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The youngest sibling of a pop music dynasty, Janet Jackson made her initial show business breakout as a sweet-faced and chaste television actress. But at the age of 20, she began to give her brothers a run for their money with the multi-million selling album Control. Over the next few decades Jackson's persona evolved from sensitive teen to empowered young adult to global messenger to mature, sophisticated artist, and throughout this metamorphosis, amounting sales of over 100 million albums worldwide and status as the second most successful female artist in pop music history. With the exception of Jackson's older brother Michael, with whom she was extremely close as both a family member and as his professional peer, Jackson spent a lifetime distancing herself from the family name, not only to establish herself as her own artist, but due to the antics of spotlight-seeking siblings like sister La Toya and notoriously bullish stage dad, Joseph. The tenacious littlest Jackson ultimately succeeded on her own merit, occasionally returning to acting in feature films "Poetic Justice" (1993), "Why Did I Get Married?" (2007) and its 2010 sequel, and "For Colored Girls" (2010) while maintaining her popularity...
The youngest sibling of a pop music dynasty, Janet Jackson made her initial show business breakout as a sweet-faced and chaste television actress. But at the age of 20, she began to give her brothers a run for their money with the multi-million selling album Control. Over the next few decades Jackson's persona evolved from sensitive teen to empowered young adult to global messenger to mature, sophisticated artist, and throughout this metamorphosis, amounting sales of over 100 million albums worldwide and status as the second most successful female artist in pop music history. With the exception of Jackson's older brother Michael, with whom she was extremely close as both a family member and as his professional peer, Jackson spent a lifetime distancing herself from the family name, not only to establish herself as her own artist, but due to the antics of spotlight-seeking siblings like sister La Toya and notoriously bullish stage dad, Joseph. The tenacious littlest Jackson ultimately succeeded on her own merit, occasionally returning to acting in feature films "Poetic Justice" (1993), "Why Did I Get Married?" (2007) and its 2010 sequel, and "For Colored Girls" (2010) while maintaining her popularity as a multi-talented performer who valued the hard-won privacy of her personal life.
Jackson was born on May 16, 1966, the youngest of the nine children who were already on their way to building a musical empire by the time she came along. Steel worker father Joe had recently discovered the innate musical talent of his sons, and early incarnations of The Jackson Five were already playing in Chicago and on the "chitlin circuit" near their hometown of Gary, IN. By 1968, the lineup of Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Michael made it to Amateur Night at Harlem's famed Apollo Theater, and soon after began opening for major Motown acts like Gladys Knight and the Pips. In 1969, when the Jackson Five signed to Motown Records and were readying for their pop music breakthrough, manager dad Joe moved the group to Los Angeles. Mom Katherine followed with the rest of the family in 1970, when the group exploded onto the scene with their first No. 1 single, "I Want You Back." During the baby Jackson's early years, family affairs revolved around the brothers' huge pop career, and it was assumed that the younger children would go on to do the same. As such, Jackson was added to the family's Las Vegas stage act during the mid-1970s, where the round-faced, innocent little girl's impersonation of one Hollywood's bawdiest performers, Mae West, charmed audiences. While the horse-enthusiast youngster wanted to grow up to become a jockey, her future was pre-determined by an undeniable genetic gift and a father driven to make his entire brood famous. In 1976, she was recruited to sing and dance in the variety series, "The Jacksons" (CBS, 1976-77).
Unlike the rest of her siblings, though, Jackson first made a name for herself as an actress. In 1977, she joined the fifth season of the sitcom "Good Times" (CBS, 1974-79) as Penny, daughter of single mom Willona (Ja'net Dubois) on the comedy set in a Chicago housing project. When that series ended in 1979, Jackson was cast as the daughter of Telma Hopkins on "A New Kind of Family" (ABC, 1979-1980), which centered on two single moms raising their kids together in one home. That short-lived series was followed by recurring appearances as Willis Jackson's (Todd Bridges) sweet, chaste girlfriend Charlene on "Diff'rent Strokes" (NBC, 1978-1985; ABC, 1985-86). In 1982, 18-year-old Jackson took a recurring role on the TV adaptation of the movie musical "Fame" (NCB, 1982-83; syndicated, 1983-87), while beginning to move ahead with her own music career, albeit apprehensively. Her father Joe orchestrated a recording contract with A&M Records that resulted in her debut album Janet Jackson. The danceable bubblegum pop record launched the No. 6 charting R&B single, "Young Love" and further established apple-cheeked Jackson's shy personality and a sensitivity that young audiences latched onto. Meanwhile, her brother Michael's Thriller album began making history with seven Top 10 singles and a record 80 weeks on the Billboard album charts, making it the biggest-selling record of all time and himself, the most popular star on the planet by the end of 1983.
