Janet Jackson has built an enviable musical career. She has released 11 studio albums, four compilation albums, and two remix albums, spawning 10 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and 16 No. 1 singles on the Billboard R&B chart (which is only second to Aretha Franklin for female artists with the most No. 1 singles).
The five-time Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has also sold over 100 million records globally.
Journey of Defining Pop and R&B
She’s a true trailblazer for pop, R&B, and all artists in general.
However, her musical journey did not have a stellar start, despite having the Jackson last name. Her first two projects were considered relative failures. She released her first album, “Janet Jackson,” in 1982 to poor reviews and sales performance. Though her second album, “Dream Street,” released in 1986, was an improvement, it still did not perform well commercially, nor did it receive rave reviews.
While a lot can be said about her first two albums, it’s important to note that she did not have creative input into the project. That changed with her third term, where she teamed up with Minneapolis-based producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam to produce the genre-defining R&B and pop album “Control.”
With more creative freedom while making “Control,” she established her musical persona – a strong and confident woman.
Her fifth album, “janet,” was her coming-of-age story. The album, which sold over 7 million copies, represented the sexual awakening for both the Jacket and the R&B and pop genres. With six Hot 100 singles (including “Any Time, Any Place” and “That’s The Way Love Goes”), she explores her sexuality in song and music videos.
Songs from the album have inspired a generation of musicians, with artists, notably Kendrick Lama (with “Poetic Justice”), and MoonBoots (with Sugar) among others, making musical references and direct samples of her work on “janet.”
Speaking with Billboard, she noted, “I have listened to the music that is out there and I love Kendrick’s ‘Poetic Justice.’ There are artists, true performers that have come before me who have been a big inspiration to me. I hope I do the same for others.”
Her sixth album, “Velvet Rope,” is credited by many R&B enthusiasts as a genre-defining album, molding the R&B and pop landscape for multi-generations of artists. She set the artistic standards of modern-day R&B and pop, to the extent that when you listen to her music from the 90s (for instance, “Anytime, Anyplace”), it still feels and sounds contemporary.
Janet is one of the most instrumental artists in the pop and R&B genres, creating the blueprint many artists use today. She was instrumental in creating and defining the alternative R&B genre through “Velvet Rope” that artists like The Weeknd, SZA, and Frank Ocean thrive in today.
Inspiring Artistic Freedom among Artists
Her impact and influence are evident in more than just how R&B and pop artists structure their songs. Her musical projects emboldened many artists who came up after her to speak their minds out, especially among female artists.
Through “Velvet Rope,” she opened up the way for mainstream artists to tap into their personal lives and sing subject matters close to their hearts. This creative process has been put to good use by numerous artists, with Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and Rihanna’s “Rated R” albums as good examples.
Her “1989 Rhythm Nation 1814” album had a political theme with a focus on social justice. The title song, “Rhythm Nation,” is particularly notable for calling for a “protest to social injustice." She was also vocal about women’s rights and issues in her music.
Speaking to the BBC, Dr. Kirsty Fairclough of the University of Salford School of Arts and Media said, "Long before Beyoncé was flashing the word 'feminist' in the background while performing on stage, Janet was exploring how navigating the world as a Black woman is never not political."
Dr. Kirsty added, "Her music and image melded to explicitly address racism and sexism with songs about trying to flourish as a person in an environment ruled by both. In a 1987 interview following the release of Control, Jackson responded to a question about being a feminist by saying, 'If it’s someone, a woman, who’s taking control of her life as well as her career, then I say that I am a feminist.'"
In this regard, we can consider Janet to be a trailblazer in the feminist movement in the world of music.