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Janet Jackson: Unbreakable, Now and Forever

John Antonucci | January 27, 2022

Death of a King

On June 25, 2009, news broke of Michael Jackson’s death, leaving fans and millions of mourners around the world in shock and disbelief. His sister Janet was at home in New York, ready to begin production on the sequel film, Why Did I Get Married Too? It was only days later at the BET Awards, when a grieving Janet made her first public appearance since her brother’s death to address the audience. “To you, Michael is an icon. To us, Michael is family,” she said. “And he will forever live in our hearts.” The world continued to salute and celebrate the life of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his legacy at numerous musical events following his death.

In one show-stopping tribute, Janet Jackson honored the King of Pop with a surprise performance of their 1995 hit “Scream,” at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Jackson’s performance received a standing ovation from the crowd and endless praise from viewers and critics. Two months later, Jackson released her second hits compilation, Number Ones. She made a number of televised performances in support of the album, including opening the 2009 American Music Awards with a medley of her greatest hits.

Though the decade would end in perhaps the most unexpected way for Janet Jackson, she was about to prove her strength in numbers – reminding us that she was still Miss Jackson, despite the pain and unspeakable heartache.

Broken Hearts Heal

After reprising her role as Patricia Agnew in the 2010 Tyler Perry film, Why Did I Get Married Too?, Jackson recalled the film’s working process to be both nurturing and therapeutic. “Work helps focus all of that energy on something that is of value to you,” she explained during an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. Her newest single, “Nothing,” served as the theme song to the film. In it, Jackson’s professing of holding to the moments and people in our lives is strikingly applicable to, not only her character’s mourning, but her own reality – “Cherish every moment like it’s the last / Trust in me…,” she sings. Jackson then returned to movie screens only a few months later, this time as a less optimistic Agnew and a more shrewd, Anna Wintour-like H.B.I.C. The film – another Tyler Perry creation – was For Colored Girls, an adaption of the 1975 Ntozake Shange play of the same name. Jackson’s performance as Joanna Bradmore, a fashion magazine editor, earned her two Black Reel Award nominations: Outstanding Supporting Actress and Outstanding Ensemble.

Jackson marked her return to the stage in 2011, setting foot on the Number Ones: Up Close and Personal World Tour. Described as a “love affair between me and those of you who have supported me and my work for all these years” by Jackson, the tour’s approach was set to be much more organic than those of Jackson’s past. Instead of stadiums and arenas, Jackson was front and center in intimate theaters and venues, where she could literally be “up close and personal” with her beloved fans. Without missing a single beat, the pop legend performed all of her greatest hits with the same exact perfection and finesse as their debuts from years (some even decades) prior.

In February 2011, Jackson released her very own self-help book, titled True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself. Co-written with David Ritz, the book was inspired by Jackson’s own bouts with insecurities from self-esteem issues, weight struggles, and self-love. Jackson would later disclose the challenges she faced in conceptualizing the book’s material. “The whole book was difficult to write. I am a very private person. I guess I always have been, even as a child.” The book wasn’t an excuse for self-pity, but a show of support for those who identified with the same issues as Jackson’s. Like her music, Jackson’s True You became a source of comfort for her followers – helping them find solace in the process of living and loving themselves as their true selves. The book would turn Janet Jackson into a best-selling author, topping The New York Times Best Sellers List, in March 2011.

Unbreakable

After a previously aforementioned marriage to billionaire businessman Wissam Al Mana in 2012, Jackson dipped out of the spotlight, only to return with a new studio album and accompanying world tour. The album would be the first to be released under Jackson’s newly established record label, Rhythm Nation – establishing Janet Jackson as one of the first few African-American female artists to own a record label.

In June 2015, Jackson released the unknown titled album’s lead single, “No Sleeep.” After charting on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 67 (it would later reach a peak of No. 63, thanks to the J. Cole-featured album version), it became Jackson’s longest-running number-one hit on the U.S. Adult R&B Songs Chart, after spending 12 weeks at the top.  Later that month, Jackson was honored with the Ultimate Icon: Music Dance Visual award at the BET Awards.

In August, the Unbreakable Tour launched. Fans not only caught a listen to some soon-to-be-released material, but noted Jackson’s stage costumes as rather reserved for the singer who became a nexus for baby-making music and sex teasing shows. In alliance with her supposed conversion to Islam and Al Mana’s reported “none of that American [stuff]” demands, Jackson’s stage performances were the kid-friendliest since her days as a fledgling recording artist. Though just as thoroughly entertaining, many praised Jackson’s newly tamed image as grown and appropriate for a 50-something-year-old pop star. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some of her bum-baring peers.

In October 2015, Jackson released her eleventh studio album, Unbreakable. The album was met with rave reviews and the number-one slot of the Billboard 200, making Jackson the third musical act in history to have a number-one album in each of the last four decades. The album’s tour and promotional efforts were later paused, due to Jackson’s pregnancy announced the following year.