One year later, brothers Michael - then at his peak - Marlon, Tito and Jackie pitched in on songwriting and vocals for Jackson's follow-up, Dream Street, which sold less than her debut and produced only one single "Don't Stand Another Chance." The same year, Jackson upset her family by eloping with childhood friend, James DeBarge, of the popular group DeBarge. The couple began living under the Jackson family roof in Encino, CA, but after several months, Jackson had the marriage annulled and decided to make some bold changes in her life. She summoned the nerve to fire her manager father, moved out of the house, and recorded an album without any input from anyone in the family. The significantly titled Control, released in 1986 and produced by Jimmy Jam, showcased an artist coming into her own. Hard-driving, danceable, and with strong lyrical sentiments of empowerment, the album's production style was groundbreaking, and begat five Top Five singles including "Nasty" and "What Have You Done for Me Lately?" The album earned an Album of the Year nomination at the Grammy Awards, and stylish, spirited music videos further fueled album sales.
Upon its 1989 release, Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 continued Jackson's strong ascent, and showcased further personal evolution with a more socially conscious tone than her previous efforts. The album produced seven Top Five singles - including "Miss You Much" and "Escapade" - four of which made it to No. 1. With sales reaching 12 million copies worldwide, Jackson's popularity came close to rivaling brother Michael's, whose previous album was the 30 million-seller Bad, but whose personal image was beginning to take a hit with a string of unflattering stories about his changing skin color and facial structure, his adoption of a pet monkey and various other idiosyncrasies. At that same time, the 23-year-old Jackson embarked on her first international tour, attended by over two million fans, and shared her proceeds with a number of educational charities, establishing a Rhythm Nation Scholarship with the United Negro College Fund. During the time she was on the road promoting that successful album, her contract with A&M Records expired. Her popularity on the charts led to negotiations with Virgin Records for an undisclosed amount between $32 and $50 million dollars, making Jackson the highest paid female artist in pop music. Even brother Michael was impressed at her deal. At the same time she entered into another contract that was completely hidden from the public - a secret marriage to Rene Elizondo, Jr., who was her co-writer on a number of hits and directed several of her music videos. He would also later be revealed as the infamous "breast-cupper" on her 1993 Rolling Stone cover.
In 1993, Jackson made her feature film in John Singleton's "Poetic Justice," starring as a melancholy, aspiring poet pursued by a single father and postal worker played by the late rapper, Tupac Shakur. The film opened at No. 1 at the box office though it was not a critical success. At the same time, Jackson's soundtrack contribution "Again" earned Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Original Song. The song also appeared on the 1993 album janet, which was noted for more intimate songs that expressed Jackson's new sexual freedom and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album and R&B/rap charts; it went on to sell a total of 20 million records worldwide, spawning five singles and earning Jackson a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm-and-Blues Song for "That's the Way Love Goes." With her slimmed-down, much more sexualized persona, Jackson set off on another wildly popular, highly theatrical world tour while the family fortunes suffered a massive shift. Brother Michael's popularity took a major hit that year after allegations surfaced that he had inappropriate sexual relations with a child in his care. The two siblings had always been extremely close, though the littlest Jackson maintained distance from the rest of her media-seeking family. She stood by to support and defend her big brother as his legal troubles were tirelessly analyzed by the media, and his popularity began to wane for the first time in his career. Likewise, when estranged sister La Toya published a memoir that year accusing Jackson's parents of abuse, Jackson refuted the notorious drama queen's recollection.
