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Janet Jackson, a new four-part documentary filmed over five years, reminds viewers what a cultural juggernaut Janet Jackson is. By keeping a tight handle on the storytelling, Janet remains in control, seldom allowing more than a brief glimpse behind the PR mask. Given all she’s been through though, surely she doesn’t owe us more than that, so rather than waiting for revelations and bombshells, just sit back and let the spectacle of her talent wash over you.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was a seminal album for me. At countless school socials in the early ‘90s I danced my ass off to the title track, arms flapping as I tried to pull off the new jack swing dance moves. My friends and I also attempted Miss Jackson’s faux-military luxe style, working with what we had: an endless supply of black bike pants, some rusty badges from dad’s shed to stick on our hats, and black mittens that we pretended were leather gloves.

My terrible dancing and tetanus-adjacent fashion stylings were my expressions of love for Janet in my early teen years. Before I learned that moping was cool and changed music tastes accordingly, I adored the youngest Jackson child who I thought was the MOST beautiful and the BEST dancer and GREATEST singer.

Given my early love of Janet, and the apology tour the world has thankfully been embarking on in recent years to make things right with women the culture has wronged (see Britney, Free), in this doco I was anticipating a glorious post-MeToo reclamation of Janet’s nipple and all those who wronged it.

Janet Jackson doesn’t deliver the same catharsis that Framing Britney Spears did in 2021 however. But there’s good reason for that. The Britney Spears documentary was filmed without Britney’s input, and while it did wonders to raise the profile of her conservatorship, it could also be as speculative or embarrassing as the makers wanted it to be, without much worry of it re-traumatising the person who had actually lived through it.

Instead, with Janet in charge, as with any star-produced documentary like this you are only ever going to see a carefully stage managed version of the star, but isn’t that her right after all these years, to tell her story in a way that is comfortable for her?

A young Janet with her brothers. Photo / Getty Images

Spending four-ish hours in the company of people as talented, charismatic and, frankly, gorgeous, as the Jacksons is never going to be a waste of time so even without the jaw dropping reveals of the Britney doc, it’s still a very entertaining ride.

There is also of course a lot of darkness in the story of Janet and her family. It is these parts of the story where it feels like you might want to fill in some gaps yourself, just to get a full picture, as even the careful reveals made by Janet leave a lot to process.

The famously abusive Joe Jackson is treated gently by the Jackson kids who took part in the doco. All agree that he was strict but the company line is that the level of fame reached would never have happened without him. This seems to both excuse the abuser while also playing down the depth of their own talent. Joe died in 2018 and death does tend to soften memories, but this defence of Joe is also signalled by which siblings appear in Janet’s story, and which are conspicuously absent.

Joe’s abuse has been so widely reported as monstrous that Janet’s insistence on thanking him throughout for his ‘discipline’ is still unsettling. At times it feels like the director struggled with this too, and several scenes are edited in of an unsmiling, steely-eyed Joe telling different reporters of the importance of disciplining his kids. These are some very damaged people who have spent decades plastering over the trauma with the gloss of PR and it’s hard to know if Janet et al can tell the difference between reacting to trauma and a prepared statement about trauma.

This PR-as-trauma-response seems to run through Janet’s ongoing defence of Michael and the molestation allegations against him. While no mention is made of Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary that gave a credible voice to two of the alleged survivors of Michael’s sexual abuse, archival footage shows Janet stopping a concert to ask the fans to pray for Michael while he is in court facing sexual abuse charges. Viewed through a 2022 lens, praying for a molester at a concert seems completely bonkers, until you remember Hillsong and realise we haven’t really come all that far as a culture.

Interviews and archive footage of the recording of the song and video for Scream are heartbreaking. Janet views Michael’s request to do the song together as him reaching out to her for family support, rather than a shrewd business move to humanise the alien Michael. There is true sadness there of a sister who wants to help her brother but who also has years of resentment of him built into her DNA by the people around her.

There are dynamics in Jackson family that we will never understand. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the lives of child stars, let alone a family of them who are made to compete against each other. If you strip all that out though, along with the allegations of abuse across the board, and what you’re left with is a very raw longing for a little sister to be validated by her successful elder brother.

