Jackson opens up about the "scrutiny that comes with having that last name."
Janet Jackson is giving fans an in-depth look at her life this week in a four-part, two-night docuseries on A&E and Lifetime — one that shines a light on her relationship with her famous family unlike ever before.
The first two episodes revolve around the early years of the legendary performer’s career, from her time as a child star and teen actor up until her first big tour following the release of “Rhythm Nation” in 1989, all while navigating the spotlight as the younger sister of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5.
The special began with Janet actually returning to her childhood home in Gary, Indiana, as she spoke about her late father, Joe Jackson, who has a reputation for being an incredibly strict and allegedly abusive parent.
“My father was a good-hearted guy, he protected us,” she said, while explaining why she thought he was the way he was. “He went through a lot and especially back then, the racism, the fighting, people seeing your children as money making machines. If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have had the success as a family that we’ve had. My brother and sisters would always tell me why my father was so strict. He was very tough. He told us what he wanted us to do and we did it.”
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“Growing up I feel like I didn’t really experience my father the way I wanted to, the way I saw other kids experiencing their father,” she continued, acknowledging, “It’s because of my father I’ve had the career that I have. It was tough at times. There’s nothing easy about it, period. But when you see where we came from and see where we are now, we owe so much to my father.”
When the family moved to Encino, California, Janet said it was a struggle for them to adjust, especially as a Black family. She said there was even a petition to try and prevent them from moving into their neighborhood.
“I remember walking down the street and being called the N-word, someone driving by, yelling it out, be told to go back home to your country,” she explained. “Feeling it at school with some of the teachers and some of the kids, touching your hair because your hair was different from theirs. Their skin, rubbing it. ‘Does that come off?’ ‘No, does yours.’ I didn’t have a lot of friends. I had a couple. But my closest were my brothers and sisters.”
She said both of her parents “disciplined” them, but added that that’s how, “as a people, we raised our kids” at the time. Jackson made sure to say her mother and father also gave them a lot of love. “Discipline without love is tyranny and tyrants they were not,” she said, “They just loved us and wanted us to be the best we could be. Obviously, it worked.”
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As the Jackson brothers started to go solo, Joe turned all his attention to Janet. She recalled: “My father was in charge of my life, my career and he was my manager.”
There was tension right off the bat, as Joe took the lead when they went to work on her debut album. She didn’t write anything on it and said it ended up being what everyone else wanted her to make, instead of what she wanted to release.
“I didn’t want my last name to be on the album. I just wanted to go by my first name. At the time, I didn’t understand the vision my father had for me,” she said of her 1982 album Janet Jackson. “Even the cover of the album he chose and I didn’t want that as the cover of the album. There was a lot of that.”
She said she also didn’t want to be on the television version of “Fame” — acknowledging that while the cast was “great,” she only “did it for my father.”
“I wanted my own identity, but at that time, my father was in charge of my life, my career and he was my manager. There were things I wanted to do, just a direction I wanted to go in that I, it’s hard to say no to my father,” said Janet, as she got ready to work on her second album. “So in order to do things the way I wanted to do it, I guess he would have to be out of the picture. I knew that I had to take control of my life. I wanted my own identity. I wanted to go on my own. The first thing I had to do was to let my father go.”
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She ended up signing with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and took, well, control of her career by releasing “Control.” It, of course, became a massive success. As all this was going on, Janet’s relationship with her brother Michael started to “shift” as well.
“I remember seeing that change happen, I remember for me the moment that happened. We were very close, did everything together,” she recalled. “It was ‘Thriller,’ that’s when it all started changing. I remember really loving the ‘Thriller’ album, but for the first time in my life, that’s when I felt like it was different between the two of us.”
“A shift was happening,” she recalled, saying the two used to always talk for hours in her bedroom before the release of the 1982 record, which shot him to a new level of superstardom. “This time, he came in my bedroom, neither one of us said a word to each other and then he got up and left. That’s the time Mike and I started going our separate ways.”
As for what changed between them, Janet added, “It may have been because he was so massive, so huge.”
Throughout her early solo career in the ’80s, Janet would often be overshadowed and compared to her older brother. Footage in the doc showed her constantly being asked about Michael in interviews and by fans, all while trying to make a name for herself.
“They always try to make my brother seem like some sort of a freak,” she said, before being asked if having the Jackson name was a “burden” for her career.
“I’m thankful, I really am, because it’s opened up a great deal of doors for me. Having that name,” she replied. “And at the same time, there’s a great deal of scrutiny that comes with having that last name. I wanted my own identity. I didn’t want people to pick up this body of music because of my last name.”
The two-night, four-hour “Janet” event airs Friday and Saturday night on both Lifetime and A&E.
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