If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, SheKnows may receive an affiliate commission.
Ahead of A&E’s new documentary JANET JACKSON, airing the first of its two parts on Jan. 28, we’re looking back at Janet Jackson’s incredible, influential music career — specifically, the music videos that forever changed the culture, her legacy, and our own teenage lives. But first: Let’s take a look back at how Janet Jackson came to be the star she is today.
Many artists speak with confidence that fame and status were their destiny. And while we’re not big believers in sealed fates, some stories make destiny pretty hard to argue with. Like, let’s say, you’re the youngest of ten in a family whose older brothers were the most famous family band of all time and one of said brothers went on to have a solo career that redefined pop music and smashed every imaginable record. Chances are, as you’re being raised in and around their music, that you too will develop artistic talents and interests — and maybe, just maybe, you’ll become a megastar in your own right. Whether or not that was her original plan, there is no denying that’s what happened for one Janet Jackson. Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty.
Janet Damita Jo Jackson has done it all — and we mean all. She began her decades-long career performing alongside her brothers in Las Vegas and on their variety show on CBS, then moved into acting with roles on TV hits Good Times, Fame, and Diff’rent Strokes. With her legendarily domineering father guiding her young career as a teenager, she recorded and released two albums. After her second album, she took a bold step forward and left her family to work with two Minneapolis-based producers (Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis) to create what has become an iconic album in every sense of the word. That album, of course, was Control.
Control: A clear and confident statement from a woman on the precipice of a new life, a life of her choosing and direction. Control feels as fresh and alive today as it did when it was first released in 1986. So does Rhythm Nation 1814, which followed three years later. Revisiting these albums (and the Janet album) has gotten us thinking — as much as we have required reading literature lists for students, we think it’s high time to have required listening lists — and if we did, these albums would sit rightfully at the top.
As a woman born into megastardom, it’s perhaps unusual that Janet Jackson has remained such an intensely private person. Especially in contrast to today’s stars who share everything and anything about their lives through social media channels and interviews. Janet Jackson has consistently shared only what she wanted to share through her music and has managed to keep her personal life guarded and protected — which makes this long-awaited upcoming documentary all the more exciting. To coincide with the 40th anniversary of her eponymous first album, Lifetime and A&E will be airing the two-part, four-hour documentary JANET JACKSON on the abundant life of Janet Jackson starting on Jan. 28 — and best of all, it’s all in her own words! That’s right. She’s still in control.
Described as an “intimate, honest and unfiltered look at her untold story” it’s sure to be incredible, inspiring, and will make us all want to bust out the “Rhythm Nation” choreography (if only we could!). From the moment we saw the trailer, it got us thinking that this would be a great time to look back at some of this living legend’s biggest contributions to the worlds of music and dance. While we’d normally suggest you sit back and relax to read a Top 10 list, we’re gently suggesting that for this one you should do some stretches first because we’re 100 percent certain that you’ll want — no, need — to get up and dance.
For any other artist, we’d offer a top 10 list — but for Janet, we couldn’t limit it any further than her top 11. Read on for her 11 most iconic videos in chronological order, so you can see and hear her evolution.
1. “What Have You Done For Me Lately”
The first single from the Control album (technically her 3rd album but as far as her pop popularity goes, this is ground zero) — this video steps into the set of a classic musical where every (teenage) angsty emotion and argument is expressed through dancing bodies. And like every song on the Control album, it gave usable vocabulary to young women who were frustrated with their romantic partners. Honestly, we can recall specific high school conversations, and can even hear the exact cadence from the video, where one friend says to another, “I know he used to do nice things for you, but what has he done for you late-ly?”
Such. A. Jam. Where to start? Casually backflipping into a movie screen in a theater? Check. Telling off rude boys? Check. Pre-pop stardom cameo from then choreographer, Paula Abdul? Check. And that legendary verse that we all can still repeat at the drop of a hat “Cause privacy is my middle name, My last name is control, No, my first name ain’t baby, It’s Janet… Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty” Damn, straight.
3. “When I Think Of You”
This was Janet’s first no. 1 single and it gave her and Michael the distinction of being the first set of siblings to both have no. 1 hits. The video was shot to look like it was filmed in one take (a pretty nifty trick if you ask us) but it has five cuts. Easily the most light-hearted of the songs on Control, it’s a sweet song about youthful, budding romance.
It’s all in the title. It spells out what the song is all about — her push for independence and control. “Control of what I say, and control of what I do,” and who can’t identify with that desire? The dancing? The fashion? That shoulder-padded oversized blazer, the headset microphone, and who can forget how iconic that hoop earring with the key in it was? We’re immediately transported back to our high school bedroom where we shout-sang this into a hairbrush.
5. “Let’s Wait A While”
It’s a real testament to the tenderness of her voice that this ballad about abstinence never felt cheesy or like a PSA. It felt, and still feels, sweet and loving, full of longing and understanding. And the black-and-white video lent it the gravitas to erase any potential juvenile silliness.
6. “The Pleasure Principle”
In the same vein as Flashdance and Footloose, this video is Janet without pretense. She appears without an entourage of friends/dancers, dressed casually (love the tight black Guess jeans) in a warehouse on her own, moving in front of the mirror — and we also get the introduction of her dancing with a chair which will play prominently in future videos.
7. “Miss You Much”
What we remember the most about the video for this new jack swing hit is that megawatt smile Janet’s flashing at the beginning and the chairs. The chairs! Those moves on and around the chairs were a game-changer. Pop stars from Britney Spears, to Usher, and then some have been inspired by her moves.
8. “Rhythm Nation”
If you’re of a certain generation and you hear a countdown of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and you instinctively move your hand in sync with said countdown, chances are you’re thinking of this incredible video. In a career filled with iconic creations, this video sits at the top of the list. For a dance song to have a socially conscious message was revolutionary in its own right but when you add in the visual elements of this video — gender-neutral military costumes, filmed in black-and-white, and that pulsating, rhythmic, group choreography — all of which are truly iconic. Many have tried to imitate but none have replicated.
While sonically closer to “Rhythm Nation,” this song’s message couldn’t be further from its predecessor. Janet and co. (co. for Janet always equals her crew of dancers — always!) spend the day at a carnival, cutting loose. It’s a simple concept and what makes it special is, once again, the incredible dance moves.
10. “Love Will Never Do”
So hot! And so joyous. “Love Will Never Do,” directed by legendary photographer Herb Ritts, is a celebration of the human body, and three specific gorgeous bodies in particular: those of Janet Jackson, Antonio Sabato Jr., and Djimon Hounsou. Did we mention it’s so hot?! Rumor has it that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis originally envisioned this song as a duet, so Janet decided to sing a couple of verses in different octaves to give the song the feel of a duet without actually being one. So clever. And it ends with that 16 beat high ahhhh? Oh woah.
11. “That’s The Way Love Goes”
Featuring baby Jennifer Lopez, this video off of the Janet album sees Miss Jackson moving into a more, let’s call it womanly, vibe. It’s more of a groove than a pulsating beat: it’s downtempo yet still danceable, and it’s fantastic.
Before you go, click here for more documentaries about strong women in music.