Janet Jackson in concert. Photo / Getty Images

But while Janet is shown passionately defending Michael’s innocence time and time again, he seems pretty disinterested in sticking up for his sister after the infamous Super Bowl incident, sharing empty platitudes with an interviewer that “this too shall pass”. Not very cool big brother behaviour, to say the least.

Janet remains frustratingly calm and forgiving when talking about the incident. Here again trauma looks as though it has been lacquered over with PR, though Janet’s measured responses must be given weight because they are hers – this happened to her so she can do and say as she likes, even if she is so much more gracious about Justin Timberlake than he has any right to. It is amusing that the Jehovah’s Witness-raised Jacksons are all too prudish to actually say the word ‘nipple’ and have to outsource the job to Tyler Perry.

(For an informative take on ‘nipplegate’, the You’re Wrong About episode covering the wardrobe malfunction is canon and better than the recent New York Times documentary that covers similar ground).

You know why we are never really going to get our head around the Jacksons? Because they are utterly un-relatable. The dynamics of the family and their talent and their trauma played out on a world stage is lightening in a bottle that can never be repeated, so how could we possibly ever understand it?

At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at Janet for wanting to get a version of the truth out there that she feels most comfortable with. She’s earned it. In the final episode of the series Janet is filmed on tour with her baby whose face is never shown, and you think, ‘good, keep that baby safely out of the limelight’. Keep something for yourself, you’ve given us enough and by golly it’s nice to see you again and on your own terms.

Janet Jackson is available on TVNZ on Demand.

No items found.

Janet Jackson, a new four-part documentary filmed over five years, reminds viewers what a cultural juggernaut Janet Jackson is. By keeping a tight handle on the storytelling, Janet remains in control, seldom allowing more than a brief glimpse behind the PR mask. Given all she’s been through though, surely she doesn’t owe us more than that, so rather than waiting for revelations and bombshells, just sit back and let the spectacle of her talent wash over you.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was a seminal album for me. At countless school socials in the early ‘90s I danced my ass off to the title track, arms flapping as I tried to pull off the new jack swing dance moves. My friends and I also attempted Miss Jackson’s faux-military luxe style, working with what we had: an endless supply of black bike pants, some rusty badges from dad’s shed to stick on our hats, and black mittens that we pretended were leather gloves.

My terrible dancing and tetanus-adjacent fashion stylings were my expressions of love for Janet in my early teen years. Before I learned that moping was cool and changed music tastes accordingly, I adored the youngest Jackson child who I thought was the MOST beautiful and the BEST dancer and GREATEST singer.

Given my early love of Janet, and the apology tour the world has thankfully been embarking on in recent years to make things right with women the culture has wronged (see Britney, Free), in this doco I was anticipating a glorious post-MeToo reclamation of Janet’s nipple and all those who wronged it.

Janet Jackson doesn’t deliver the same catharsis that Framing Britney Spears did in 2021 however. But there’s good reason for that. The Britney Spears documentary was filmed without Britney’s input, and while it did wonders to raise the profile of her conservatorship, it could also be as speculative or embarrassing as the makers wanted it to be, without much worry of it re-traumatising the person who had actually lived through it.

Instead, with Janet in charge, as with any star-produced documentary like this you are only ever going to see a carefully stage managed version of the star, but isn’t that her right after all these years, to tell her story in a way that is comfortable for her?

A young Janet with her brothers. Photo / Getty Images

Spending four-ish hours in the company of people as talented, charismatic and, frankly, gorgeous, as the Jacksons is never going to be a waste of time so even without the jaw dropping reveals of the Britney doc, it’s still a very entertaining ride.

There is also of course a lot of darkness in the story of Janet and her family. It is these parts of the story where it feels like you might want to fill in some gaps yourself, just to get a full picture, as even the careful reveals made by Janet leave a lot to process.

