Disrespected Icons: Janet & The Damita Jo Era
"Relax...it's just sex."
Janet Jackson is undeniably one of the greatest artists/performers of all-time, but she's not as celebrated as she should be. Janet not only broke down doors for those who came immediately after, but is still an inspiration today. Arguably the greatest performer of all-time, with the likes of her brother Michael, Beyoncé, & Chris Brown, Janet deserves to be put into every GOAT conversation that is had about music. She was in all of those conversations consistently, until the hypocrisy of society decided that she was the next target.
On March 30th, 2004, Janet released her eighth album, Damita Jo. I figured that with this album turning 18, this was the perfect opportunity to address the controversy surrounding the album at the time of release, with the reasons for it stemming not only from Janet’s Super Bowl performance, but the attack on the Jackson family by the media and society at the time. However, in order to dissect the industry blackballing of Janet's Damita Jo, we have to go back briefly and understand the level of superstardom that Janet was on at the time.
Janet Jackson's run from 1986 to 2001 is arguably the greatest in music, as Janet put out five classic albums, had legendary tours, and countless top 10 hits. Not only was Janet a force on the Billboard charts, but she also became an huge international star. The stats speak for themselves:
3 Grammy nominations
5 Top 10 singles
Control is the album that started it all for Janet. While she had released music prior to this album, nothing groundbreaking had been done, nothing set her apart from the rest of the industry outside of her last name. However, connecting with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis changed everything for her. The production duos built their sound around Janet's voice, instead of making the artist fit into the instrumentals.
Janet separated herself from the family's then picture perfect image with her all black attire and aggressive aesthetic, which would be adopted by Michael Jackson for his Bad era, and built upon by Janet herself on her following album. Not only did she make a fashion statement, but her music videos became a standard as well, with her musical-esque dance moves, showcasing the showmanship that made the Jackson family so famous. As Janet became her own household name, Michael released Bad the following year, and the fun sibling rivalry began.
Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
4 Grammy nominations, 1 win
7 Top 5 singles, 4 #1s
If Control started it all for Janet, Rhythm Nation 1814 cemented it. The album won a Grammy for Best Long Form Music Video, and four #1 hit songs as well. Jackson would address the world's social issues on this album, and prepared for a negative sales impact, but it never came. This album would go on to sell over 12 million copies worldwide, and also had number one hits in two different calendar years, 1989 and 1990. We wouldn't see this happen again until The Weeknd achieved this with his After Hours album last year. Janet jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 is also one of nine albums to have four numbers one hits. The sound from this album also was built on the back of Control, with the origins of the new jack swing sound that would dominate the early 90s stemming from the sound that the trio of Jackson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis created.
2 Grammy nominations, 1 win
4 Top 5 Singles, 2 more Top 10s
After the massive success of her third and fourth albums, Janet would become the most sought after recording artist in the industry outside of her brother. The bidding war for Janet would result in a $40 million deal with Virgin Records in 1991, the biggest deal of all time until Michael signed a deal with Sony for $60 million the same year. This album is one that you'll have to pay attention to as we continue this deep dive, as it marked the official coming out party for Janet as a sex symbol. The cover and album title simply being her first name showed the world that she was confident and here to stay.
As expected, the album was a super smash, selling over 14 million copies worldwide. "That's the Way Love Goes" would be one of the six total top 10 Billboard hits, topping the chart for eight straight weeks. This is the single most successful song released by anyone in the Jackson family, and as crazy as that sounds to read, it's the truth. The janet. album also sold the amount of records in seven months that Michael's Dangerous sold in two years. Janet Jackson became who we as a culture simply refer to as "Janet" during this era.
The album marked the beginning of Janet's experimentation with hip-hop sounds, something we have seen continue through the rest of her career. Soft jazz instrumentals as well as rock, house & the new jack swing sound that she helped make famous appear on this album. Janet's production style became a lot more apparent, as she decided to write every lyric on this album, debunking the rumors about being carried on her projects by others.
Though separating from the family name, she was still very much a Jackson, and even presented Michael with the Grammy Legend Award. This event was the first time they were seen together publicly as superstars. However, the limelight would only last so much longer for Michael Jackson, and Janet would deal with the questions and media frenzy that came with it.
