The 10 best Janet Jackson singles

Janet Jackson - The 10 best singles (


Janet Jackson dominated the charts in 1986. Her album Control was hugely successful, as were the singles culled from that album. As a tribute to her, her debut album and her subsequent career, the 10 best Janet Jackson singles!

Janet Jackson

On May 16th, 1966, Janet Damita Jo was born as the youngest (ninth) child in the Jackson family. During her early childhood years her brothers already performed as The Jackson 5. Family patriarch Joe made sure that Janet complied to the family tradition: on April 9th, 1974, she performed on stage for the very first time. In 1976 and 1977 she played a regular part in the television show The Jacksons. She subsequently played parts in television shows like Good Times, A New Kind Of Family and Diff’rent Strokes.

But music seemed more important after all. In 1982 she debuted with her album Janet Jackson, which was rather successful. Two years later Dream Street was released, a relative flop. Following a failed (and annulled) marriage with singer James DeBarge, Jackson wanted her independence. Still needing her father’s approval, she got into contact with the producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, both former members of the Prince satellite group The Time. The connection with Prince was a sensitive one, father Joe would give his blessing only if Janet was kept far away from the Prince sound and eroticism.

This was the last time father Jackson was able to limit his youngest daughter. Janet fired him as her manager and left the family home and moved into her own apartment.

FlyteTyme (


To MPLS or not to MPLS

After a couple of talks about what Jackson had been through, where she wanted to go and what independence meant to her, the third Janet Jackson album was recorded at the Flyte Tyme studios in Minneapolis. Despite daddy Jackson’s demands, the album sounded like an archetypical Minneapolis Sound production, the sound that had been introduced by Prince (and he subsequently had grown out of), and the brilliant producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis initially built their career upon. Thundering drums, catchy heavy (synth)bass riffs, accompanied by synthesizers playing the horn parts. The album’s title said it all really: Control. Jackson wanted it all on her own terms, in an effort to gain control over her own life.

The album was an immediate smash. Millions and millions of copies were sold. Five of the singles ended up in the top 10 on the charts. The videos accompanying the singles were highly successful as well and inspired many artists. The album ended up in the top 10 of bestselling albums in 1986 and 1987. The story goes that brother Michael felt so threatened by the success he postponed the release of his Bad album with one year.

Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

In 1989 Jackson went back in the studio and returned with Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, a dizzying album, dominated by social themes set to danceable music. The video to Rhythm Nation is truly iconic and has inspired many videos with tight choreography for dance groups. Jackson went out on tour, for the first time, and played sold out shows in the US, Asia and Europe.

Janet Jackson - Albums 3,4,5 and 6 (

Janet Jackson – Control, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, janet, The Velvet Rope

In May 1993 janet was released, on which she sounded more cheeky and sexually explicit than before. In September 1993 Jackson appeared topless on the cover of music magazine Rolling Stone, a shock to many, as she didn’t comply with her family’s sugary sweet image.

In May 1995 Jackson released the duet Scream with her brother Michael, followed by the album The Velvet Rope in 1997, that featured heavy themes like pain, death and spiritual growth. After working with several artists and a role in the movie Nutty Professor II she released the album All For You in 2001.


On February 1st, 2004, Jackson performed at the interval during the 38th Super Bowl. Her biggest audience yet, as it had a reach of over 100 million people. Accompanying her on the last song was Justin Timberlake. During the performance Timberlake was to tear the cap of her clothes, exposing a red bra. But Timberlake tore the bra off as well, exposing Jackson’s breast. ‘Nipplegate’ was born, American prudery, sexism and double standards to the hilt. One naked female breast and the entire nation is up in arms. Even though two people were involved with the incident (also known as the first ‘wardrobe malfuntion’), Timberlake walked away unscathed. Everything was put on the black and female Jackson. The story goes that the CBS director, responsible for the Super Bowl broadcast, pulled every string possible to torpedo Jackson’s career.

He probably succeeded, because the success of 2004 album Damita Jo was relatively low. In 2006 20 Y.O. was released, which was followed by Discipline in 2008, the first Jackson album since Control not to feature a Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis production. Late 2015 her last album, Unbreakable, was released. In 2017 Jackson gave birth to her first child. In February 2020 her next album and tour were announced, but these plans were put on hold due to the global outbreak of COVID-19.

Janet Jackson shocks the VS (

Janet Jackson shocks the VS (Rolling Stone cover 1993 and ‘Nipplegate’ 2004)


Janet Jackson’s influence can’t be overstated. Of course she was a primary example for many of the female artists following her, but she was a musical trendsetter as well, both in the R&B, neo-soul movements, as in her lyrics and social involvement.

How did her need for “control” play out in the end? Great, at first sight. She is an entity in her own right, separate from her family and is taken seriously worldwide, by critics as well. Even though her biggest successes stem from the 1980s and 1990s, she’s still a force to be reckoned with. She regularly outshone her brother Michael‘s career (Scream was made using Janet’s producer team).

