Janet Jackson was born to be famous.
She might not have known it for a few years, but when she entered this world in 1966, she was joining a legendary musical dynasty in progress. The Jackson 5—featuring brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and then 6-year-old Michael Jackson, had already formed as The Jackson Brothers in 1964, and buoyed by their success, at 10 years of age Janet was entertaining America with her siblings on their TV variety show The Jacksons.
But while the brothers would ultimately come in a distant second-through-fifth to the supremely talented Michael, and she was the youngest of nine children overall, it soon became clear that Janet Jackson was going to be a force to be reckoned with on her own.
Janet also kicked off the acting portion of her career on the classic 1970s-era series Good Times and appeared on Different Strokes and Fame in the 1980s. It was when she put TV—and a whirlwind marriage to James DeBarge—aside to focus on music, however, that her star took off.
Having released two not particularly successful albums, Janet cut business ties with her father, Joe Jackson, and got to work on her third album, 1986's Control.
On the wings of "What Have You Done for Me Lately," "Nasty," and "When I Think of You," that album went to No. 1, and forever after she could've just been "Janet" if Janet Jackson didn't already have a certain ring to it.
And the rest is history. As well as HIStory, Michael Jackson's smash-hit 1995 album that included "Scream," featuring brother and sister joining forces for a perfectly choreographed breakdown in response to being treated like tabloid chum.
While it's been some years since Janet's instant-classic videos for the likes of "Nasty," "Rhythm Nation" and "That's the Way Love Goes" were burning up MTV, very few could touch her—then or now—as far as pop icon status goes.
If you Googled her last month, perhaps to see how her pregnancy was going along, what you'd actually find were a series of stories lamenting how ridiculous it is that Jackson isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She was nominated for induction in 2017 but missed the cut; though coincidentally her Poetic Justice co-star Tupac Shakur was on the same ballot and was chosen for posthumous induction in his first year of eligibility (25 years after the release of an artist's first record).
Albeit due to a snub, the cries for musical justice were a reminder that Janet Jackson is music royalty in our midst—one of the best-selling artists of all time who has continued right up through her 2015 Unbreakable Tour to bring to the table a superior mixture of talent, pioneering creative vision and larger-than-life presence.
And considering those same things could just as easily have been said about Michael Jackson in his prime, it's no wonder that, when Janet is off-stage, she just wants to be left the heck alone.
Jackson never officially announced her pregnancy, or confirmed it in so many words. She informed her fans she was going to be delaying her world tour until further notice while "planning [her] family," but then silence, and only a handful of pictures of her in public, followed before her third husband, Wissam Al Mana, released a statement revealing that their son, Eissa Al Mana, had been born and the first-time mom was resting comfortably. (Meanwhile, she married Al Mana in 2012, she didn't confirm as much until 2013.)
For someone who is so famous, and for whom so many people feel they know in some way, or at least have memories of a particular point in Janet's career that provided a soundtrack to their own life experiences, Janet has successfully pulled off the public disappearing act.
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And while she was always more of a mellow presence in real life than some of the major stars that shared her same early era of success, such as Madonnaor Whitney Houston, fate just aligned itself in such a way that Janet almost had no choice but to protect herself from a media machine that she knew, from witnessing what her brother went through, was just waiting to pounce.
Before Michael Jackson died in 2009, he had spent at least 15 years fielding allegations of child sex abuse—infamously in criminal court in 2005, where he was proven not guilty on all counts, but in the tabloids and off and on in civil court as well. Between that and chatter about his skin tone and plastic surgery and personal life...
Janet Jackson remained close to Michael and saw it all. And though as a carefully cultivated pop star she wasn't exactly a shrinking violet, the media's forever-fascination with her family—which subsequently extended to Michael's children—pushed her further into her own private world.
"It will drive you crazy," she said in the October 2009 issue of Harper's Bazaar, her first interview after her brother's death. "People can have rhinoceros skin, but there's a point when something's going to hurt you. Not everyone is stone, stone. I haven't watched the news in weeks. I had to ask my chef, 'How's Obama doing?' I haven't read a newspaper. On top of that, [we've lost] a family member."
The public "have a fantasy in their mind, and to really get to know the true person, it's different. Michael was a big brother. He was always very protective of me."
So, just as she did when she was 19 and wanted her own career, out from under the thumb of her father, she broke the cycle that had consumed her family and took her personal life out of the public eye.
Janet said it best herself when she opened up on her own terms with her 2011 book, True You, part-memoir and part self-help guide in which she touched on her struggles with her weight and how body image issues affected her self-esteem.
"I'm grateful for success. Success is wonderful. The truth, though, is that being in the spotlight can complicate personal problems even more," she wrote. "You never have a chance to deal with yourself privately and work through issues on your own. Everything is on display for the world to see."
By retreating as much as she could from overly-public public life, while not busy indulging her love of entertaining and delighting her fans, Janet seems to have found what has proved so fleeting for so many other celebrities who are seemingly at constant odds with their public vs. private personae.
Despite being one of the most famous and respected pop artists alive, somehow Jackson carved out a place where she can exist as the superstar that she is, but not in a way where the inner workings of her life are being constantly picked over. She'll remain a target of fascination forever, but artistic legends are like that.
Having gobs of money, of course, helps with the disappearing process, and both she and her husband have that. But if you really want to be left alone you still have to be willing to commit to a certain type of existence and live accordingly. And Janet Jackson has long since realized that, for her (and now, for her son), that way is the only way.