After vowing to resume all missed concert dates, the tour was then reworked and retitled as the State of the World Tour. Beginning in September 2017, the tour’s focus shifted as a more socially awareness campaign. The tour also marked Jackson’s first since her divorce from Al Mana. In a highly acclaimed show number, Jackson’s powerful rendition of The Velvet Rope’s “What About” led many to speculate the song’s domestic violent lyrical content was representative of Jackson’s marriage to Al Mana. Jackson’s brother, Randy, claimed that his sister suffered verbal abuse at the hands of Al Mana, leading to the demise of their marriage. But if Jackson’s career had proven anything by this point, it’s that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

The following year brought a series of flattery for the musical titan. After Justin Timberlake was announced as the year’s Super Bowl Halftime performer (making it his first return since… you know), people were quick to criticize how blatantly contradictory it was to have a man who exposed a woman’s breast on live television be welcomed back for seconds, while the woman was left to grapple with the broken pieces. This led to a social media prompting of #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay trending on Twitter every Super Bowl Sunday since.

But, let’s forget about the Super Bowl for a minute. Janet Jackson was finally, just finally, starting to earn back all the glory she was never deserving of losing in the first place. In May 2018, she was awarded the Billboard Icon Award, becoming the first African-American female artist to receive the honor. She released the summer-ready “Made For Now,” featuring reggaetón master Daddy Yankee. And, after three nominations, it was announced that she would be inducted into the 2019 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Joining the likes of Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez, Jackson then announced a four-month Las Vegas concert residency, titled Metamorphosis, in February 2019. The residency would be housed at the Park Theater at Park MGM resort. The year 2019 also marked the thirtieth anniversary of Rhythm Nation, taking Jackson on a train of performances in celebration of the milestone, including headlining the U.K.’s legendary Glastonbury Festival.

Janet, Today

After a whirlwind of accolades, Janet Jackson was prepping to enter another decade of her career, with new music, new performances, and a new outlook. The freshly divorced mommy of one announced the Black Diamond World Tour in February 2020. Its provided album, Black Diamond, was slated to be released sometime within the year. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both projects were canceled, and Jackson has yet to announce any future plans for Black Diamond.

But Jackson’s name still found its way into the headlines, thanks to perhaps the most gripping pop culture series to come out of our quarantine. Following the release of the Hulu documentary series, Framing Britney Spears, viewers leaped into attack mode after learning how – surprise, surprise! – Justin Timberlake used his breakup with Spears as a ploy for sympathy-turned-success. After being called out for his jibing of the pop princess, fans also demanded he apologize to Jackson. Both she and Spears are certainly more than deserving of a proper apology from the man whose career skyrocketed off of the public humiliation of two of the most popular women in music history. So, the fans asked demanded, and the fans received.

In an Instagram post, dated February 12, 2021, Timberlake issued a public apology, writing “I’ve seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond.” He then went to say, “I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed.” Was the apology only a scapegoat for any more public scrutiny of Timberlake’s sexist and misogynistic past? Probably. After all, it only took him a whole 17 years. Maybe it’s time for his own eviction, and maybe he won’t need 17 more years to speak up about it.

Thankfully, it won’t be much longer until fans get to hear Jackson’s own story in her own words. It was announced in March 2021 that Jackson’s life story will be getting airtime, with a two-night, four-hour documentary from Lifetime and A&E. The television special, titled Janet Jackson, had been in the works for three years, and promises unfiltered access inside the life of one of the world’s most private public figures. And from that access, fans and viewers will watch as Jackson will reportedly open up about the death of her famous brother Michael, the allegations that marred his career, the Super Bowl infamy, and more. The documentary will premiere this weekend.

This and news of Jackson’s own Julien’s Auctions has made the members of her rhythm nation more than happy. The exclusive Beverly Hills showcase, presented as “Iconic Treasures from the Legendary Career and Life of Janet Jackson,” took place over the star’s fifty-fifth birthday weekend (May 14-16) – where buyers were able to nab some of over 1,000 pieces of Jackson’s very own personal belongings. The items up for grabs all ranged from Jackson’s showstopping tour costumes, to record plagues, to childhood memorabilia, to music video looks (in which Kim Kardashian snagged Jackson’s “If” costume for $25K, which seems minuscule for the “Scream” look that sold for $125K), and some rather intimate items, too (whips and sex dice). Even the iconic key earring Jackson donned during the Rhythm Nation era sold for $43,750. Proceeds from the auction went to the child sponsorship program, Compassion International.

Janet, Forever

With over 100 million records sold worldwide, it’s no wonder how Janet Jackson became one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. For nearly five decades now, she’s remained a constant example of what becomes a legend. But despite her preserved place in pop music, there’s still something about Janet Jackson that is criminally overlooked. With the very, very few artists left of Jackson’s stature, one can only hope that time will acknowledge the megastar as one of the greatest living entertainers still competing with – or rather instructing – her class of hopefuls. Janet Jackson has not only proven to be an instrument of inextricable talent and strength but a continuous influence and inspiration of countless prodigies that danced in her footsteps. All these years later, Janet Jackson is the sole owner of one thing – control, and she’s still got lots of it.

Written by John Antonucci