Janet Jackson has been paving her own lane in music since 1982, bolstered by the support of her infinitely talented big brothers. One of those siblings in particular, better known as the King of Pop, was a major factor in her growth as an all-around performer. As a result, Janet set a precedent for young girls everywhere who dreamed of the stage. When Michael Jackson passed away in 2009, she instantly withdrew from the industry but here we are, six years later and she’s made a remarkable return to the spotlight, ready to give her all. Fans can only assume that her strength comes from knowing that her brother has always got her back.
From a catalog that includes albums like Control, Rhythm Nation 1819, The Velvet Rope and Damita Jo, and tracks that range from sweet, seductive and sensual, Jackson has forged a timeless place in music, dancing between pop and R&B effortlessly -- her influence can’t be denied. Jackson has inspired a limitless number of today’s superstars who practiced their eight-counts in full-length mirrors back in the day.
In honor of Miss Jackson (if you're nasty), The Boombox has compiled a list of the 20 Janet Jackson Songs That Made You a Fan.
Not many pop singers can brag on their “good sex” like Janet Jackson -- she’s proven this time and time again over the years. In 2008, she dropped “Feedback,” a catchy, upbeat song to lead the promotion of her 10th studio LP, Discipline. The track was written and produced by Rodney "Darkchild" Jenkins, clearly on his futuristic tip, sonically. Even the visual for “Feedback” -- packed with special effects -- gave fans oodles of space-age naughtiness from Miss Jackson. Her luxurious ponytail was its own character in the clip as Jackson whipped around hitting every bit of that sharp choreography. Not to mention, both of her painted-on catsuits were on point.
All we knew of Janet in the movies prior to the year 2000 was her role with Tupac in Poetic Justice, which wasn’t exactly a lighthearted film but as the years went by, Jackson decided to spread her thespian wings to include a role beside Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. Jackson joined forces with her longtime production team Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to co-write and produce “Doesn’t Really Matter” for the movie’s soundtrack. The song was a perfect fit for the movie -- upbeat and fun with a poppy feel to it. The accompanying video was just as colorful, set in what looked like a simulated version of Tokyo with Jackson morphing from costume to costume and zipping through the well-lit streets with her homegirls in something futuristic.
A great thing was kept going with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis when Jackson dropped the title track to her All For You album in 2001. In keeping with her affinity for rocking a good dance song, the singer struck the gold mine with this one -- the song hit pop, rhythmic and urban radio all in the first week it was out. She was out of the woods after the mixed reviews her The Velvet Rope album received in 1997, “All For You” just felt like sunshine. With a little sex, of course. “All my girls at the party / Look at that body / Shakin' that thing like you never did see / Got a nice package alright / Guess I’m gonna have to ride it tonight...” she sang on the refrain. Well okay then, Janet.
In 1993, a few years prior to All For You, Jackson released her fifth album janet. “You Want This” was one of the major singles from the LP. Again, she teamed up with Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis but this time she brought MC Lyte along to spit a verse. There were a couple other contributions made within the production: Jam & Lewis sampled a bit from Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “Love Child” and the classic funk track “Jungle Boogie” from Kool & the Gang. Jackson spends the majority of the song teasing an admirer. “My girls, goin 'round talking / They say that you've been watchin' me boy / I know by the way you’re talkin’ / That you’re really tryin’ to get to me boy.”
Janet rarely sounded more undeniably joyful than she did on this classic track from Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. With a video that paid homage to the bygone era of Cab Calloway and the Neville Brothers, Janet zoot-suited around a stylized set straight out of an MGM musical--with a classic guest spot from Heavy D.
Janet Jackson tried her hand at the laid-back neo-soul movement with the track “Got Till It’s Gone,” which featured A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip. The song served as the lead single off The Velvet Rope and Jackson opened up about what kind of emotional changes occur upon realizing that she’s lost a love she took for granted. “Have a feelin', now believin' / That you were the one / I was meant to be with / Oh, how I'm wishin' / Thinkin', dreamin' 'bout you / And the love, how'd I let you get away?” Surprisingly enough, Jackson worked with Jam and Lewis on “Got Till It’s Gone,” although it sounded a lot less "shiny" and ready-made for Top 40 radio.
