This is a story about control: 15 revelations from Janet Jackson's new documentary
In 1993, Janet Jackson started a new chapter in her life and in the pop history books when she released her fifth studio album, simply titled janet. The period in its title was not silent, but meant to make a statement: Here she was, free from her famous, if burdensome, surname.
For her new A&E and Lifetime documentary, JANET JACKSON. — stylized in all caps as opposed to the all-lowercase janet., but with a period still doing a lot of heavy lifting — the pop icon takes control of her own narrative and the full weight of her and her family's legacy.
Here are some of the biggest revelations from Janet Jackson.
Her name's not "Baby," it's Janet — Esquire if you're nasty
Janet had no desire to become a singer, but her father, Joe Jackson, a strict disciplinarian whose laser-like focus uplifted his family from poverty, had different ideas. When he heard a song that a young Janet had recorded on her own, he made the decision on her behalf: She would follow in her brothers' syncopated footsteps.
But originally, the youngest Jackson wanted to go to college to study business law. According to Joe Jackson's longtime secretary, he always thought Janet would be even bigger than Michael. After he managed her career as a teenager, Janet famously fired her father before embarking on a successful solo career.
"Discipline without love is tyranny, and tyrants they were not"
Much has been made about Joe Jackson's parenting style. While her siblings all seem to have their own feelings about their father's heavy-handed approach, Janet credits her and her family's career to him.
To hear Janet explain it: "My parents disciplined all of us. And that's how we, as a people, we raised our kids. But you turn around and you give them love to show that 'I love you, I'm here for you.' Discipline without love is tyranny, and tyrants they were not. They just wanted us to be the best that we could possibly be."
Life on Mars... in L.A.
When the Jacksons moved from Gary, Ind., to Los Angeles, on the popularity of the Jackson 5, the family hosted many a fancy soiree, inviting all the glittery celebs in town. One such famous guest, David Bowie, apparently tried to offer members of the Jackson 5 marijuana. Janet says Bowie showed up to the party and was looking for a little room to get away from everyone for a bit.
Brother Randy Jackson then picks up the tale: "Michael and I are sitting in one of the other rooms away from the party. So Bowie walks in and... oh, he offered us some of what he was doing to get high. We just looked at each other. We were like, 'No.' We didn't know what it was."
With music by her side to break the color lines...
Even though the Jacksons were one of America's most famous families, they still faced some pushback when they became the first Black family to move into their Encino, Calif., neighborhood.
"A lot of the people didn't want us there, so they had this petition going around so that we wouldn't be in the neighborhood," Janet says, adding that she remembers being called the N-word while walking down the street and facing a number of microaggressions from her teachers and classmates.
"First time I fell in love, I didn't know what hit me"
"When it comes to relationships, somehow I'm attracted to people who use drugs," Janet says before talking about her first marriage to James DeBarge, a member of of the R&B group DeBarge. Like Janet, he came from a famous musical family, but unlike Janet, James struggled with drug addiction.
Janet goes on to share a story about rolling around on the ground struggling with her husband over a bottle of pills she wanted to flush down the toilet. They got married in secret when Janet was 18, but had the marriage annulled a little over a year later in 1985. She then got secretly engaged to her creative partner René Elizondo Jr. in 1987; they were married (secretly) four years later.
"How could I keep a child away from their father?"
One of the biggest rumors dogging Janet has been that of a secret baby she allegedly had with DeBarge. As the story grew, it took on a life of its own. At one point, gossip swirled that one of her nieces, either Brandi or Stevanna, was supposed to have been Janet's child but was given to one of her siblings to raise as their own. Janet acknowledges these rumors and attempts to put them to bed for good.
"I could never keep a child away from James," Jackson explains. "How could I keep a child away from their father? I could never do that. That's not right."
Thriller changed everything
Janet can recall the exact moment when everything changed between her and Michael, and it was right around the time that Thriller, the best-selling album of all time, exploded. The intense media scrutiny took its toll on Michael, and Janet remembers the night when they stopped being "very close" and doing "everything together."
