BBC “Taking Control” documentary. “So I said OK that’s fine, don’t use it for the album cover. Let’s use it for a magazine cover instead. So that’s when we went to Rolling Stone and they fell in love with it.” And with that, her iconic Rolling Stone cover happened.
Jackson had no problem celebrating her own sexuality. As The Mary Sue wrote, the “That’s The Way Love Goes” hitmaker’s lyrics focused on her sexual pleasure and desire in various songs throughout the 1990s and 2000s, such as “Anytime, Anyplace,” “Rope Burn,” and “Moist.” During her 2001 “All For You” tour, she turned up the heat and invited a member of the audience on stage, who she strapped down and teased while performing “Would You Mind” in a black skintight PVC catsuit.
Janet Jackson kept her second marriage under wraps
The duo tied the knot in March 1991 at home in North San Diego County. However, they ultimately called it quits and announced they would be filing for divorce after about nine years of marriage. “We simply grew apart,” Elizondo told E! in 2000. “We became more business and creative partners than actual lovers. We’ve been in negotiations for the past four to six months, and we decided to file for divorce and get this over with.
In a 2000 tell-all interview with Matt Lauer on “Today,” Jackson admitted that she told very few friends and family members about her second marriage, only ones who she believed would keep the secret. Elizondo told Jet that he would “never” be involved in any sort of tell-all about his relationship or Jackson. “I never respected people who do that.”