Musicheads Essential Artist: Janet Jackson

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Janet Jackson performs at the MTV VMAs in 2009.
Janet Jackson performs at the MTV VMAs in 2009. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
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Janet Jackson is a music icon: a singer, songwriter, and ultra-stylish live performer who became one of her generation's biggest pop stars and, in collaboration with her longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, did more than any artist other than Prince to put the Minneapolis Sound on the musical map.

She is, of course, a member of one of the 20th century's best-known musical families: among her brothers were the Jackson 5. Kid sister Janet, the ninth and youngest child of the Gary, Indiana family, watched her brothers burn up the charts and melt hearts. By the time she signed her own major-label deal in 1982, though still just a teenager, Janet was ready to forge her own path.

Her first two albums were successful, but it wasn't until her third LP that Janet truly took Control. That was the name of the hard-hitting collection of songs she crafted in Minneapolis with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, former members of the Time who would become superproducers — with Janet as their shining star. Their sleek, powerful sound supported Janet's bracing voice on songs like the title track, a true statement of purpose.

That album made her a superstar, and Janet made history again with 1989's Rhythm Nation 1814. One of the era's defining pop statements, the album blended rock and dance music in an arresting blend that DJs just couldn't stop playing. Its seven top five singles included the intoxicating "Escapade," with its shout-out to the city that had become her musical home.

By the early '90s, Janet Jackson was the world's highest-paid recording artist. Her remarkable string of success continued into the 2000s, with hit albums and massive concert tours. The infamous "wardrobe malfunction" incident at the 2004 Super Bowl chilled her commercial reception at the time, but by the next decade, the reaction to that accident was widely regarded as a shameful moment that demonstrated, more than anything, the misogyny of an industry that didn't cause her dance partner Justin Timberlake's career to suffer in the same way.

Today, Janet's status as a pioneering performer and an essential pop artist is firmly established. In 2019, Janelle Monáe inducted Ms. Jackson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying, "Quite simply, y'all, there is only one Janet."

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