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MorganR

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  1. Janet Jackson: ‘This life is not for everybody’Last month, Janet Jackson succumbed to a personal request from her number-one fan. She fired up YouTube and together they watched a handful of her many classic music videos. For the first time in a very long time, the singer was seeing them again.The fan? Jackson’s two-year-old son Eissa. “He says, ‘Watch Mama dance? See Mama dance?’” Jackson is recalling how it all started during an exclusive Australian interview with Stellar.“I said, ‘OK, baby.’ So we have to put a video on. I’d never really watched my videos prior to that, but he wanted to see me dance. We went through [2006’s] ‘So Excited’ to ‘Scream’ [her lauded, budget-busting 1995 film clip with big brother Michael]. I thought, ‘These are really very well done.’“Every aspect from cinematography to direction to choreography to styling... it just amazes me.”That mention of ‘Scream’ is as close as Jackson will come to talking about her late brother Michael Jackson; questions to that effect are firmly shut down by her management team as she speaks to Stellar for a rare one-on-one interview.For better or worse, Janet Jackson has always been in the shadow cast by her superstar sibling, despite herself being one of the highest-selling musical artists of all time, with more than 100 million albums sold worldwide.The fact one family could produce even a single superstar of that calibre, let alone two, is remarkable. Earlier this year, Jackson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, noting in her acceptance speech that as a kid she wanted to be a lawyer.Her famously strict father Joe, who died in June 2018, wanted her to join the family trade of entertainment. “I was determined to make it on my own,” she told the crowd at the ceremony. “I wanted to stand on my own two feet, but never in a million years did I expect to follow in their footsteps.”Jackson idolised her older brother Michael, who was eight years her senior. But it has been a difficult year to be a fan of the late performer.In March, the documentary Leaving Neverland re-examined and shed new light on decades-old, graphic allegations of child sexual abuse, prompting a fresh outcry and leading some radio stations to remove his vast catalogue of singles from their playlists.His estate and family have firmly denied the claims in the documentary, which aired in the US on HBO. Janet was the only high-profile Jackson sibling not to make a public statement slamming the program, but there were rumblings she did not perform at her Rock Hall induction because it also aired on HBO.In an interview with the UK’s The Sunday Times Magazine in late June, Jackson also refused to discuss the documentary but did observe her brother’s legacy will continue: “I love it when I see kids emulating him, when adults still listen to his music. It just lets you know the impact that my family has had on the world.”Jackson, now 53, was the youngest of nine children born to Katherine and Joe Jackson. By the time she was 10, she was on their TV show The Jacksons and was dabbling in acting with recurring roles on sitcoms like Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes.She signed a record deal in 1982, but it wasn’t until her third album, Control, landed in 1986 that she seized real success.With producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, she also found her own distinctive sound, away from her brother’s omnipresent style.The album’s defiant lyrics and self-explanatory title reflected her brief marriage (she eloped with singer James DeBarge at age 18) and her push to gain independence in all aspects of her life, whether professional or personal.Control was a straight-up blockbuster (seven of its nine tracks were released as singles) and has grown in stature over the years; it is now hailed as a landmark of female empowerment that inspired the likes of Mariah Carey and Beyoncé.Three years later, she released Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, her magnum opus. The sprawling and hard-hitting collection tackles social injustice and covers off heavy issues such as poverty, youth illiteracy and racism — while subversively exploring the topics via catchy, radio-friendly hits.“The motivation behind the album was what was occurring in the world at that time; it was in my face every single day,” Jackson tells Stellar. “I’d watch the news and it was really affecting me and upsetting me.I wanted to bring it to light in my own way, with my generation, not realising it would be considered iconic when I was writing the lyrics. I’m just thankful that several generations later they can still relate to it. And they do.