For five years, Janet Jackson has been filming a documentary, preparing to share her accounts of the most intimate — and the most widely reported-on — moments of her life.
In “Janet,” which aired its first part on Friday and continued on Saturday on Lifetime and A&E, the groundbreaking and private singer dug into everything from her childhood as the youngest in the Jackson family to long-held rumors that she had a secret baby in the 80’s to her relationship with her brother, the late Michael Jackson. And, of course, she addressed her infamous performance at the 2004 Super Bowl, dubbed by the media as “Nipplegate.”
During halftime, which Jackson headlined that year, she brought out surprise guest Timberlake, who was taking off in his solo career at the time. During Timberlake’s performance of his hit song, “Rock Your Body,” part of Jackson’s top was torn off, exposing her breast, when Timberlake sang the lyric, “I’ll have you naked by the end of this song.”
After that halftime performance, Jackson was publicly shamed and her career took a hit, as Timberlake’s popularity continued to soar. However, Janet revealed in the documentary that she told Timberlake not to put out a statement about the incident at the time.
In conversation with her brother Randy, Janet says: “We talked once. And he said, ‘I don’t know if I should come out and make a statement.’… And I said, ‘Listen… I don’t want any drama for you. They’re aiming all of this at me.’ So I said, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t say anything.'”
Representatives for Timberlake did not immediately respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
CBS, which broadcast the Super Bowl, was fined by the FCC, and Jackson’s songs and music videos were banned from many radio stations and channels with CBS parent company Viacom enforcing a Jackson blacklist. Just one week after the Super Bowl, Jackson’s invite to the Grammy Awards was rescinded; meanwhile, Timberlake performed, won a slew of Grammys and used the award show stage to deliver a public apology during the telecast. In the doc, Janet said that Timberlake had invited her to perform with him at the 2018 Super Bowl, but she declined.
Over the years, many have criticized the Super Bowl as a publicity stunt, questioning whether it was really a mistake. The incident generated conversation around sexism, racism and society’s double standards, particularly with white men and Black women.
In response to theories that the incident was a publicity stunt, Janet’s brother, Tito Jackson, says in the doc: “She didn’t do that. That wasn’t something done on purpose. Janet is not like that.”
Below, find more of the biggest revelations from Janet Jackson’s documentary:
Janet’s relationship with her father, Joe Jackson, was complex. But she is clearing the air.
The Jackson patriarch, who died in 2018, was a notoriously tough figure, who has been accused by his children — including daughters Rebbie and La Toya — of physical, mental and sexual abuse. Janet said she had her differences with him when it came to managing her career.
“I wanted my own identity, but at that time, my father was in change of my life and my career and he was my manager. So, there were things I wanted to do and just a direction that I wanted to go in,” Jackson said in the documentary, discussing her decision to part ways with her father, Joe Jackson, who managed the early days of her career. It was then that she came out with “Control,” the 1986 album that began her journey to superstardom as one of the most iconic pop stars of all time.
“It’s hard to say no to my father. In order to do things I wanted to do, I guess he would have to be out of my picture,” Jackson said through tears. “I knew that I had to take control of my own life. I wanted my own identity. I wanted to go on my own… I had to make it happen, at that point.”
In the doc, it appears Janet wants to clear her father’s name.
“It was because of my father I’ve had the career that I’ve had. It was tough at times. There was nothing easy about it, period. But when you see where we came from and where we are now, we owe so much to my father,” she said.
“Discipline without love is tyranny — and tyrants, they were not,” she said of her parents, Joe and Katherine, who, now 91, also appears in the doc. “They just loved us and wanted us to be the best we could be. Obviously, it worked.”
David Bowie offered a young Michael Jackson drugs.
After The Jackson 5 had garnered stardom, the family moved from Gary, Ind. to the affluent, white suburb of Encino, Calif. Parties were hosted at the Jackson family home and the young singers and their father, Joe Jackson, would welcome the likes of famed celebrities, such as David Bowie.
