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New Janet Interview with Stellar Magazine

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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.”

 

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4 hours ago, Rock & Roll Hall of Game said:

Kiii at her managers being like “nah.. don’t answer questions about your brother”

and when your manager is one of your other brothers

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