janet damita jackson was born on 16 may 1966, in gary indiana, into what would become one of the most powerful pop dynasties of the rock era. the youngest of nine children who would all enter the entertainment field at some point in their life, one cannot help but consider that certain individuals whitney houston, natalie cole, lalah hathawayare just destined to perform. in janet's case, the tell-tale signs began to appear at a particularly early age. for the most part, janet's circle of childhood friends consisted of her brothers and sisters, as well as a few neighborhood children, such as fellow diva kym mazelle. with the jackson 5 making their debut just three years after janet's birth and legendary performers such as diana ross making frequent visits to the jackson home, janet would never know what it meant to have a "normal" childhood.
at age seven, the youngest jackson made her public debut with brother randyfive years her seniorplaying straight-man to his baby sister's adorably sassy mae west imitation. for the most part, however, the glare of the spotlight, at this stage, was not a problem about which janet had to worry, allowing both her creativity and introspection to flourish. by age nine, janet had penned her first tune, perhaps inspired by her brothers' pop success, but her father, joe jackson, had a different plan for his youngest daughter. though the jackson 5 had proven themselves a commercial success, it was the senior jackson's opinion that acting provided a considerable degree more security than music. consequently, while still a child, janet auditioned for and earned the role of penny on the 1970s sitcom good times. a spin-off of the beatrice arthur vehicle maudewhich was, itself, a spin-off of the immensely popular all in the familythe norman lear produced good times was already a hit when janet was added to the cast. subsequent television roles included the part of charlene on diff'rent strokes and cleo on fame.
eventually, janet left the cast of fame, at her father's request, to embark on a recording career with herb alpert's a&m records. though her first two albums, janet jackson and dream street, were viable pop confections on par with other releases of the day, they were nowhere near substantial enough to foreshadow the enduring career that janet would enjoy. while the title track from her sophomore effort achieved some chart success, it was her contribution to alpert's album, "diamonds", that showed the most promise. unhappy with the degree of control her father had over her career, janet desperately sought her independence. a first, misguided attempt to obtain it resulted in an elopment with another member of a pop dynasty, james debarge, when janet was only eighteen. the marriage was annulled before the couple celebrated their first anniversary.
as janet set about perparing for her third album, a&m executive and family friend, john mclain, suggested that she team up with the minneapolis-based production team of james harris III and terry lewis, known in the music industry as jimmy jam and terry lewis. former members of the prince-influenced time, jam and lewis offered janet an out both from the control of her family and from the guagmire of pop obscurity. unlike most producersand, for that matter, most adults she had come to knowjam and lewis listened to and respected janet's ideas. together, the three of them worked to identify janet's strengths and weaknesses in order to accentuate the positive and compensate for what was lacking. jam explains of janet's approach to music, "she's not like, 'i can do anything.' she's like, 'what i can't do, i'll leave alone, and what i can do, i'll do better than anybody else.'" what jam, lewis and janet intended to be "a record that would have to be in every black household in america" turned out to be a record that would have to be in every household in america.
control exploded onto the scene in 1986. the title track was a personal anthem to which teenages across the world could relate. throughout the album, jam, lewis and janet each held up their end of the bargin. for her part, janet overcame her demure demeanor enough to lend credibility to the album's sassy lyrics and provided a striking image with joan crawford shoulder pads, mile high hair and tightly choreographed dance moves. for their part, jam and lewis provided layer upon layer of funk, producing a style that would influence both 5 star and shanice wilson. control also received the added benifit of the establishment fully-functioning music networks, such as mtv, which janet could exploit to reach her fans and establish an identity, for herself, separate of that of her famous brothers and sisters. perhaps the most dynamic example of janet's early use of media to shape her image is the video for "pleasure principle"choreographed by former lakers' cheerleader paula abdulin which janet is presented as strong, sexy and definitely in control.
in 1987 janet issued a new agenda in the form of janet jackson's rhythm nation 1814. having already gotten her own affairs in order, janet set her sights on fixingor, at the very least, identifyingsome of the world's greatest ails. rhythm nation introduced the world to a hard-hitting janet clad in military attire, backed by a veritable army of dancers whose aim it was to spread a message of love that was neither naive nor superficial. a feature-length film incorporating three of the album's videos portrayed janet as a compassionate individual while a sold out concert tour further endeared her to her faithful fans.
having completed her contract with a&m records, janet made history by signing what was, to date, the largest recording contract on record, surpassing even her brother michael and the queen of pop, madonna. the thirty-two million dollar contract committed janet to three albums with virgin records, a label whose name stood in playful contrast to the image that janet had begun to reveal with the final release from her last album, "love will never do (without you)". simply titled janet., this was her most personal album ever. a topless janet appeared both on the album's cover and on the cover of rolling stone, signifying that this was a no holds barred peek into the life of a woman who was charting new terrain as she explored the landscape of her own sexuality. aside from the natural allure of provocative lyrics being delivered by a talented performer, janet. had something more to offer. from the sultry debut single ("that's the way love goes") to the rave-inspired dance tracks ("throb") to the not forgotten social commentaries ("this time"), janet. had something for everyone. as if to elevate that principal to an even higher degree, singles from the album were remixed almost beyond the point of recognition, turning ballads and folk/pop toe-tappers into thumping dance tracks that quickly became a staple of dance clubs. though control was a chart-topping phenomenon, it was truly janet. that broke the artist to a audience without boundaries. stadiums that were, during the control and rhythm nation tours, filled with african -americans of all ages were now packed to the rafters with asian-americans, caucasians, latinos and queers, as well.
1993 also witnessed janet's return to acting in her big screen debut, poetic justice. though the john singleton film about a young, urban woman experiencing an emotional awakening performed beneath expectations, it did not seem to affect janet's career. in fact, her role as an l.a. beautician with the mouth of a sailor was just another stepping stone on the path of janetwho had, by this time, began to perform using only her first name, like fellow divas madonna, cher and bjökestablishing her own identity as a performer and a woman.
it would be five years before fans of janet would be treated to a new studio album, but a single with brother michael ("scream") and a 1995 greatest hits compilation (design of a decade) helped pass the time until her return to the spotlight. in 1998, the velvet rope was released, continuing janet's tradition of chart-friendly, remix-ready singles and sexy videos that established an industry standard. the homoerotic content of songs such as "free xone" and the rod stewart cover "tonight's the night", as well as album interludes such as "speaker phone", was not lost on janet's gay and lesbian fans who ensured the album was a success in dance clubs across the globe.
an industry veteran of some twenty years, janet jackson has exceded her own ambition of escaping the limiting association with her famousand somewhat off-beatfamily by eclipsing the accomplishment of her siblings with her own outstanding legacy. only michaelwith whom it would appear that janet is closesthas frequently been able to infringe upon his sister's renown to release the occasional album. the great irony of janet's success, of course, is the simplicity of the philosophy that got her where she is: what i can't do, i'll leave alone and what i can do, i'll do better than anyone else. first, though, it was necessary for janet to take control control of her career, control of her sexuality, control of her life. for having successfully done so, janet is a diva, indeed.