On February 4, 1986, Janet Jackson released her album, “Control.” Aggressively asserting her independence from her famous family and societal expectations, the album became Jackson’s first No. 1 album, selling 10 million copies worldwide. With its innovative, contemporary R&B sound and autobiographical “in-your-face” lyrics, “Control” became a gold standard for how to assert your power as a female recording artist.
Up until the release of “Control,” Jackson was known as Michael Jackson’s precocious younger sister. She had starring roles on the popular TV shows, “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Fame,” but Jackson was still in the shadows of her larger-than-life sibling. Under the watchful eye of the family patriarch and manager, Joe Jackson, she released two albums to limited success. However, by the mid-1980s, after breaking up with her husband of two years James DeBarge, she was ready to assert power over her life and career.
At nearly 20 years old, much to the anger of her father, she left Los Angeles, CA for Minneapolis, MN to work on the album with the songwriting/production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. In the studio, the recording team created Jackson’s breakthrough album as well some of the most iconic pop hits of the 1980s.
From start to finish, “Control” tells the story of Jackson’s self-actualization as a young, empowered African-American woman. As she says in the spoken word introduction: “This is a story about control: my control. Control of what I say. Control of what I do, and this time I’m going to do it my way.” The five hit singles from the album assert this message in different ways. In the lead single “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” she ostensibly kisses off her ex-husband singing about his neglect. In “Nasty,” she sings about street harassment that she experienced in Minneapolis while recording the album. “Control” is her declaration to the world about her newly-adopted independence. “When I Think Of You” is a playful song, where she presents her fun and flirty side. Then, amidst the growing AIDS crisis, “Let’s Wait Awhile” is Jackson’s endorsement of abstinence.
Released during the early MTV heyday, Jackson’s music videos for the album set the blueprint. To this day, her confident on-stage performance with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the “Control” video and her stellar choreographed dancing skills in the “Nasty” video are still as entertaining as ever.
Thirty-two years later, the “Control” album stands the test of time with its innovative sound and empowered lyrics. Since its release, Jackson has sold over 100 million records, making a name for herself in her own right. She still holds the record for the most consecutive top 10 entries on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart by a female artist, with 18. We can also thank her for inspiring fiercely independent artists like Rihanna and Beyonce.