To be a Jackson or not be a Jackson

But, she didn’t entirely escape the Jackson idiosyncrasies. Just like Michael, Janet went through extensive plastic surgery, playbacked during live performances and had a neck for melodrama and cringing sentimentality, as she showed at the only Janet concert I witnessed on March 21st, 1995: the first three songs blew me away, but after that the show quickly derailed: overdone, insincere sentimentality and self-aggrandizement.

Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation 1814 - Multi-platinum (

Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation 1814 – Multi-platinum


Janet Jackson’s successes are impressive:

  • More than 100 million sold records
  • Record holder: most successive top 10 singles by a female artist (18 stuks)
  • Record holder: only artist with seven top 10 singles in the US stemming from one album (Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814)
  • Winner 5 Grammy Awards
  • Winner 11 Billboard Music Awards
  • Winner 11 American Music Awards
  • A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • 8 Guinness World Records at her name
  • Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
  • “Janet Jackson” is the most searched term in the history of the internet (as a result of ‘Nipplegate’)
  • Jackson was the most searched name/person in 2004 and 2005 (as a result of ‘Nipplegate’)
  • The term ‘wardrobe malfunction’ was added to the Webster’s English Dictionary in 2008

YouTube co-founder Karim revealed that the fact he couldn’t find video footage of the ‘Nipplegate’ incident, directly inspired him to launch YouTube.

The best

Janet Jackson is responsible for a large amount of top songs. Below, my personal top 10 singles. The dates mentioned below the song titles correspond with the first date of release for the respective singles.


Janet Jackson - What Have You Done For Me Lately (

What Have You Done For Me Lately

January 13, 1986

The last song to be recorded for the Control album, a song about her failed marriage to James DeBarge that also deals with men and their misplaced way of approaching women.

“”I never ask for more than I deserve
you know it’s the truth
You seem to think you’re God’s gift to this earth
I’m telling you no way”

The first single of the extremely successful album, a fine introduction to Janet Jackson.


Janet Jackson - Nasty (


April 15, 1986

Jackson’s (autobiographical) reaction to abusive men:

“The danger hit home when a couple of guys started stalking me on the street. They were emotionally abusive. Sexually threatening. Instead of running to Jimmy or Terry for protection, I took a stand. I backed them down. That’s how songs like ‘Nasty’ and ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately’ were born, out of a sense of self-defense. Control meant not only taking care of myself but living in a much less protected world. And doing that meant growing a tough skin. Getting attitude.”

Heavy drums, essentially a non-melodic song.


Janet Jackson - When I Think Of You (

When I Think Of You

July 28, 1986

Following the relative heavy singles, When I Think Of You is a lot brighter, both musically and lyrically. A summer song that possesses an irresistibly ‘feel good’ character. Great single.


Janet Jackson - Miss You Much (

Miss You Much

Augustus 22, 1989

The first single to be taken off the Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album. Addictive beat. Glorious song.


Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation (

Rhythm Nation

October 24, 1989

The title song to Janet Jackson’s best album. A true Jam & Lewis production. The pounding Roland TR-808 drum machine with its uncontrollable swinging rhythm, synth basses and keyboard riffs make this a true classic. The accompanying video is probably the most iconic of Jackson’s career.


Janet Jackson - Love Will Never Do (Without You) (

Love Will Never Do (Without You)

October 2, 1990

Originally meant to be a duet, Jackson sings the verses in different voices, thus simulating a duet herself.

A fantastic example of the perfect cooperation between Jackson and her producers. The highlight of the Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 album?


Janet Jackson - If (


July 13, 1993

Yet another great production. Heavy drums, distorted guitars. Lyrically Jackson has said farewell to the pious Jackson image.

Jackson in 1993: “It’s about a girl who goes to a club and fantasizes about this guy: serious fantasies about the things she’d do to him if she was his girl – the positions and things like that. But she’s not, so she can’t, so she gets pretty frustrated in the second verse – without it being too much. It’s still within good taste.”


Michael Jackson - Scream (


May 31, 1995

Duet with Michael Jackson, released on his album HIStory: Past, Present And Future, Book I.

Michael Jackson wanted a taste of sister Janet’s success and worked with producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. They proposed this typical MPLS-sound song.

The video accompanying the song was the most expensive of all time.


Janet Jackson - Got 'Til It's Gone (

Got ‘Til It’s Gone

September 22, 1997

My personal favorite, a phenomenal neo-soul, hip-hop song. Contains a sample of Joni Mitchell’s Yellow Taxi. Jackson personally contacted Mitchell to get her approval for use of the sample.

Incomprehensible that this song wasn’t released as a single in the US.


Blackstreet ft. Janet Jackson - Girlfriend/Boyfriend (


May 25, 1999

Officially release by Blackstreet featuring Janet Jackson on the Blackstreet album Finally.

A duet, filled with great samples with an impressive production. Truly great song.


For your listening pleasure and comfort, here’s the playlist for the top 10.

In closing

What’s your opinion on Janet Jackson? Do you miss any songs, and if so, which ones? Let me know!

This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The 10 best Janet Jackson singles. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!