The singer prepared to drop her fifth album janet. in 1993 and the second single “If” solidified her direction -- super sexy, boldly sensual. "If" had a rock appeal to the production with heavy guitar riffs throughout even as Jackson sang sweetly about all things she would do if she had her crush to herself. “How many nights I've laid in bed / Excited over you / I've closed my eyes and thought of us / A hundred different ways / I've gotten there so many times / I wonder how 'bout you / Day and night, night and day...” By this time, Jackson had a penchant for teasing on record but everyone could relate to the lyrics on “If” -- especially if you were a hormone-charged adolescent at the time of it’s release.
Janet could always sing songs perfect for getting bodies moving on the dance floor but the beauty in her talent is that she can also do a beautiful ballad and pull that off effortlessly. “Again” was the third single from her janet. LP but the track was also featured as the closing song in Poetic Justice. It’s lighter than most of her catalog and flowery in its composition. This is a hopeful ode that features a hint of melancholy as she sings about possibly finding love again with an ex. “I heard from a friend today / And she said you were in town / Suddenly the memories / Came back to me in my mind / How can I be strong, I've asked myself / Time and time I've said / That I'll never fall in love with you again,” Jackson sings. Who hasn’t gone through a situation like this?
The first single from Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album was another saccharine love song, set to dance production, which made it the ultimate go-to track at house parties. “Shot like an arrow through my heart / That's the pain I feel / I feel whenever we're apart,” she sings. “Not to say that I'm in love with you / But who's to say that I'm not / I just know that it feels wrong / When I'm away too long / You make my body hot.” The masses seemed to agree as the song about Jackson missing her boo took off on radio. “Miss You Much” was the longest-running No. 1 record on the Billboard 100 chart in 1989 and it received a number of accolades including two American Music Awards and a Billboard Top 100 Award.
In 1997, Jackson was in the mood to try something a little more dark with The Velvet Rope, which ended up not being received as well as most of her previous work. It’s odd that she would’ve gone sort of gloomy with this one since, at that time, she was married, but we digress. Regardless of the mixed reviews, the album’s third single, “I Get Lonely,” was accepted, especially by those going through a painful breakup. “Sittin' here with my tears / All alone with my fears / I'm wonderin' if I have to do without you / But there's no reason why / I fell asleep late last night / Cryin' like a newborn child / Holdin' myself close, pretendin' my arms are yours / I want no one but you.”
Remember how we said that Jackson was trying to show another side of herself with Control? “Nasty,” the second single from the project, was one of those definitive moments where she put her attitude on the table and longtime fans could see that Janet was indeed grown at that point. She was talking about street harassment long before it was a hot topic and she was commanding respect. “My first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet -- Miss Jackson if you’re nasty...” And Paula Abdul, who did a lot of Jackson’s choreography at the time, made a cameo in the video. Apparently, people were loving this new image on Jackson, “Nasty” won Favorite Soul / R&B Single at the 1987 American Music Awards.
She was steadily finding her way to stardom by the time her Rhythm Nation 1814 album dropped in 1989. “Escapade” was the third single from that effort and just the sound of it inspired people to throw their worries to the wind, get happy and dance around. “My mind's tired / I've worked so hard all week,” she sang. “Cashed my check / I'm ready to go / I promise you / I'll show you such a good time / Come on baby, let's get away / Let's save our troubles for another day.” Janet Jackson was winning with escapism and taking fans with her on the excursion.
When the title track was released as the second single for Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 LP, she appeared to be following in her big brother’s footsteps. Michael was known to engage in some political conversations via his music from time to time and Janet’s offering was in the same mold. “Rhythm Nation” set a couple of precedents for the young star. The lyrics were socially provocative as she sang “With music by our side / To break the color lines / Let's work together / To improve our way of life / Join voices in protest / To social injustice / A generation full of courage / Come forth with me,” she sings. But beyond the lyrics, the video was another notch on Jackson’s belt, showcasing impeccable uniformity in the intense dance moves by herself and her crew. She took pop music to another level with this one.