“When they come to the show, they dress in the uniforms [from the ‘Rhythm Nation’ music video], they sing along with the songs as if it was an album that was just released.They’re very familiar with the body of work; that’s a sweet thing for me.”The album’s final single, ‘State Of The World’, was her most political — Jackson wrote it after watching a story she saw on TV involving prostitution, homelessness and drug use.It remains in her live show because she believes it is still pertinent. “It tore my heart apart. We should be ashamed of ourselves,” she says. “It’s shameful. But at some point, it’s got to break. I’ve always talked about things that truly concern me, things that I’m feeling or going through at that time.A lot of that stuff is still very relevant today. I liked to make songs that were thought-provoking, about things that were really happening in people’s lives.”But if Jackson has been candid in her song lyrics, her private life has remained just that — and very much so. Second husband René Elizondo Jnr appeared in one of her videos — and that’s his hands cupping her bare breasts on the cover of her 1993 album Janet — yet their marriage ended bitterly in divorce in 2000.She dated music producer Jermaine Dupri from 2002 to 2009 and in 2010 met Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana. They married in 2012 and their son Eissa Al Mana was born in January 2017, but the couple split three months later. Jackson is now based in London, where Al Mana also lives.“It is hard being a working mother,” she tells Stellar. “I don’t have a nanny. I do it all myself. If my mother did it with nine children, there’s no reason I can’t. Of course, when I’m working someone watches him, but it’s my baby and me. It’s not easy at times, but my life has changed. Obviously my baby comes first.”Jackson used to spend endless hours perfecting dance routines. Not anymore. “We used to rehearse eight hours plus; that’s down to maybe four hours. I really have to work harder, given the fact I don’t rehearse as long. Because I don’t want be away from my son.“So far I’ve been able to figure it out and it’s working well. He loves being on the road and being with everyone; everyone adores him.”He is also, she says, “a musician at heart” who has already received a drum kit from The Roots’ Questlove. “It’s a real drum kit, man!” she says proudly.“That’s his thing now. He says, ‘Eissa play drums.’ I have to say, ‘Baby, you can’t play before noon; it’s too early for the neighbours, honey.’”Aside from inheriting his mother’s gifts for dancing and singing — “as pitch goes, he’s spot on” — Eissa has gravitated to another instrument. “He kept taking his drum stick and running it across his guitar,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why is he playing it like a cello?’ He went into his room and got a figurine of a violin and brought it to me. Then he grabbed his drumstick and guitar and kept going.“So I came home with a toy violin, showed him one time how to hold it and that was it. Then I bought him a real violin and he got so excited. He sleeps with it. He eats breakfast, lunch and dinner with it.“I show him little kids playing violin on the iPad, then he was finding them himself, all these child prodigies. He creates melodies.”But Jackson is no stranger to what fame can do to children. “It’s really up to him; if he wants nothing to do with music, that’s fine with me,” she says. “I wouldn’t want him to do this from such a young age. I don’t think it’s for everybody.“You really have to be thick-skinned for this. You can really go in the wrong direction, there’s so much temptation, all kinds of crazy things. You have to be fiercely grounded.”Jackson points out her parents instilled the same grounded work ethic onstage as they did when they were away from the cheers of their audiences. “You’d play for 20,000 people one day and the next you were home and they’d tell you to rake every leaf out of the yard. And we grew up on three acres. That was one of the chores — and we had to get up early to do it. It was those things that kept us so grounded.”The superstar says she tries to keep in contact with her two sisters and five surviving brothers, four of whom still tour as The Jacksons.“We call each other and text a lot, we’ll FaceTime. It bums me out my brothers will tell me, ‘Are you going to be in London? We’re coming there, we have some shows. We want to see you and the baby.’“It’ll just be my luck that I’m leaving town to go to the States. It’s been like that all our lives; we just miss each other. Just recently they were in the UK and I surprised them and showed up at their hotel and we spent some good quality time together. That’s important for a family.”In November, Jackson will return to Australia and perform, for the first time since 2011, in the nationwide RNB Fridays Live tour alongside the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, 50 Cent, Ashanti, Sisqó and Jason Derulo.Fans can expect a smattering of new material, but mostly an onslaught of the dance-friendly hits her legacy is built upon. “Being a festival, you want to keep it up and fun, as opposed to slow songs,” she says. “Those festival shows are non-stop.”Jackson knows her Australian fans have been waiting patiently since her last visit, which was interrupted when she flew home to support her family during the manslaughter trial of her brother’s doctor Conrad Murray, and included one Sydney show that was aborted just minutes before she was due onstage.She remains hopeful the fans who came along then — or just missed out seeing her — will be in the audience once more, or for the first time. She cites “their loyalty, their love... I’m just thankful. None of this had to be. For whatever reason, God chose me. And I’m thankful he gave me the fans that I have. Because they’re beautiful.”