At one party, Randy Jackson claims, on-camera, that Bowie offered him and his brother Michael drugs.
“Michael and I are sitting in one of the other rooms away from the party,” said Randy Jackson. “So Bowie walks in and… he offered us some of what he was doing to get high… We just looked at each other. We were like, ‘No.’ We didn’t know what it was, but it was like, ‘Nah, no thank you.'”
Janet wanted to go to college to study law, instead of pursuing a career as a singer.
“None of us had a normal childhood. My friends, they went to gymnastics class or were part of the Girl Scouts or Brownies. I wanted to do those things. But yet, we had to go to work,” Janet said of her early days.
“I wanted to go to college and study business law, and [Joe Jackson] said that’s not going to happen.” With a slight laugh, Jackson added, “What parent doesn’t want you to go to college? But he said, ‘No, you’re going to sing.'”
She continued, “I would’ve liked to experience staying at a dorm, being around other kids. But I was very, very naive, very shy, not worldly at all.”
Michael began to change with the success of “Thriller.”
“That’s when it all started changing,” Janet Jackson said, recalling the time that her brother’s hit 1982 album, “Thriller,” was released.
“For the first time in my life, that’s when I felt it was different between the two of us, that a shift was happening,” she added. “That’s the time where Mike and I started kind of going our separate ways. We weren’t as close.”
Janet did not want to join the show “Fame.”
After starring as a teen on “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Good Times” in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Jackson joined the fourth season of the legendary Debbie Allen series “Fame” — but she never wanted to be part of the show.
“My father wanted me to join ‘Fame.’ I didn’t want to be on ‘Fame.’ I didn’t want to do the show,” Jackson shared. “I did it for my father.”
As for “Good Times,” creator Norman Lear sat down for the doc to praise the young Jackson’s acting chops. “The talent was abundant and clear,” Lear said of the first time he met her, adding that the role “required a serious performer.”
Janet shut down decades-long rumors that she had a secret baby.
In the 80’s, rumors exploded that Jackson had a secret baby with her first husband, singer James DeBarge. The tabloid story lit up headlines and newscasts — and hurt the pop star deeply, she reveals.
“Back in the day, they were saying that I had a child and I kept it secret,” Jackson said through tears.
Her “Fame” co-star, Allen, speaks in the doc and recalls that rumors were flying around like wildfire at the time of the show.
“When I was doing ‘Fame,’ a lot of the kids thought I was pregnant because I had gained weight and I was taking birth control pills… so, that rumor started going around,” Jackson says. “I could never keep a child away from James. How could I keep a child from their father? I could never do that. That’s not right.”
In the doc, Jackson goes into great detail about her short-lived marriage and annulment with DeBarge. She says that his drug use came as a shock to her naive self and was the reason for the relationship ending.
Janet’s first album was not in her control at all.
The singer’s first album was released in 1982, but Jackson says it was not the music she wanted to create.
“It was really about their album, the kind of music that they wanted me to make. I didn’t write any of the material. It was just a matter of going to the studio [and] doing what they wanted you to do,” she recalls of recording her first music, which was largely R&B instead of pop.
“I didn’t want my last name to be on the album. I just wanted to go by my first name,” Jackson says. (The self-titled album was called “Janet Jackson.”)
“I wanted them to accept me for me, to be interested in this for me — not because I was the brother or sister,” she continues. “But that’s everything that this industry takes advantage of and they want to play on that.”
Jackson explains that 1986’s “Control” was the first album to truly come from her, which is when she began to take her life into her own hands and define herself as the artist she wanted to be: a revolutionary pop star. Then, “Rhythm Nation” in 1989 is when she began to write about causes she deeply cared about, despite what others might think, delivering music about social justice and racial issues.
Janet wanted to get out of Michael Jackson’s shadow, though the media made that difficult.
