Living Out Loud: Janet Jackson

Is there a person alive who doesn’t love Damita Jo?

There might be like 4 people. Four people who are sad they can’t be her.

Poetic Justice, 1993

Don’t be like that though. She’s dope.

Janet Damita Jo Jackson aka Everyone’s Other Favorite Jackson was born on May 16, 1966. She was born ninth and last in the immensely talented family. Janet was just a pre-schooler when Berry Gordy moved her entire family to California to pursue their musical interests. She found herself featured on the family’s variety show, as Penny on Good Times, Willis’s girlfriend on Diff’rent Strokes and later as Cleo on Fame. As she says in this clip with Carol Burnett, EVERYBODY in the Jackson family worked.

Part of that problem though, with so many working children, is that they were all managed by their father, Joe Jackson. After recording her first two studio albums, Janet fired her father as manager, moved out and linked up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who changed her career and pop music as we know it when they released Control. This album was her coming of age story — taking control of her life, maturing into a woman, and writing and singing in the way that she wanted to. (I can’t help but think of Beyonce’s here.)

My oldest memory of Janet Jackson is from her Rhythm Nation 1814 album. My sister, 7 years my senior, started wearing a key on a giant costume jewelry hoop earring. I remember watching the black and white video, and in awe at the 50-11 dancers in military formation dancing with crisp precision. I wanted to be her too. 

I think there are moments where a musical experience makes your world shift. I would later feel that moment again when Britney Spears burst onto the scene with Hit Me Baby (One More Time), but the first time was when I saw Janet’s video for Love Will Never Do (Without You). She was different. She dared to be sexy. The trick of light and shadows during the whole video left viewers wanting more. The black and white film, again. Her beautiful smile in the sun, sandwiched between cameos of Antonio Sabado, Jr. and Djimon Hounsou… Just in case anyone had thought that the black and white motif had run its course, she proved us all wrong.

A few years later, she released janet., where she appeared topless, barring someone cupping her breasts as she looked straight into the camera, seductively challenging you to say something, think something, feel something. And we did. Again, my older sister had the good fortune to be able to go to see  janet. World Tour when it came to town. She brought back a tour book with beautiful photos, full of amazing costumes. Janet had officially and absolutely become a sex symbol.

Cover of the janet. World Tour Book

Over the last 30 years, Janet Jackson has continued to remain relevant. Any time she has decided to grace us with her gift of dance and song, we have been welcome recipients. She’s always up to something and keeps us guessing, which is what brilliant stars do. Something that she’s consistently kept us guessing about is who she’s been loving.

In 1985, she married James DeBarge of Debarge, another popular singing group of siblings. In the early 90s, she was romantically linked to dancer and songwriter René Elizondo. After seeing them together for years, people continued to ask when they’d tie the knot. No one knew that they had actually been married since 1991 until 2000 when they divorced. She later announced that she had wed billionaire Wissam Al Mana in 2012. In 2016, she announced that her Unbreakable tour had to be postponed because she and her husband, Wissam, were planning a family. This past January, Janet and Wissam welcomed their son, Eissa.

Wissam and Janet (Photo by Venturelli/WireImage)

Her iconic smile, her silent confidence, her ability to push boundaries while maintaining her own. We celebrate Janet Jackson today.

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