9 Ways Janet Jackson Changed The Music Industry Forever
It's Janet June! All month long, we're paying tribute to Janet — Miss Jackson, if you're nasty — with a celebration the legacy of the icon as she prepares to make her long-awaited comeback to the music scene. Welcome back, Miss Janet.
It’s a good time to be Janet Jackson.
Not only did the pop icon just celebrate her 49th birthday, but she also announced her return to pop music this year.
The last time we got a full new album from Janet was in 2008, and much has changed since the days before Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Adele and Taylor Swift came pop megastars, before Twitter created careers and before Spotify made sales a thing of the past. But for all the things that have changed since we last had Janet hitting the charts, it’s Miss Jackson herself who changed the game.
Don’t believe us? Here’s how Janet paved the way and made her influence felt in the music world.
It’s often pointed out how Janet’s contemporaries Madonna and Michael Jackson made the music video an event in the early '80s. But when Janet released clips for the singles off of her breakthrough 3rd album Control in 1986, she showed a mastery of the form that would become a signature of her career. From intricate choreography in "What Have You Done for Me Lately" to the long-form political pop visuals of Rhythm Nation in 1989, Janet showed an understanding and flair for performing in music videos that would cement her status as a pop icon.
That trend would continue throughout her career, from the brazen sexual imagery of the "If" video, the beautifully realized detail of "Got ‘Til It’s Gone" and "All For You"’s stylized cartoon dance party. Janet reminded you that the music video was the perfect medium for a superstar to carve out their message, no matter how that may change from record to record.
We’ve all read many a thinkpiece about how today’s pop queens are so hypersexed that the Billboard Hot 100 is just a soft-porn slideshow. But that’s a limited view however and ignores that many a pop titan has embraced their sexy side.
While Madonna’s fearless approach to sexuality seemed to peak (and almost derail her career) with 1992’s Erotica, Janet’s self-titled 1993 effort saw Jackson double down on the sex-talk and move effortlessly into the next wave of her career. That may have reached saturation point with the post-Superbowl backlash in 2004, but 90s Janet showed today’s pop starlets the template for doing grown-up, sexually charged music that could still have mass appeal. (You just know that Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus had a listen to "If" before planning their respective sexy makeovers.)
The blockbuster success of Rhythm Nation sent Janet on the road for her first tour in 1990. The subsequent jaunt, imaginatively titled the Rhythm Nation Tour, would go on to become the most successful debut tour by any pop performer, taking in $28 million from over 110 shows.
Across all of her tours, Janet helped pioneer the kind of multi-media extravaganza that is now standard for Gaga, Pink and Britney, amongst countless others.
From a squad of back-up dancers to multiple costume changes, Janet was one of the first stars to recreate the lavish world of her music videos in a live context.
From lavish shows to eye-popping videos, one of Janet’s hallmarks soon became her intricate and instantly iconic choreography, which also launched the careers of famous choreographers like Tina Landon and Paula Abdul. From "What Have You Done For Me Lately" onwards, Janet pioneered a kind of sinewy, seemingly effortless but breathtaking way of hitting through tightly choreographed dance steps.
Clips like "Rhythm Nation," "If," "Pleasure Principle" and "Together Again" showed Jackson’s knack for switching up her dance style with ease. Pick any “squad of dancers behind a popstar” dance video of the last 10 years and you’ll see Janet’s influence straight away.
Over the last five years the producer has become more paramount in pop than ever before. From DJs like Diplo and David Guetta to the continued success of Dr. Luke and Max Martin, the people twiddling the knobs on hit songs have as much fame as the stars fronting them. Janet understood the power of a good production team at a key juncture in her career.
When she reinvented herself with the tough, streetwise charm of Control, Janet roped in Prince collaborators (and stars in their own right) Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to revamp her sound. It paid off, and meant that of the 16 (!) Billboard Hot 100 number ones Jam and Lewis scored, 9 of those came from their work with Janet (Max Martin currently has 8 of his 20 Hot 100 number ones for his work with Katy Perry).
Janet showed the power of finding the right production team to further your vision, and the Janet, Jam and Lewis collaborative magic helped make her a star.
Once Janet made the pop world truly notice her with the breakout success of Control, she turned her album releases into events: From interludes and deep cuts, each Janet album was a full body of work and only released every few years.
Jackson made her albums blockbusters releases and, well before the current era where singles come with a teaser clip, lyric videos, artwork reveal and album re-releases almost instantly, Jackson showed the power of making the album your calling card.
Mariah Carey returned to Sony Records recently, who she left after she infamously signed a $100 million dollar contract with Virgin Records in 2000. (The label would then buy Carey out of her contract after Glitter underperformed.) But before that, Janet set a precedent for big-ticket record contracts.
Pre-janet. album Jackson signed a contract with Virgin Records worth $50 million dollars an unprecedented amount at the time, which was then re-upped to the tune of $80 million in the mid '90s before the release of Velvet Rope.
Jackson made the record business put their money into her work in a move that signified the power of the big-ticket female pop icon. Now, labels engineer “360 deals," Jay Z uses big name stars to promote Tidal and pop stars leverage their music appeal into contracts for other endorsements.
Before Taylor Swift and Gaga were topping Forbes lists of powerful pop icons, Janet was showing how the music world could answer to the artists that had made it so much money.
Janet’s influence has been cited by a bevy of pop performers, and she even helped give some performers their start: Paula Abdul transitioned into a massively successful pop career after Janet encouraged her having worked on much of her choreography.
Jennifer Lopez made one of her first on-screen appearances in the clip for Janet’s "That’s The Way Love Goes" video, and frequently cites Jackson’s own style of dance as an inspiration.
Meanwhile Jackson’s visual influence on performers like Britney Spears, Ciara and Zendaya is obvious. In fact, for all the focus on how Britney was allegedly mimicking Madonna, the style of dance and even her shedding of her sexy image felt far more in line with how Janet has made her mark.
Pink, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Lady Gaga have all cited Jackson’s influence on them as pop stars, showing the length and breadth of her ongoing impact on pop.
And it’s not just her pop contemporaries! Little Dragon, Dev Hynes and How To Dress Well are just some of the alternative acts to reference their fandom of Janet’s material, while Kendrick Lamar’s "Poetic Justice," released in 2013, included a sample of "Any Time, Any Place."
Janet had already embraced her sexuality, talked about the state of the world and emancipated herself from family pressures on her albums prior to The Velvet Rope.
But on this 1998 release, she delved into heavier subject matter and created an album that took the kind of twists and turns now standard for “alternative” R&B. Before The Weeknd, FKA Twigs and Kelela were critical darlings, Janet was exploring cutting edge production, brutal honesty and an uncompromising vision.
From the joyful house-pop sheen of "Together Again" to the eerily aware take on where the internet would shift desire on "Empty," it’s not only one of Janet’s best albums, but one that holds up a mirror to where many artists would head musically years later.