Princess of pop music’s royal family, Janet Jackson has been successfully manning her throne for more than 30 years. With a spectacularly glittering career that honours everything from music to fashion, it’s not hard to see why the star has become one of the most influential and innovative female artists of all time.
We take a deep look at Ms. Jackson’s outstanding discography and celebrate all her best moments.
Janet Jackson (1982)
Stepping out onto the music scene and away from her brothers’ shadows, a sixteen-year-old Janet recorded her eponymous debut album. While her last name certainly gave her a leg-up, the album made little impact with the public. Singles ‘Young Love,’ ‘Come Give Your Love to Me’ and ‘Say You Do’ achieved success on the R&B charts but couldn’t quite make it past number 58 on the Billboard Hot 100. But despite it not becoming a hit, the album was 100% Janet and the beginning of a rising star stepping away from her family’s identity. An impressive feat considering her older brother, Michael Jackson, was only a few months away from releasing the album that would go on to be the best-selling one of all time.
Dream Street (1984)
Janet’s follow-up to her debut was a bit stronger but still lacked the oomph it needed to become a huge hit. Heading straight down the path of undeniable 80s pop, singles included the family collab ‘Don’t Stand Another Chance’ and the duet with Cliff Richard ‘Two to The Power of Love.’ It was clear that the now 18-year-old was still finding her own groove and experimenting with beats that acted more like offcuts from Madonna than her own signature sound. Dream Street peaked at 147 on the Billboard 200 but failed to chart internationally.
Finally landing on her feet, Janet broke through the bubblegum pop curtain and found spectacular commercial success with Control. Following the recent annulment of her marriage with singer James DeBarge and cutting business ties with her father and family, Janet truly found her identity and it resonated with a lot of people. The unique fusion of R&B, rap, funk and disco established Janet and her new producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as the pioneers of contemporary R&B and new jack swing, which would come to be the definitive sound of the New York club scene in the late 80s and early 90s. The feminist album was incredibly autobiographical with hits ‘Nasty,’ ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ and ‘Control’ letting the world know that Janet wasn’t just going to be the baby Jackson anymore. Control has since been listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 200 Definitive Albums of All Time and has sold 10 million copies worldwide.
Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
30 years ago today, Janet released her socially aware concept album Rhythm Nation. Taking all the best parts from Control, the album addresses the social issues that were prominent during that time such as racism, poverty and substance abuse. Rhythm Nation secured Janet’s position as a true icon, with youth not only admiring her for her activism but emulating her signature Rhythm Nation outfit. With singles ‘Rhythm Nation,’ ‘Miss You So Much,’ ‘Escapade’ and ‘Black Cat,’ the album became the only one in history to chart number one hits in three separate calendar years and has gone on to sell more than 12 million copies worldwide.
With a new record deal from Virgin Records that enabled her to be the world’s then highest-paid musical act and increasing criticism that the star was only achieving success because of her family name, Janet set out to make an album that was well and truly her own. Dropping her last name, the title simply reads “Janet, period” and represents the free and sexually liberated woman that Janet is. The whopping 28-track-long album explores themes of intimacy and the female perspective of safe sex and includes a more mellow use of R&B and jazz influences. Hit singles ‘That’s the Way Love Goes’ and ‘Again’ went straight to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and the album topped the charts in the US, Australia, UK and New Zealand.
The Velvet Rope (1997)
The Velvet Rope secured Janet’s position as a sex symbol and introduced elements of depression, self-worth, same-sex relationships and domestic abuse. The concept album, developed after an emotional breakdown Janet experienced, stood as a metaphor for emotional boundaries and one’s need to feel included and special. Hit single ‘Together Again,’ written for a friend Janet lost due to AIDS, established the star’s reputation as being a LGBTQ icon and became one of the best-selling singles worldwide. The Velvet Rope became Janet’s fourth consecutive album to top the Billboard 200 and went on to sell an estimated 10 million copies worldwide.
All for You (2001)
Following her recent split from husband René Elizondo, Jr., a newly awakened Janet was exploring what is was like to jump back into the dating game. All for You carries the sexual themes of her previous two albums but includes messages of deceit and betrayal, further cementing her as a positive feminist and sex icon. Title track and lead single ‘All for You’ became one of Janet’s most successful singles and broke multiple airplay records, topping the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks straight. The album earned Janet three Grammy nominations and saw the biggest opening week sales she had seen in her career.
Damita Jo (2004)
Taking its title from Janet’s middle name, Damita Jo is a concept album that introduces Janet’s multiple personalities. Packed with a massive team of producers, including long-time collaborators Jam and Lewis and new come-up Kanye West, the album was destined to be a hit but unfortunately became overshadowed by Janet’s fateful wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl halftime show a month prior. Despite being an excellent reflection of Janet’s songwriting capabilities, critics chose to focus more on Janet’s reputation at the time rather than the music itself. And while the album earned Janet a Grammy nomination and was awarded several accolades, it never really got the recognition it truly deserved.
20 Y.O (2006)
A commemoration of Control’s 20th anniversary, 20 Y.O celebrates the “joyful liberation and history-making musical style” of the 1986 album. With two decades of fame under her belt, Janet made it perfectly clear that she had plenty more to give and enlisted a new team of producers, including her then-boyfriend Jermain Dupri and old friends Jam and Lewis, to create another incredible album with hits ‘Call On Me’ and ‘So Excited.’ The album shot to number 2 on the Billboard 200 and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B album.
Taking a break from Jam and Lewis, Janet ventured into house and electropop genres for her tenth album. The only album released under Island Records, Discipline had an entirely different sound that Janet fans weren’t used to and it received various mixed reviews. Hit single ‘Feedback’ became Janet’s best-charting single since 2001, reaching number 19 on the Billboard Hot 100. Although the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, sales quickly fell and eventually Janet left Island Records behind due to Discipline’s commercial failure.
After a six-year-long hiatus and the announcement of her third marriage, Janet released Unbreakable under her own label Rhythm Nation. The first album since the tragic death of Michael Jackson, Unbreakable speaks on all aspects from Janet’s life as well as similar socially conscious messages that were found on Rhythm Nation 1814. Going back to her R&B roots, Janet reunited with her best collaborators Jam and Lewis and teamed up with Missy Elliot and J. Cole. The album went straight to number one on the Billboard 200, becoming Janet’s seventh album to do so, and was praised for being one of the best album releases of the entire year.