My Celebrity Life

Janet Jackson review: Unflinching raw insight into a vulnerable yet resilient superstar

Janet Jackson offers a captivating look inside the life of one of the world’s foremost superstars (Picture: Sky TV)

It’s easy to assume we know all there is to know about the world-famous Jackson family. Michael Jackson’s life was splashed across magazines and TV screens for decades and so we’re well versed in the trials and tribulations of his personal life and career. 

However, there always seemed to be an air of mystery around who the real Janet Jackson was behind the impeccable dance choreography and headline-grabbing scandals.

Even with the almighty Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction controversy, it always felt as though Janet’s own voice was missing from the narrative and everyone else did the talking for her.

So perhaps for the first time, Janet – the documentary – offers a genuine insight into how the superstar has really navigated life in the spotlight.

*** Warning: Spoilers for Janet episodes 1-3 *** 

From the opening scene where Janet breaks down in tears at the mere sight of a mural of her five brothers etched on a wall in their hometown of Gary, Indiana, it’s clear this documentary – directed by Ben Hirsch – wouldn’t do a disservice to Janet’s legacy by providing a polished portrayal of one of the most successful and complicated artists in history.

As a mark of how far away her current world is to the one she grew up in, one moment sees Janet struggle to remember sleeping in a bunk bed in a cramped bedroom with several of her siblings, perhaps too young at the time to recall or because harking back to those memories, before her life was lived out in the glare of the world, is simply too painful.

These moving early anecdotes serve well to remind us that Janet and her siblings weren’t desperate for fame in the way so many stars are today – they grew up poor and were made to graft under the stern management of their late father Joe Jackson.

We get a sense of Joe’s control over Janet’s career to a very uneasy point – while her dream was to go to college and study law, he had very different ideas and essentially forced her into pursuing a singing career which he then managed to within an inch of its life. However, it does feel like the documentary glosses over the extent of Joe’s methods in keeping everyone in line – it’s well-documented just how strict he was during their childhood but it’s not explored enough just how this affected Janet.

What is evident is the level of control Joe and other men appeared to have over Janet and her career.

The singer thought she was free of her father’s tight clutches when she fired him as her manager but she then found herself controlled by her record label. Important choices were taken out of her hands, from the music she recorded as a solo artist to the cover of her album.

It was then empowering to watch the way in which Janet reclaimed her power and did things her own way with album number two, which of course was a hit and truly propelled her into the superstar we respect today.

But amid the success story are highly sobering moments of the turmoil in Janet’s personal life.

Her marriage to first husband James DeBarge was whirlwind and came with its fair share of problems, notably his personal struggles, which Janet says contributed to their divorce.

However, a great deal of time is spent highlighting the importance of Janet’s marriage to second husband Rene Elizondo Jr.

For nine years, Rene, who was a dancer for the singer, remains a constant in Janet’s life and his role in her career continually grows as does their love. He goes from being a character in the background to pulling the strings, directing music videos and even appearing in her iconic magazine covers.

It didn’t last and it’s with this tale of Janet and Rene’s marital breakdown that we get an admirable insight into her resilience, which is actually the overarching message of the film.

No matter what is thrown at Janet, she can always rise above it.

Even during the breakdown of her marriage to Rene, those closest to her were mostly unaware of the extent of marital issues that were creating a crater between the spouses. Aside from one dinner where Janet was noticeably down, she picked right back up and powered through like the true professional entertainer she was raised to be.

She also remained graceful when the sexual abuse allegations against her brother Michael impacted her own career. As she so poignantly put it, ‘guilty by association’.

The sibling relationship between Janet and Michael makes for gripping viewing as we see the sweet moments, them casually writing a song together on a bed at the height of their fame like they were children again, to the tension caused by MJ’s own suffocating success and the fallout of the serious allegations against him.

Throughout the entire documentary, the raw pain, upset and hurt from these pinnacle moments in Janet’s life is etched all over her face, even today, but she remains resolute throughout. As intriguing as it is for us viewers to get a close look at her chaotic rise to fame, it’s also obviously a therapeutic and necessary reflection for Janet.

And, after all’s said and done, the show must go on.

Janet Jackson, all four episodes, will be available on Sky Documentaries and NOW TV from January 31.


Credit: Original article published here.

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