Janet Jackson at Fillmore Miami Beach December 5
Your nasty ass can call her Ms. Jackson. Offstage, she's a soft-spoken, seemingly genteel lady. But onstage, she's a sassy little powerhouse who is every straight (and gay) man's wet dream.
The youngest of a nine-child talent tribe, Janet Damita Jo Jackson went from being a sweet, smiling schoolgirl on Good Times to the biggest thing in wall art for tasteful queer teens worldwide — which for any diva means you've made it big.
On the road for the past year with her world tour Number Ones: Up Close and Personal, Jackson has not lost her rhythm. Strong ticket sales even resulted in an expanded American tour.
Sure, the actor-slash-songstress hasn't pumped out a single like "That's the Way Love Goes" or ended up in the press for exposing private parts in quite awhile. But Jackson needn't prove herself. She is a 35-hit wonder who has stayed sexy yet powerful, smart yet vulnerable. Baby-faced, industry-perfect pop stars will grow old whether or not they grow up. Jackson is the example of how to do it with grace even when things go horribly wrong.
Nipplegate: Though her wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show (involving a certain former 'N Sync member) landed her on a temporary TV blacklist, at least we came away with the term Nipplegate.
Hateful Americans turned on Jackson after Justin Timberlake accidentally exposed her jug. Even the Brits were outraged, with the BBC calling her "the most despised person on Earth." People didn't buy the "wardrobe malfunction" excuse and accused her of pulling a publicity stunt. And as our misogynistic world turns, Timberlake became more popular.
However, Jackson eventually emerged from the dog house because she isn't a dirtbag. She's a mature woman. She's not flashing her cooter for the paparazzi like other media mavens (ahem, Britney).
Plus, as Janet sang in 2000, "[It] doesn't really matter," folks. We're talking about a nipple! Get over it! Four decades of being mad sexy while maintaining an exquisite level of class can't be erased by one errant areola, even if it was pierced.
Total control: Let's forget her ample tatas for a second and jump back to a time when everyone was Jackson's biggest fan.
It was 1986. Her hairdo was all curls and asymmetry. And even though she had released two albums prior to Control, that collaboration with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis brought her cred, sound, and production to the next level. It couldn't have been simple for a woman whose brother was the King of Pop to gain worldwide respect of her own. But she became the only one of Jacko's eight siblings to get that shit done. Packed with hits and attitude, Control still defines the mid-'80s pop sound.
Three years later, with Rhythm Nation 1814, Jackson got ambitiously conceptual and socially responsible. She discussed race and donned a militant look for the "Rhythm Nation" video, breaking it down with one of the most replicated dance routines of the '90s. (Admit it! You tried to dance like Janet in front of the mirror too.) The album was even listed as one of Rolling Stone's 500 greatest albums of all time.
Her next album, 1993's Janet, was also a commercial success. It was her third to reach number one on the Billboard 200. And though it didn't produce as many hit singles as her previous two releases, the album cover gave us Ms. Jackson at her most iconic. Taken by Patrick Demarchelier, the photo shows a topless Janet with then-husband René Elizondo Jr.'s hands covering her breasts. It's an image that reveals much about her, both physically and emotionally, at that time. She was becoming comfortable with her sexuality. Others might prance about as teens in their undies (again, Britney), but Jackson waited till she was actually a woman to tell us what it's like to be a woman.
From that moment, her albums became increasingly explicit (2001's All for You received a Parental Advisory warning) as Jackson made it clear she was no longer a pop princess. She was a grown-ass diva queen. And she was in total control.
Janet the starlet: OK, so 1993's Poetic Justice was no Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. But it captured that moment in time when everyone was spouting spoken-word poetry and black-on-black violence was nutso. Sharing the screen with Tupac Shakur, Janet broke out as a leading actress. Shortly after the movie's release, Roger Ebert even praised her performance, writing, "Janet Jackson provides a lovable center for [Poetic Justice]."
Of course, she began her career as an onscreen performer, with appearances on her family's TV variety show The Jacksons in 1976 and roles on shows such as Good Times, Diff'rent Strokes, and Fame. Three decades later, Jackson is still acting, having joined forces with the butt of every movie joke, Tyler Perry, as the star of Why Did I Get Married? and its sequel, as well as last year's For Colored Girls.
Say what you will about Perry, but the man knows how to make a crazy, dramatic film. We agree it's kind of an odd pairing — Perry's characters are usually infused with hyperactive intensity, so quiet Ms. Jackson seems an unlikely choice for his movies. But that's the thing about Janet; she doesn't have to be a man in a wig or a weepy hot mess — she's Janet Jackson. She can whisper a line and we'll still listen.
Forever Ms. Jackson: Though she's not popular today in the same way as the standard teen pop tart, she rules anyway. Sure, she's had rough spells. But she has also spent an ample amount of time on top, even without her top on.
And right now she's on the road. Her tour kicked off in February in the Philippines, and it has done phenomenally well. But it has also been an occasionally troubled ride. A show at the Indiana State Fair was canceled after the stage collapsed and killed five people. And part of her Australian tour was rescheduled so she could attend the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, the man eventually convicted of manslaughter in her brother Michael's death.
His passing in particular has been a terrible ordeal for her. In a recent Dateline interview with Meredith Vieira, she said, "I was his little sister. I had his back." In 1995, as the press bore down on him, she collaborated with her big brother to create "Scream," a fuck-you to the media. And last year, she told Oprah that she still thinks about him every day.
Yet even through tragic times, she endures. Confronting personal struggles with her weight and her father, she just published True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself, which she calls a self-help book. It's also rumored she'll appear on the big screen in The Savoy King: Chick Webb & the Music That Changed America. There's even gossip that she and beau Wissam Al Mana, a Qatari businessman, are engaged.
So, yes, things are apparently going swimmingly for Ms. Jackson. She's as strong and feminine as ever. And though she might not be signing another record-breaking Virgin Records contract in the near future, we'll never stop listening to her, no matter how soft the volume of her voice. And we'll never stop loving her, no matter how many nipples slip past the censors.
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