Janet Jackson in control -- After signing an unprecedented deal with Virgin, this singer is on top

Once upon a time Janet Jackson was known as Michael’s kid sister — but her whopping new $40 million contract with Virgin Records suggests it may be time to think of Michael as one of Janet’s brothers.

According to sources familiar with the negotiations, Virgin beat out a pack of competitors by guaranteeing Janet three albums at $10 million apiece. But the most interesting aspect of the worldwide deal is said to be a $10 million payment to her if Virgin is sold — a groundbreaking clause that other superstars will now want in their contracts. Why would Jackson seek such a clause? In recent years tape and CD prices have skyrocketed, but artists haven’t always benefited from the newfound wealth. Janet herself was one of A& M’s most valuable assets when the company was sold to PolyGram in 1989 for more than $500 million — and she didn’t get a dime.

The clear loser in the months-long bidding war for Jackson is A&M, left with Sting as its sole superstar of the moment. Big winners are producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the team behind Jackson’s hit albums, 1986’s Control and 1989’s Rhythm Nation (which sold 5 million and almost 6 million copies, respectively). It’s unlikely Virgin will allow her to make an album without them.

One wild card is whether Virgin can make Jackson a big enough star outside the U.S. to justify the deal. You also have to wonder how long it will take Virgin’s homegrown dance diva, Paula Abdul, to go after her own contract upgrade. Abdul might try borrowing a line from her new label mate: What Have You Done for Me Lately?