  2. In a rare interview, the queen of pop talks to Matt Rudd about becoming a mum at 50, growing up the youngest Jackson and how music is her therapy The Sunday Times, June 23 2019, 12:01am Next Saturday evening, Janet Jackson will take to the Pyramid Stage. It’s too soon to say whether the 200,000 festivalgoers will be sunburnt or mud-caked — probably both — but she and her dance troupe will be resplendent in boas, sequins, catsuits and leather couture. “I’ve never been to Glastonbury,” she says. “Is it really always muddy? I’m excited. Hopefully they’ll like us.” It’s certainly an imaginative booking. Janet Jackson wasn’t just big in the 1980s and 1990s. She was huge. A global icon. When Rhythm Nation was released 30 years ago, it broke all sorts of records and won all sorts of awards. Her 100m-plus album sales and counting make her one of the most successful recording artists of all time. In 1996, she signed what was then the most lucrative record deal in history — a cool $80m with Virgin, surpassing even her megastar big brother Michael’s contract. And yet for most of her career, she was always only the second most successful person in her family. Now, though, things are different. Almost exactly a decade since Michael’s death, his legacy is under threat from renewed allegations of child abuse. Janet, on the other hand, is experiencing a renaissance. In March, she was, finally, inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — a mere 22 years after her brothers Tito, Marlon, Jackie, Jermaine and Michael, aka the Jackson 5. “I wanted to stand on my own two feet,” she said that night, addressing those brothers. “Tonight, your baby sister has made it.” There will be those in the audience on Saturday who are old enough to remember CDs and mix tapes. For them, it will be a choreographed walk down memory lane. All those hit songs that you had forgotten were Janet’s: What Have You Done for Me Lately, Miss You Much, Escapade. But for the younger generation, the 1980s and 1990s are coming around again, refreshed and cool. As in, “Dad, have you heard of an album called Like a Virgin?” Clever Glastonbury for keeping up with the pop culture carousel. Alas, I am not interviewing a welly-booted Janet Jackson in a field in Somerset. I’ve come to the natural habitat of the lesser-spotted pop star: Las Vegas on Memorial Day weekend. To any normal person, Sin City is wildly disorientating. Everything is neon and flashing. The noise of college kids partying is drowned out by lift music, foyer music, even hedge music. It is madness made metropolis, but for Jackson, it is currently home from home. Metamorphosis, her new residency at the Park MGM, runs until August. So it is with ears ringing and eyes swimming that I pick my way through a mile of one-armed bandits, across 14 lanes of backed-up party limos and underneath a 20-storey-high image of my interviewee to find my way backstage. What will she be like? As bonkers as you’d expect anyone who has lived their life as a Jackson? She first performed in Vegas at the age of seven — “two shows a day in two-week stints. It was gruelling and fun at the same time, being so young on stage with my family,” she says. Before her 20th birthday, she was already a three-album veteran of pop, her life and all its associated dramas played out in the glare of late-20th-century tabloid sensationalism. Her whole career was threatened by that wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl where her breast was briefly exposed, which quickly became the most-searched event in internet history. Judging by our first few minutes, she is remarkably normal. Warm, even. Friendly. In a way, this is even more disconcerting. As I walk into her enormous dressing room, we shake hands — a surprisingly firm grip for such a pint-sized person. In full mothering mode she asks about my jet lag and offers me a variety of drinks, fruit and snacks (“Do you have this kind of popcorn in England?”) before inviting me to join her on one of the sofas. She is certainly guarded, but that’s hardly surprising. This is the first newspaper interview she has given in years. She has been described as reclusive, but of course that just means she doesn’t talk to the press. I attempt to break the ice by congratulating her on the rave reviews for her new show. When she’s finished laughing at the “cute way you English pronounce ‘metamorphosis’ ”, she tells me she doesn’t read the reviews, good or bad. “I probably should, but I don’t. As long as the fans like it, I’m OK.” She speaks so quietly, an almost whisper from her bright tangerine lips, I worry the recorder won’t pick her up. “I’m in a great space,” she says when I ask how her life is now. “I have a beautiful son.” Eissa, her first child, was born in 2017, a few months after her 50th birthday. When she mentions him, which she does frequently, her flawless face lights up and she smiles that famous Jackson smile. The past two years haven’t been easy, though. Her “fairy tale” third marriage — to a younger Qatari billionaire — ended in acrimony not long after Eissa was born. Her father, Joseph “Joe” Jackson, died last summer and the controversy surrounding her brother rumbles on. Janet won’t comment on the allegations. Her answer when those stories first surfaced in the early 1990s came, as it always does, through music. In 1995, she duetted with Michael on Scream, a song that railed against tabloid speculation. Today, when I ask about his legacy, she takes a long pause before saying: “It will continue. I love it when I see kids emulating him, when adults still listen to his music. It just lets you know the impact that my family has had on the world. I hope