The following year, it was Jackson who leveraged her own fame to help revive the image of best brother, Michael. The pair teamed to write and perform the song "Scream;" an unexpectedly biting backlash against the media scrutiny that Jackson had endured of late. The passionate, explosive song became a hit and the inordinately expensive music video went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. After doing her part for Mike, what followed was a period of depression and relative inactivity for Jackson. Virgin Records re-signed her to an $80 million deal in 1996, and she justified their faith by channeling her emotional recovery into the album The Velvet Rope, a well-received collection of highly personal songs that went triple-platinum within a year. The album addressed Jackson's battle with depression, her self-image problems, family woes and how she had escaped an abusive relationship. Among its top singles were "Together Again" and "I Get Lonely." Jackson rounded out the decade with another multi-media touring extravaganza, and returned to movie theaters in the summer of 2000 by playing the scientist fiancée of Eddie Murphy's Professor Klump in the family comedy, "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps" (2000). Then Jackson's heretofore unknown husband, Rene Elizondo, Jr., filed for divorce, leaving not only fans but family members stunned to learn that the heavily scrutinized artist had been married for eight years in what was one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets.
Her seventh album, All For You, proved that Jackson was still holding steady as the Queen of Pop, leaving contenders Madonna and Britney Spears in the dust by debuting at number one on the Billboard album charts. The title track hit number one and earned a Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording, while Jackson's romantic life rebounded with a relationship with producer Jermaine Dupri. Unlike siblings Michael and La Toya, Jackson had largely avoided any spotlight being shown on her personal life and had generally avoided controversy throughout her career. All that changed on Feb. 1, 2004, while Jackson was performing a duet with pop star Justin Timberlake during the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Timberlake reached over at the climax of the segment and pulled off Jackson's breakaway black leather bustier, exposing her right breast (and sunburst-shaped nipple clamp) on live global television. The incident incited a massive media frenzy and public uproar, with outraged broadcaster CBS disavowing advance knowledge of the stunt and blaming its corporate sibling and halftime producer MTV, which had promised a "shocking" show. Timberlake issued a public apology for the "wardrobe malfunction," explaining that a red brassiere under the breakaway black bustier had inadvertently been torn away as well. The NFL and FCC launched investigations into the incident and Jackson eventually announced that she had privately concocted the stunt on her own and issued a videotaped public apology.
In the wake of the scandal, Jackson was asked to withdraw from an appearance on the Grammys to deliver an award to Luther Vandross, though Timberlake was allowed to perform on the show. It was later revealed that CBS would have allowed her to appear if she had issued another apology from the Grammy stage, as Timberlake did. The various broadcast television networks also had knee-jerk reactions to the stunt, with NBC and ABC adding stricter censoring of partial nudity on their lineup, and ABC issuing a five-second broadcast delay on the Academy Awards ceremony. To some, "Boobgate" seemed suspiciously timed, as Jackson was about to release the album Damita Jo after several years of silence. The coverage proved to have a negative effect, and the album performed poorly when compared to her unbroken record of solid hits. Having produced 27 Top Ten hits by that point in her career, none of the singles on the racy Damita Jo broke into the Top 40. Further bruising the Jackson family honor that year, brother Michael was in the legal crosshairs again for another child sexual abuse allegation, and again his sister was by his side, often escorting him to his court dates in Santa Barbara in a show of solidarity.
Jackson was at the center of two new scandals that broke within days of one another in 2005. First, claims surfaced that at age 18, the singer mothered a secret daughter during her brief marriage to James DeBarge, and that child was allegedly raised by her sister Rebbie, which Jackson vehemently denied. Hot on the heels of that headline grabber was a paparazzi video clip showing Jackson sunbathing nude, which made Internet rounds before the popster's attorney had it removed, threatening legal action to anyone showing it. Whether her tarnished image was to blame or whether Jackson had simply aged out of the ever-turning pop music cycle, her 2006 release 20 Y.O., a nod to the 20th anniversary of her career breakout Control, was marked by a lukewarm reception. While the album did reach No. 2 on the album charts, it sold just over a million copies and produced no significant radio singles. Jackson did, however, earn a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album and kicked off another world tour in March of 2007. While on the road, she could simultaneously be seen on movie screens in "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?" The film did well with audiences and won Jackson a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress, but movie critics were not impressed by Jackson's surprisingly restrained screen presence.
Jackson released her tenth studio album, Discipline, on the Island Def Jam label, where it sold under a half million copies but did produce her highest charting single since 2001, "Feedback," which hit No. 19. Following another explosive live tour in 2008, Jackson re-teamed with filmmaker Perry for the sequel "Why Did I Get Married Too?" (2010) and the drama "For Colored Girls" (2010), based on Ntozake Shange's 1975 verse play "for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf." Returning to music, Jackson went on the worldwide "Number Ones, Up Close and Personal" tour in 2011 and released her eleventh studio album, Unbreakable, in 2015.
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