"He would always come in my room and we would talk. And this particular time he came in my bedroom, neither one of us said a word to each other. And then he got up… and left. That's the time where Mike and I started kind of going our separate ways. We weren't as close."
Janet lost out on a deal with Coke thanks to her brother's scandals
In 1993, Coca-Cola approached Janet to appear in an ad campaign, an answer to her brother Michael's rather infamous stint as a spokesperson for rival Pepsi. They already had the meetings and Janet was getting ready to sign the deal when the first allegations of child sexual abuse came out against her brother. The soda giant then rescinded their offer.
Janet never thought Michael was guilty
Though she admitted the allegations against Michael affected her life and career, she never doubted her brother's innocence. "I knew my brother," she says, "and he didn't have that in him." In a show of solidarity with Michael, Janet recorded the 1995 duet "Scream" with him. While the word "iconic" gets bandied about rather recklessly these days, there's no other way to describe the home video footage of the two superstar siblings writing the song together in Michael's bedroom.
Don't it make you wanna "Scream"
The video for "Scream", the most expensive of all time, was a very difficult shoot, made even more so by Michael's record company. They tried to make the shoot into a competition between brother and sister by hiding Michael's scenes from Janet while he was filming. This was particularly hurtful to Janet as she did the project to help her bother not compete against him.
A little bit of history repeating...
In the first night of the doc, Janet reveled that when it came to relationships, she was "somehow" attracted to people who used drugs. This was true of her first marriage to James DeBarge, as well as her second marriage to René Elizondo. According to Janet, he had a problem with painkillers, and things started to unravel with them around her 1997 Velvet Rope tour. A constant presence in her life, Elizondo was largely absent from the tour. The couple divorced in 2000, though the news that they were married at all came as a shock.
Janet started having weight and body image issues when she was 10
One of the main factors that led to Janet's divorce from René were his disparaging comments about her appearance. This struck a nerve as she had struggled with her weight from an early age, since her first acting gig on Good Times when she was 10. Her brother Michael would also call her names like "Pig" and "Cow," but even though she knew it "wasn't out of malice," it still hurt her "somewhere down inside."
Janet advised Justin Timberlake to not say anything regarding "Nipplegate"
Ah, and here we are. The 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show. Janet had been asked to perform on the show before, but had always been busy, so it was a pretty big deal when she signed on for Super Bowl XXXVIII. The show itself, featuring opening numbers from P. Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, and Jessica Simpson, went off nearly without a hitch, until it, well, it didn't. At the end of her duet with Justin Timberlake on his "Rock Your Body," Timberlake ripped off Janet's top, exposing her nipple, adorned with a sun medallion, to 150 million viewers.
What followed was a media clusterfuck of immense proportions, including a blacklist from MTV and other Viacom properties, lawsuits from the FCC, and just general witch-hunting vibes. Justin spoke to Janet on the phone after the incident and wanted to know if he should release some sort of statement or something.
"I said, 'Listen, I don't want any drama for you. They're aiming all of this at me,'" Janet recalls. "So I said, 'If I were you, I wouldn't say anything.'"
Janet and Justin are still, and will always be, "very good friends"
Timberlake doesn't make an appearance in the doc — though Janet does consider a request from him to perform together at Super Bowl LII — Janet recently recorded a cellphone video seemingly as her final statement on the whole "Nipplegate" matter:
"This whole thing has been blown out of proportion. Of course it was an accident that should not have happened but everyone is looking for someone to blame and that's gotta stop. Justin and I are very good friends and we will always be very good friends. We spoke just a few days ago and he and I have moved on. And it's time for everyone else to do the same."
The last words Janet and Michael said to each other
Michael Jackson died in 2009, by which point he was estranged from most of the Jackson family. Janet recalled the last time she saw him, at a surprise party for their parents:
"My whole family was there and he was sitting next to me. He was laughing like crazy and he had that deep laugh. And I remember him looking over at me. And the last thing we said to each other was 'I love you.' And that was the last time I saw him. But at least I have that ... at least I have that. I miss him."
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