While 1993 was the year of Janet, it was also the year that Michael would be hit with the first of many false accusations that would follow him for the rest of his life. As the next of kin as far as being close to the media. Janet would defend her brother to the press, something that had to be tiring during a world tour. While Michael's tour for Dangerous would end amid the allegations and health concerns, Janet stuck through her 18 month tour. Though initially speaking on behalf of her brother to the press, for. the rest of her tour, she declined all interviews, and her tour, while still amazing in stage execution, lacked the personal moments that most artists give during concerts. At one point, Janet asked the audience to pray for him, but that's as personal as it would get, and a few tour dates would be cancelled due to "illness". The time took a toll on Janet, understandably so, but she persevered and made it through.
Scream (May 23rd, 1995)
After the calming down of the Michael Jackson's smear campaign, the two would finally collaborate on record. Janet had declined collaborations with her brother for years, due to wanting to maintain individuality and avoid the comparisons to him musically, but it was finally time. Supporting Michael in his comeback and against the media was also very important to Janet, and two superstars joining forces was a perfect way to usher in the new era.
Janet was still on tour during this time, and this made for a tight window to get things done,. The siblings wrote the song together in Michael's bedroom, as seen in Janet's documentary, and the five week deadline to get the video done was put into place. Janet be put in charge of the music video, and after a week of shooting, multiple last minute changes and 11 different sets, the music video would become the most expensive of all-time, at $7 million ($12.7 million today). The music video would go on to win a Billboard Music Award for Best Pop/Rock Video, as well as a Grammy for Best Music Video, Short Form. The iconic video was also placed at #9 on VH1's 100 Greatest Music Videos in 2001. If you really pay attention, this music video would influence another iconic 90s video, "No Scrubs" by TLC, which lead to the homage Ari Lennox paid to the girl group during her music video for "Pressure". Black music is so connected, and Janet is a huge part of it all when you dig deep and look into the history of modern music.
Michael & Janet's "Scream" would become the first song ever to debut in the top 5 of Billboaard's Hot 100 Chart (Billboard Top 100 at the time), peaking at #5 where it debuted, and become certified platinum on July 31st, 1995. Michael Jackson was back, with some help from his superstar little sister.
The Velvet Rope (1997)
2 Grammy nominations, 1 win
2 Top 3 singles
Before the recording of her sixth studio album, Janet would renegotiate her deal with Virgin to 4 albums for $80 million, double the previous total, making it the largest in music history at the time...again. For the new project, Janet chose to go in the direction of a concept album, and would discuss some more risqué topics, such as same-sex relationships, BDSM & domestic violence. This album further cemented Janet as the sex symbol she declared herself as on her previous album, but the album also discussed depression and a darker side that came after the "Scream" era. The album became a blueprint for alternative R&B, and is looked at today as Janet's most mature sound.
During the two years between "Scream" and The Velvet Rope, Janet's dark period stemmed from childhood traumas, working through them to become a better person, and according to interviews from the era, distorted body image:
"I was very, very sad. Very down. I couldn't get up sometimes. There were times when I felt very hopeless and helpless, and I felt like walls were kind of closing in on me...like you can't escape" - Janet Jackson
There was never a lot of detail about what fully happened, but that's not important. It was Janet's personal business to attend to, and she did. Related to this, Janet would lose contact with Michael during this period, from December 1995 and on. There wasn't a feud between the siblings, but Janet wouldn't speak about her brother during this period. The increasing media circus around her brother was a lot, and lead to her receiving backlash for supporting him, and clearly chose to stay out of the drama.
The Velvet Rope would go on to become yet another massive hit for Janet, and the single "I Get Lonely" would become her 18th-consecutive top ten single on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, the only female artist to do so. The album would also win Janet a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music, due to the album's combating against homophobia.
