Upholding a career for more than 40 years, Janet Jackson is one of the most famous, best-selling music icons of all time. She’s also one of the most private, which is why her four-hour documentary Janet Jackson (which is now available in full on TVNZ OnDemand) has arrived at the perfect time. Leaving nothing off the table, the insightful documentary enables Jackson to finally share her story, every raw and personal detail of it, in her own words, and gives control back to a star who didn’t exactly have much of it throughout her career.
From clearing up rumours, to her media scrutiny and relationship with Michael Jackson, here are 10 of the top things we learned from Janet Jackson’s epic tell-all.
1. Her complicated upbringing led her to where she is today
It’s long been no secret that the Jacksons’ father, Joe Jackson, created a tough environment growing up, thrusting them into the spotlight as children and robbing them of usual childhood activities. But through everything, you’ll never hear Jackson say a bad word about him. In fact, she acknowledges that while times were certainly tough, her and her siblings owe their success to their father. “It was tough at times,” she says. “There was definitely nothing easy about it, but when you see where we came from and see where we are now, we owe so much to our father.” As Jackson tours us through her old childhood home, explaining how her and her two sisters slept on the floor and her six brothers all shared a bunk bed, it’s certainly hard to believe the trajectory the family ended up on.
2. Drug addiction affected both her marriages
At just 18, Jackson eloped with singer James Debarge but quickly realised he suffered from a drug problem. Telling the story of how he disappeared for hours on their wedding night, Jackson reveals that she was constantly driving around looking for her husband and that the two would have physical altercations over her flushing his drugs down the toilet. After a year of constant conflict and misery, the marriage was annulled. Six years later, she’d go on to marry her video director René Elizondo Jr. and essentially run into the same problems. After battling Elizondo’s painkiller and control problem, the two divorced in 2000. “I don’t know, maybe it’s this person in me that wants to help people subconsciously,” she explains. “When it comes to relationships, somehow I’m attracted to people who use drugs.”
3. No, she didn’t have a secret baby
Around the time of her and Debarge’s separation in the late 80s, a rumour began to surface that the two had a secret daughter and that she was being raised by Jackson’s sister Rebbie. It was also rumoured that Jackson was hiding the baby from Debarge himself. While Jackson constantly denied these rumours, she was finally able to put them to rest in the documentary. She also noted that while she had her difficulties with Debarge, she would never have hidden a child from him. “How could I keep a child from their father? I could never do that,” she says. “That’s just not right.” In 2017, a then 50-year-old Jackson gave birth to her first ever child, a baby boy named Eissa Al Mana.
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4. She never really aspired to be a singer
Had things been different, Jackson would’ve gone to college and ended up as a business lawyer. But after her father discovered a recording Jackson had left in her brothers’ studio one day, he insisted she joined the family’s musical legacy. “I don’t ever remember being asked,” she admits. “I just remember being put into it.” She struggled to find her own place outside of her brothers’ Jackson 5 fame (and then eventually Michael’s solo success), wanting her debut album to simply be titled Janet to separate herself from her family’s last name, but her father denied the request. Jackson would then go on to drop her father as her manager before her third album (aptly named Control) in 1986.
5. Her and Michael started drifting apart around Thriller
Growing up, Jackson always felt closest to her brother Michael but admits that the two began to separate once he started becoming more famous. When Michael’s iconic album Thriller dropped in 1982, Jackson instantly felt a shift in the way her brother acted. “For the first time in my life, that’s when I felt it was different between the two of us, that a shift was happening,” she admits. “That’s the time where Mike and I started kind of going our separate ways. We weren’t as close.” As Jackson was beginning her solo career around the same time, she began to separate herself more from her brother’s shadow to try and find her own place in the industry.
6. She just wants everyone to move on from the Super Bowl incident
Dubbed famously as Nipplegate, the performance between Justin Timberlake and Jackson for 2004’s Super Bowl halftime show that ended up in him accidentally exposing her breast on live television has since become one of pop culture’s biggest controversial moments, but Jackson just wants to be free from its shadow. Talking to her brother Randy, she reveals that at the time Timberlake asked to make a statement, but she insisted he keep quiet. “They’re aiming all of this at me,” she remembers telling him. “So, if I were you, I wouldn’t say anything.” She then goes on to reveal the levels of scrutiny she received from the media and the world, such as being uninvited to that year’s Grammys when Timberlake wasn’t and the affect it had on the rest of her family. But as for things between her and Timberlake now? “We’ve moved on and we’re good friends.”
7. Michael’s allegations affected her career
Throughout his life and even after his death, Michael Jackson has been shrouded in controversy and allegations that remain unsolved and, in her documentary, Jackson admits that while she believes her brother is innocent, the weight of it all has hung around her entire career. “My brother would never do something like that,” she states, “but I’m still guilty by association.” Around the time the allegations first started popping up in 1993, Jackson was getting ready to settle a “mega-million” sponsorship with Coca-Cola, but the company retracted due to her relation to Michael. But instead of distancing herself from her brother, she stayed at his ranch and together they created their joint 1995 hit ‘Scream.’ “I just knew I wanted to be there for him, to support him as much as I possibly could,” she adds. “I think he needed the support that I was trying to give him with this song.”
8. Unsurprisingly, her naked Rolling Stone cover was hated by her family
Considered a definitive peg in our history of female sexuality awareness, Jackson’s 1993 Rolling Stone cover that sees her topless with then-husband Elizondo holding her breasts is as iconic as it gets, but at the time it caused a lot of negativity for the star. While she considered it “bold” and “cool”, her family weren’t so impressed. “I did not like it,” Rebbie is seen saying in the doc. “My mum really didn’t like it.” Offering that she understands where her family were coming from because they weren’t raised to do such things, Jackson still stands by her choice. “I do what I do because it’s something that I feel at that moment. I mean, I was happy.”
9. Her and Tupac had notable chemistry on the set of Poetic Justice
The 1993 cult classic Poetic Justice marked Jackson’s film debut, appearing alongside Tupac and Regina King. And while many were in awe of Tupac and Jackson’s chemistry on screen, King revealed that there was a significant connection off screen as well. “I think they were both impressed with each other,” King states, “but I don’t feel like either one of them wanted to let the other know.” She goes on to add that while everyone knew of Jackson’s relationship with Elizondo, there was definitely some kind of attraction between her and Tupac. “I don’t know if Janet will ever admit to it, but there was a bit of that chemistry going on. You could cut the air in the room at times,” King says. “But she was in a relationship with René, make no mistake about it.”
10. Her last words to Michael were “I love you”
When Michael shockingly passed away at aged 50 back in 2009, the world was undeniably rocked but for Jackson, it took her a long time to even admit her brother was gone. “It took a while for me to accept,” she says. “It makes you think about life.” She then reveals the last time they saw each other and that she’s kept the memory close. “It was a surprise pray for my parents,” she shared. “My whole family was there and he was sitting next to me. He was laughing like crazy; he had that deep laugh. I remember him looking over at me and the last thing we said to each other was ‘I love you’ and that was the last time I saw him.” While the two suffered their ups and downs and had felt their relationship distance, Jackson is glad their final moment was the way it was. “At least I have that,” she finalises. “I miss him.”
All episodes of Janet Jackson’s documentary are available to watch HERE on TVNZ OnDemand now.
Listen to a Best of Janet Jackson playlist HERE.