"Love Will Never Do (Without You)"
“Love Will Never Do (Without You)” was one of the hit singles from Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album. It’s a fairly basic concept: Jackson sings to her beau about people having doubts about their relationship but she highlights the fact that she couldn’t be without him. “Our friends think we're opposites / Falling in and out of love / They all said we'd never last / Still we manage to stay together / There's no easy explanation for it / But whenever there's a problem / We always work it out somehow."
Janet Jackson was on her seductive tip for much of her janet. LP. “Anytime Anyplace” was such an iconic track that it ended up transcending a generation. Kendrick Lamar put his own spin on the concept of being down for whatever, whenever in 2012 when he sampled “Anytime Anyplace” for his cleverly named “Poetic Justice,” which was a wink at Jackson’s first major film. Who knew voyeurism was so popular? In 2013, Jackson told Billboard that she had given Lamar’s version the thumbs up. “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.”
The title track for Jackson’s Control album had her making a major personal statement that everyone else could dance to. The album as a whole was inspired by Janet’s need for independence, especially after splitting up with her dad, Joe Jackson who was serving as her manager prior to the production of Control. She took matters into her own hands and of course, the rest was history. “Rebel, that's right / I'm on my own / I'll call my own shots / Thank you / Got my own mind / I want to make my own decisions / When it has to do with my life, my life / I wanna be the one in control,” she delivers. Jackson proved her point with this one, even beating out her brother Michael for Soul Train’s Best R&B / Soul or Rap Music Video Award in 1988.
"What Have You Done For Me Lately?"
Clearly at this point anyone can see that Control was one of Jackson’s most influential albums ever -- just the singles from the LP make up 25 percent of this list. “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” was another standout in Jackson’s early music career. Her approach was staunch and unwavering, even though she could be sweet on other tracks. The lead single from ‘Control’ was perfect in that it assisted Jackson in rebranding herself for the public by use of a common problem in relationships -- inconsistency. “Used to go to dinner almost every night / Dancin' 'til I thought I'd lose my breath / Now it seems your dancing feet are always on my couch / Good thing I cook or else we'd starve to death - Ain't that a shame?” Timeless.
Control was Janet Jackson growing up, away from the child star persona that had been lingering since her days playing Penny on Good Times. But thankfully she eased out of that image so it wasn’t such a shock for those who were fans since the ‘70s. She managed to maintain her sweetness in songs like “When I Think of You,” where she’s definitely talking about that honeymoon period when you initially start dealing with someone you like -- before they start getting on your nerves. “Ooh, baby, anytime my world gets crazy / All I have to do to calm it / Is just think of you / 'Cause when I think of you, baby / Nothin' else seems to matter / 'Cause when I think of you, baby / All I think about is our love.”
Control was easily the album that made Janet Jackson a breakout star. The project was her third but it found her expanding her sound and subsequently, her fan base. “The Pleasure Principle” was her sixth single from that album. Sixth! That tells anyone how well the album was doing at that time. Jackson used the song to go off on an ungrateful ex who ended up wasting her time. “It's true you want to build your life of guarantees / Hey take a ride in a big yellow taxi / I'm not here to feed your insecurities / I wanted you to love me / This has become an all too familiar scene / It's not the first time I paid the fare / Where'd you get the idea of material possession? / Thank you for the ride nowhere.” Ouch. On top of the lyrics, Jackson showcased her dance skills in the accompanying video. It was the perfect setting -- just Janet alone in a studio, no distractions for the viewer. Fans could zone in on her talent.
"That’s the Way Love Goes"
“Like a moth to a flame, burned by the fire, my love is blind can’t you see my desire?” In 1993, Jackson fans couldn’t get away from this lusty single off of her janet. album. That opening line was universal. The track was fueled by a funk-filled vibe and ended up killing the Billboard 100 charts for two months. The success of “That’s the Way Love Goes” showed up during award season when Jackson received a Grammy for Best R&B Song and an MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video in addition to a multitude of other statues and trophies. The video was provocative enough and had one special feature making a cameo long before she hit her own superstar status -- Jennifer Lopez was one of the principal dancers.