“It was inevitable, I guess, but she never was able to really escape it, even with all the success she was having,” her producer Jimmy Jam says in the doc, speaking about the time when Jackson had become a mega pop star with the success of “Rhythm Nation” in the mid ’80s. “I never heard her say, ‘I want to beat Michael,’” the producer adds. “But the competition, to me, was more within herself to do the best that she could do.”
“When you have the last name Jackson, there is a certain microscope that they want to use with that,” Jackson said somberly, reflecting on the press attention she’s always been bombarded with over the years.
“I’m thankful, I really am. Because it has opened up a great deal of doors for me, having that name,” she continues. “At the same time, there is a great deal of scrutiny that comes with having that last name — a certain expectation. I wanted my own identity. I didn’t want people to pick up this body of music because of my last name.”
Sexual abuse allegations against Michael Jackson hurt Janet’s career.
Janet opened up about how the sexual abuse allegations against her brother also affected her. In 1993, Michael was first accused of sexual abuse by a 13-year-old boy, which was highly publicized in the media. Janet explained that she was about to begin working with Coca-Cola at the time, but when they heard of the allegations, the deal fell through.
“When that came out, Coca-Cola said, ‘No, thank you,'” she says in the documentary.
Though Janet says she knew her brother “would never do something like that,” she still felt “guilty by association.”
“It wasn’t fair, it was frustrating for me, but you can’t let it stop you and didn’t,” Janet said of the situation. “You keep pushing, forging ahead. I just knew I wanted to be there for him to support him as much as I possibly could.”
The allegations were eventually settled out of court and the police did not press charges. Janet also commented on settlement, saying: “He just wanted it to go away, but that looks like you’re guilty. I wish my brother really would have let the world know him better.”
Despite recording “Scream” together, Michael continued to drift away from the family.
After the allegations were settled, Janet wanted to show her support for Michael by recording a song with him. “I think he needed the support that I was trying to give him with this song,” she says.
But when it came to filming the music video, she felt that Michael’s record label was trying to make it “competitive” between the siblings.
“His record company, they would block off his whole set, so that I couldn’t see what was going on. They didn’t want me on set, I felt like they were trying to make it very competitive between the two of us,” Janet says. “That really hurt me because I felt I was there fighting the fight with him, not to battle him. I wanted it to feel like old times, between he and I, and it didn’t. Old times had long passed.”
In an emotional clip, Janet drives to Michael’s former house, where she reveals that she visited it only once. During the visit, she asked Michael if she could open for him on a reunion tour with their brothers.
“He didn’t have much to say, and I felt like, ‘What’s going on?’ This isn’t us. This isn’t family. What is this?” she says. “And there were people that wanted to keep him where he was, where they felt like they could have some sort of control over him. I was really upset, because we didn’t grow up like that. And it upsets me to this day. You don’t do that, you especially don’t do that to family.”
She continues: “He had people that were around him for a long time, but still, those people… Separated him from his family. And that’s when things started to really shift.”
The last thing Janet and Michael said to each other before his death was “I love you.”
In the documentary, Janet opened up about Michael’s sudden death on June 25, 2009 after going into cardiac arrest.
“At first, it just… It didn’t seem true. It didn’t seem real. I couldn’t believe it,” Janet says. “My sister, Toya, she called me, and told me he’d passed. And I called my bother Tito. He was driving on his way to the hospital. And I told him to pull over the side of the road. He goes, ‘Jan is he dead?’ I said, ‘Pull over to the side of the road, Tito.’ And he said, ‘Okay, I pulled over.’ I said, ‘He’s gone,’ and he couldn’t believe it.”
But Janet also reminisced about the last time she saw Michael, and the meaningful last words they said to each other.
“The last time we saw each other, we were having a surprise party for my parents. And my whole family was there. And he was sitting next to me,” she says. “He was laughing like crazy. And he had that deep laugh, and I remember him looking over at me. And the last thing we said to each other was ‘I love you.’ And that was the last time I saw him… But at least I have that. I miss him.”