All For You (2001)
3 Grammy nominations, 1 win
3 Top 3 singles, 2 #1s
In 2001, Janet flipped the script completely, as All For You was an upbeat and happy album in comparison to The Velvet Rope''s darker tone. After a divorce with René Elizondo Jr., the album explored what dating was like for the first time, as Janet had been married to Elizondo since 1991. Janet would of course further delve into her sexual fantasies on this album, as well as pose completely nude for the album's cover shoot. This was what Janet did, she was considered THE sex symbol at the time. The media loved her, and despite the occasional controversy over sexually charged lyrics, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the way Janet went about her art. This new project represented a rebirth and newfound freedom:
"I call my latest release All for You. The You is my fans who've stayed with me and watched me grow; the You is the mysterious force of love that's the source of creativity; and the You is also me. All for You is a suite of songs that helped me move from one emotional level to another. I'm the kind of artist who has no choice but to write what I feel. Velvet Rope took me inside my fears and frustrations. All for You has brought me outside, happy on a natural high, convinced that I really can express joy in the face of pain. My moods are changing. If you listen to the CD, you'll hear what I'm going through. There's anger, hurt, regret, even that familiar vein of severe self-criticism that I can't quite shake. (I still can't stand seeing any of my movies or concert tapes; I still cringe when I watch myself act or dance.) Yet there's also confidence. I hope this doesn't sound egotistical, but this time I stood alone and crafted my art according to my heart. I feel free, and there's nothing more wonderful than freedom." - Janet Jackson
Musically, this album was a very different from the regular Janet formula. This was the first album that wasn't exclusively produced by Jimmy jam and Terry Lewis. They were involved, but so were other producers, such as up and comers like The Neptunes, Songs recorded with the duo wouldn't make the album, but would become classics for other artists, such as Britney Spears' "I'm A Slave 4 U". Janet planned to collaborate with Aaliyah on a duet, which would be included on both All for You and Aaliyah's self titled classic released later that year. but scheduling conflicts would lead to it not happening. A Missy Elliott collaboration called "Nasty Girl 2000" an updated version of Janet's 1986 hit "Nasty" was a intended to be on the album and feature Aaliyah vocals as well, but it was never recorded due to the same reasons.
The songs that did release were highly successful, as "Doesn't Really Matter" topped the charts for 3 weeks, and the album's title track would become Janet's most successful single since 1993's "That's The Way love Goes", staying on top of the Billboard Hot 100 for 7 weeks. "All For You" became the first record in history to be added to every pop, rhythmic & urban radio station within the first week of release, and would have the highest first week audience impressions in history as well.
Janet did it. She had become the Queen of Pop music (sorry not sorry Madonna), avoided the controversy surrounding the rest of the Jackson family, and released five straight classic albums. While I personally believe that Michael Jackson is still the greatest of all-time, Janet could be argued for that spot strongly, and I also personally believe that while her brother is the GOAT, to me, Janet's overall discography is stronger and her peak lasted longer than Michael's did. Everything was going perfectly, until it wasn't.
The Damita Jo Era
This album's era came in a bit slower than before, but not due to Janet herself. The world was a crazy place in late 2001, and events such as 9/11 and the anthrax scare would lead to Janet cancelling the European leg of her All For You tour for safety precautions:
"It was a really, really tough decision for me...I mean I cried about it. I don't wanna put the crew in danger, I don't want to put the audience in any danger...as well as myself." - Janet Jackson
The main culprit of the downfall of Janet due to the smear campaign is of course the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show. However, Janet was actually set to headline the Super Bowl Halftime show in 2002, but wasn't able to do so due to scheduling of the Japanese leg and second American leg of the All For You Tour. Another reason for Janet not doing the Halftime Show in 2002 is that the NFL wanted an artist that could perform patriotic material due to the events of 9/11 taking place, and U2 was scheduled to perform in the slot instead. In 2003, Janet was spoken to about performing as well, but she was on hiatus and working on her next album, and Shania Twain would be slated instead, as she had just made a musical comeback.
The day everything changed for Janet was February 1st, 2004. The Super Bowl Halftime Show was technically flawless, everything was perfect. Her choreography, the hype, it was all there. Janet's showmanship was (and still is) unprecedented), and she was living up to every bit of it. However, when Justin TImberlake would join her on stage to perform his hit "Rock Your Body", the end of the song would change everything. Justin would reach across her chest and rip off the covering of her breast, exposing it live.
This initial act clearly isn't Janet's fault, that's how I want to start this off. It's alleged that Justin Timberlake missed a few rehearsals and was too early on the ripping of her bodysuit, which makes sense watching the end of the show (special thanks to Calvin Michaels for this tidbit). The show was a huge success, but this half second showing would follow one of music's greatest stars for all the wrong reasons.
The Super Bowl Halftime Show would receive 540,000 complaints, triggering an FCC investigation (which only 18% of Americans believed was needed). CBS/Viacom would be fined for breaking indecent clauses, and all live broadcasts in the United States would have a six second delay. This event would indirectly lead to the creation of YouTube, I know that sounds crazy but it's true. This video was the most searched for on the internet, and would lead to a group of people creating the social platform to share videos in general in order to solve that type of issue. It's a sad origin story for the platform, but yes, Janet is a part of it. Janet would also be put under scrutiny for such an event not only because of the indecency, but they claimed she was trying to take media attention away from Michael Jackson, who was in a whirlwind of another smear campaign of his own. The media now had fuel to destroy the Jacksons as a whole, and they would do everything they could. Janet would release a written statement the following day:
"The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals. MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL." - Janet Jackson
Basically, Janet was made to take the blame for the event, as she would do a nother statement on camera for CBS on the day after the written apology. The way that Janet was treated for this is insane, as artists like Madonna had full on sex books and posed nude without any type of covering countless times, being seen as influential and iconic for doing so. However, when Janet Jackson, a media proclaimed sex symbol, has a wardrobe malfunction (that isn't even of her own doing, though in her statements, its made out to be that way), there's an outrage to this degree? Janet was being policed at this point, and it wasn't even her fault. She would be cut from the Grammys the following weekend, during which Justin Timberlake would use as a platform to apologize for the incident, but not to Janet.
