Janet Jackson announced on Instagram last month that she will be touring in 2023 alongside rapper Ludacris as part of the Together Again tour. Coming up on a year since her Lifetime documentary Janet Jackson premiered, let’s take a look at Janet’s childhood and her relationship with her late brother and pop icon, Michael.
Janet was born in 1966. Before the days of stardom from Jackson 5, Janet lived in a tiny house in Indiana with her parents, Joe and Katherine, and her eight siblings, Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Latoya, Marlon, Michael, and Randy, with Janet being the baby. Janet was only 3 years old when the family moved, so she doesn’t remember much, but her brothers and mother spoke about what life was like then in the documentary.
“When we were little, this house seemed so big,” her brother Randy said. “This is where we grew up, played, fought, made music. This is where it started.”
“Life in the house, in Indiana, wasn’t easy because there were only two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen,” Katherine added. “And the kitchen was very, very tiny and we had them all try to eat at the table.”
By 1969, the Jackson family signed their first record deal as The Jackson 5 and the family moved out to Encino, LA. Here, Janet recalls facing a lot of bigotry and racism in the neighborhood and at school.
“A lot of people didn’t want us there,” she said, “so they had this petition going around so that we wouldn’t be in the neighborhood. I remember walking down the street and being called the n-word by someone driving by yelling it out. Being told to go back home to your country and feeling it at school.
“Some of the teachers and some of the kids touching your hair,” she continued, “because your hair was different from theirs or your skin. Rubbing it like, ‘Does that come off?’ No! Does yours?”
Their neighbor, Wende Watt recalled, “I think the Jacksons were the first Black family to move in so it was a little controversial at that time.”
By the time Janet was 10 years old, she was on the sitcom Good Times, where she says she first experienced scrutiny about her weight and struggled with her body image.
“I was developing at a very young age and I started getting a chest and they would bind my chest so I would look more flat-chested.”
She revealed that Michael gave her a hard time about her weight, too.
“And then there were times when Mike would tease me and call me names,” she continued. “He used to call me ‘pig’, ‘horse’, ‘slaughter hog’, ‘cow’. It wasn’t out of malice on his part at all. Brothers tease sisters, sisters tease brothers, and it was just kind of funny.”
She said it affected her in the long term, though, as her career would see tabloids talk about her weight and image.
“I held it all inside and it really took its toll on me and I carried it into my adult life.”
Janet admitted to being an emotional eater, finding comfort in eating to distract herself from being anxious or stressed in an environment where those are inevitable.
“Knowing I have these problems with body image, I ask my friends and family to tell me when I’ve lost too much, too,” she told Prevention magazine in 2012. “Because I will continue to pick on myself, like all women do, and say, You need to [lose] more here, more there.”
With this, she detailed how her and Michael’s relationship started to change once his Grammy award-winning album Thriller came out. She recognized that his “shift was happening” after they listened to the album for the first time together.
“That’s a time where Mike and I started kind of going our separate ways,” she said in the doc. “We weren’t as close and it may have been just because he was so massive, so huge.”
After that, she couldn’t escape from her brother’s shadow. While she was trying to make a name and career for herself, all anyone cared about was how Michael Jackson’s little sister felt about Michael’s career.
“Every press opportunity that she had was always about Michael Jackson’s little sister or how’s your big brother?” Jimmy Jam recalled, Janet’s producer. “It was inevitable, I guess. She never really seemed to escape it, even with all the success she was having.”
Despite all this, Janet remained grateful for the hand she was dealt.
“It opened up a great deal of doors for me,” she said.
The Together Again tour kicks off in April, starting in Florida and making its way up the east coast before heading westward. To learn more about her upbringing and career, you can watch her documentary Janet Jackson on Lifetime’s website.