I’m not sounding arrogant in any way — I’m just stating what is. It’s really all God’s doing, and I’m just thankful for that.” It is immediately apparent that motherhood has given Jackson a new sense of fulfilment. “My friends call me Superwoman,” she says. “God knows I’m not. But I think what they are seeing is the energy and that extra drive I’m getting from the inspiration of Eissa.” However, she insists that her work/life balance has changed since he came along. “I’ve slowed down a great deal. I don’t rehearse as many hours as I used to because of being with my baby. My days have been cut in half so I can spend that time with him.” Today, Eissa is back at the rented house in Vegas, but his ride-on Ferrari is parallel parked in the adjacent dressing room. “He comes to the rehearsals. He sings along. He loves being around the kids.” Metamorphosis is a neat title for this stage of the Janet Jackson narrative. The publicity says the show charts her “path to self-love, empowerment, motherhood and activism, amid the challenges faced along her personal journey”. Of the challenges faced, the first and most overarching was the one common to so many child stars: growing up with the expectations of a domineering father. She was the youngest of nine in an industry of Jackson’s offspring. “You miss out on your childhood, you really miss out,” she says when I ask about those early years. “You don’t get to do all the fun things that kids do. I wanted to do gymnastics, but that couldn’t happen because I was busy working. But at least I had my brothers and sisters. They were my best friends.” Her father, a former steel worker, boxer and blues musician, makes even the most intense of today’s helicopter parents seem laid-back. He demanded a punishing schedule of rehearsal and performance. Many of the Jackson children have spoken about the corporal punishment he would dish out. Recalling group rehearsals, Michael once said: “He had this belt in his hand. If you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up. It was bad. Real bad.” Janet has said her father only struck her once, but she was never allowed to call him “Dad”. He was always Joseph and this was a business, not a family. “The struggle was intense,” wrote Janet last year of her battle with depression in her thirties. “Low self-esteem might be rooted in childhood feelings of inferiority. It could relate to failing to meet impossibly high standards.” Today, one year after her father’s death, she puts it all into perspective. “When parents see something in their children, I guess they guide them in that direction,” she says. “Especially when you’re talking about children who grew up in that urban area. Music was a way to keep us off the streets. My father saw a way out for his children. A better life. And thank God for that.” What would have happened if she had wanted to do something other than show business? She laughs drily. “That did happen and my father told me ‘no’.” She can remember the exact moment when her path was set for her. “We had a studio at my parents’ house, and we’d go in there any time of day or night and put tracks down. I had written this song — I’d played all the parts and sang the backgrounds — and I came home from school one day and they were playing it loudly. I was 13 years old and I was just so embarrassed. That’s when my father said to me, ‘You’re going to sing.’ I told him I wanted to go to school and study business law. I really wanted to make my way by acting. That was how I was going to pay for my schooling. He felt that God had a different path for me.” Did she talk to him about the way he raised her and her eight siblings before he died? “I felt that I did say everything I needed to say to my father,” she says. “I was thankful for the time that I did have with him, with Eissa, the three of us together. Being together with my father in the end.” Eissa, she says, will be allowed to follow his own path. He is also allowed to call her Mummy. Jackson might be guarded in interviews, but she has always shared intensely through her music. Her third album, Control, released in 1986, was the first she released without her father as manager. It also came after the annulment of her first marriage, another unbalanced relationship addressed in the track What Have You Done for Me Lately. “I’ve taken control of my own life,” she said at the time. Out from a marriage, out from the family home, free at last to find her voice — one that challenged toxic masculinity before the phrase had even been coined. The track Nasty, for example, came as a result of a showdown with a group of men harassing her outside the studio in Minneapolis. “It was a difficult period,” she says of those first attempts at independence.“How do you say to your father, ‘Listen, I want to move on and I don’t want you to manage my career any more’? That’s a tough thing to do and I cried about it. Prior to that, he always had someone there to create everything for me. So it wasn’t coming from me. They would talk to me, but it still wasn’t coming from me. I hate to say it, but [breaking free] definitely allowed me to be who I was, to show who I am. Since then, I’ve always taken that route. My albums became my diaries.” Like all performers, there is a private and public persona, but I’ve never encountered such a contrast between the two. In a few hours’ time, I will watch her descend to the stage on some kind of chaise-longue trapeze and mesmerise an ecstatic audience for almost two hours. She will be a completely different person, at turns provocative, powerful, emotional and free. At one point, she will stop to thank the crowd for their years of support. She will