I could write an entirely different article just on this event, however, I wanna just explain things briefly. A young white man ripped a black woman's top off. The following response was anger and distaste for said black woman for something she didn't have control over. The black woman was made to take full blame for the event, and the young white man was able to play victim during the time of the event that he caused, and continued to have a successful career in spite of being the reason for the event. That's Amerikkka and the black woman in a nutshell, its a damn shame. While I still listen to Timberlake's music, and Janet's forgiven him, a lot of people haven't, and I don't blame them, as I still side eye him about this a lot.
Lost in all of this was the fact that Janet still had an album to release. MTV produced the halftime show, and now the relationship there was shaky due to the mishap. The label didn't know how to go about pushing their biggest act due to all the overrexaggerated backlash. The album's first single "Just A LIttle" would peak at #45 on the Billboard Hot 100, but would be pulled from radio, as Janet would become blackballed from 65% of the radio, all Clear Channel Radio (currently Clear Channel Media, aka iHeart) stations at the time. As she got blackballed from radio, the music video was being shot, which would not be released in the United States. However, thanks to YouTube which Janet helped create, here it is:
The single "Just a Little While" would break her streak of top ten singles and become her lowest charting single in 22 years, since her debut album. The song was planned to be remixed by Just Blaze, but that was cancelled with her blackballing.
The next single "I Want You" is the best song on the album in my opinion. Produced by Kanye West, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis & Janet herself. Paying homage to Motown, the record shortly samples B. T. Express' 1976 cover of The Carpenters' 1970 record "(They Long to Be) Close to You". The label was unsure on promotion of the single due to her cancellation at radio, as those that backed her were either black run stations or independently owned. The song was leaked early, and wouldn't be released officially until April 5th, 2004. This was a terrible move on the label's part, and something that some current labels still have an issue with, taking full advantage of the hype around a leak. In this case though, it was understood why the label was so hesistant on everything surrounding Janet, given that so many stations weren't permitted to play it. The MTV connection was gone, and her music video for "I Want You" would only be sent to VH1 & BET. Black media would be in full support of Janet during this time, but that wasn't the full blown machine that usually pushed her content.
The release of the album wasn't a bad one in any sense, selling over 381,000 copies (second highest of her career) during its first week. However, 2004 was the year of Usher, and his release of Confessions the week prior still had a lot of momentum, and blocked Damita Jo from reaching the #1 slot. These sales being almost purely on her name is quite the feat, and the album would eventually be certified platinum. Other records on the album that should've been smash hits include "R&B Junkie", ""All Nite (Don't Stop)" and "My Baby", with the latter featuring Kanye West. One could imagine how much the album would've been able to sell with her usual machine behind her, but Janet's run was over, and her career would never be the same. The blackball would last for years, and while Janet was able to go platinum and gold on her next two efforts respectively, the blackball clearly ruined her iconic career.
It's crazy to think that Janet was blackballed for something that not only she'd been celebraated by the same group of people for, but something that white women used and still continue to use to not only market themselves, but use in protest. The black woman's body has been policed by the media since it was given freedom, and in the industry, I don't think it's been more appaarent in another situation. Janet Jackson lost her career over somthing that wasn't even her fault, and Damita Jo suffered largely for it. I believe that this album is a classic, and listening to it today, it clearly would've been the sixth straight critically acclaimed album, had the Super Bowl halftime show not gone the way that it did. I also believe that the media of the early 2000s was anti-Jackson, due to Michael's erratic behavior and the smear campaign against him that came with it, and Janet's mishap only gave the media an excuse to fully attack her as well. The media ended the Jackson's reign as the black royal family (in the eyes of mainstream media), and there will never be anything like them again. When you listen to Janet Jackson and go through her discography, don't forget Damita Jo, and don't forget that she navigated the media firestorm the best that she could. As an adult, and given the way that much more goes on today, I honestly have three words for the industry that sabotaged one of the most influential superstars of all-time: It's just sex.