cry. The young couple next to me dressed head to toe in studded leather will cry back. In fact, the only person in the packed theatre who will remain unmoved is the man mountain just across the aisle. He is Beyoncé’s bodyguard. Everyone else — including Beyoncé — is caught in this moment of raw emotion. Janet was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and is still a practising Christian. When I ask about her radical transformation on stage, she says, “At a certain point, you have to give it up to God,” before describing the act of performance as “cathartic, very therapeutic. We all go through stuff. You can take that pain and those traumas and turn it into something positive or you can turn it into something negative. You can start doing drugs and drink, and it can be horrifying … I tried to do something positive with it.” It was her fourth album, 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814, that established Janet as a superstar in her own right, not just another Jackson. Unusually for a big pop record, it was an album with a social conscience, featuring songs about poverty, racism and injustice. The inspiration came, she says, from seeing a story on the news. “This family was homeless. They were sleeping in their car and I remember they interviewed this little kid with his stuffed animal and it just really touched me. I always saw my brothers, the Jacksons, doing charitable acts. When I was younger, maybe 10 or 11 years old, my brother Mike and I would buy these barbecue dinners. We’d buy 10 of them and we would drive around looking for homeless people to feed. We did that quite often. So, Rhythm Nation, it was putting that foot forward again. I saw that kid on TV and it tore me up. I wanted the album to touch upon that.” I wonder how she feels about the state of the world now, 30 years on from Rhythm Nation, and more turbulent than ever. On Brexit and divisions in Europe, she offers three words: “Oh my gosh.” On forces resisting social reform in her own country, she says: “Change is inevitable. They can’t stop it. I mean, come on.” The last time she was in London, she encountered a children’s climate strike in Trafalgar Square. “I filmed some of it, I thought it was so amazing,” she says. “It gave me chills to see how powerful they were. They have a say in all of this. They are the ones who are going to have to take care of this world, so they have the right.” She has been an outspoken advocate of the #MeToo movement. Last September, at the Global Citizen Festival in New York, she gave an emotional performance of What About, a song about domestic violence, before telling the 60,000-strong crowd: “Like millions of other women out there, I know about bullying, I know about verbal abuse. I know about physical abuse. I know about abuse of authority. I am sick, I am repulsed, I am infuriated by the double standards that continue to treat women as second-class citizens. Enough.” When I ask how she overcame these abuses, this bullying, in her own life, she says: “Well, it’s still kind of ongoing here for me, a little bit …” The disintegration of her third marriage was, once again, played out in the tabloids. “You assume I would never go through things like that. It’s important to let people know, yeah, I have and there’s still some drama, some crap that you have to deal with. Sometimes you have to confront it head-on, and that’s not a comfortable space to be in.” She adds that therapy helps: “I know a lot of people who frown upon it. But try it. Not just once, not just twice, give it a moment. It’s never going to be an easy ride, but we’re going to get through this.” You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to see that the damage inflicted not only on her but also on her brothers by their father clearly had a lasting impact. Factor in the pressures of fame from an early age and it is as remarkable that Janet is here now and “in a good space” as it is unremarkable that her brother didn’t make it. Her faith must have helped in darker times, so I ask if she has always been a believer. Her mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, “allowed us to explore other religions”, she says, “but I never moved away from spirituality. I’ve always been searching. God knows what’s in our hearts and it’s being able to talk to him. He listens and sees all things.” God and Eissa are the two men in her life. Neither is likely to let her down. As she makes her debut at Glastonbury next weekend, the sunburnt/mud-caked crowd will see a woman who has used music to survive the effects of a domineering father, three unhappy marriages, the controversial life and early death of a superstar sibling and the moral panic of a nation terrified by the sight of a nipple (for five-eighths of a second). They will see a woman empowered by late motherhood. They will also see a 53-year-old moving like she’s still 21. “I’ve done a lot in my life and it’s about having fun, continuing to have fun,” she says as she heads off to say hello to her dancers. “There are still things that I do want to do in life, but if I don’t get to do those things, then I’m good. I have a son and he’s beautiful. He’s my light.” Four hours later, her show closes with Rhythm Nation. The group choreography is pure 1980s: kitsch, crisp, spectacular. Even Beyoncé’s bodyguard is dancing. Janet Jackson performs on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage at 5.45pm next Saturday. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/magazine/the-sunday-times-magazine/interview-janet-jackson-on-michael-s-legacy-motherhood-and-life-in-pop-s-first-family-mnkg92pxj
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