The famously abusive Joe Jackson is treated gently by the Jackson kids who took part in the doco. All agree that he was strict but the company line is that the level of fame reached would never have happened without him. This seems to both excuse the abuser while also playing down the depth of their own talent. Joe died in 2018 and death does tend to soften memories, but this defence of Joe is also signalled by which siblings appear in Janet’s story, and which are conspicuously absent.

Joe’s abuse has been so widely reported as monstrous that Janet’s insistence on thanking him throughout for his ‘discipline’ is still unsettling. At times it feels like the director struggled with this too, and several scenes are edited in of an unsmiling, steely-eyed Joe telling different reporters of the importance of disciplining his kids. These are some very damaged people who have spent decades plastering over the trauma with the gloss of PR and it’s hard to know if Janet et al can tell the difference between reacting to trauma and a prepared statement about trauma.

This PR-as-trauma-response seems to run through Janet’s ongoing defence of Michael and the molestation allegations against him. While no mention is made of Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary that gave a credible voice to two of the alleged survivors of Michael’s sexual abuse, archival footage shows Janet stopping a concert to ask the fans to pray for Michael while he is in court facing sexual abuse charges. Viewed through a 2022 lens, praying for a molester at a concert seems completely bonkers, until you remember Hillsong and realise we haven’t really come all that far as a culture.

Interviews and archive footage of the recording of the song and video for Scream are heartbreaking. Janet views Michael’s request to do the song together as him reaching out to her for family support, rather than a shrewd business move to humanise the alien Michael. There is true sadness there of a sister who wants to help her brother but who also has years of resentment of him built into her DNA by the people around her.

There are dynamics in Jackson family that we will never understand. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the lives of child stars, let alone a family of them who are made to compete against each other. If you strip all that out though, along with the allegations of abuse across the board, and what you’re left with is a very raw longing for a little sister to be validated by her successful elder brother.

Janet Jackson in concert. Photo / Getty Images

But while Janet is shown passionately defending Michael’s innocence time and time again, he seems pretty disinterested in sticking up for his sister after the infamous Super Bowl incident, sharing empty platitudes with an interviewer that “this too shall pass”. Not very cool big brother behaviour, to say the least.

Janet remains frustratingly calm and forgiving when talking about the incident. Here again trauma looks as though it has been lacquered over with PR, though Janet’s measured responses must be given weight because they are hers – this happened to her so she can do and say as she likes, even if she is so much more gracious about Justin Timberlake than he has any right to. It is amusing that the Jehovah’s Witness-raised Jacksons are all too prudish to actually say the word ‘nipple’ and have to outsource the job to Tyler Perry.

(For an informative take on ‘nipplegate’, the You’re Wrong About episode covering the wardrobe malfunction is canon and better than the recent New York Times documentary that covers similar ground).

You know why we are never really going to get our head around the Jacksons? Because they are utterly un-relatable. The dynamics of the family and their talent and their trauma played out on a world stage is lightening in a bottle that can never be repeated, so how could we possibly ever understand it?

At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at Janet for wanting to get a version of the truth out there that she feels most comfortable with. She’s earned it. In the final episode of the series Janet is filmed on tour with her baby whose face is never shown, and you think, ‘good, keep that baby safely out of the limelight’. Keep something for yourself, you’ve given us enough and by golly it’s nice to see you again and on your own terms.

Janet Jackson is available on TVNZ on Demand.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

Janet Jackson, a new four-part documentary filmed over five years, reminds viewers what a cultural juggernaut Janet Jackson is. By keeping a tight handle on the storytelling, Janet remains in control, seldom allowing more than a brief glimpse behind the PR mask. Given all she’s been through though, surely she doesn’t owe us more than that, so rather than waiting for revelations and bombshells, just sit back and let the spectacle of her talent wash over you.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was a seminal album for me. At countless school socials in the early ‘90s I danced my ass off to the title track, arms flapping as I tried to pull off the new jack swing dance moves. My friends and I also attempted Miss Jackson’s faux-military luxe style, working with what we had: an endless supply of black bike pants, some rusty badges from dad’s shed to stick on our hats, and black mittens that we pretended were leather gloves.

My terrible dancing and tetanus-adjacent fashion stylings were my expressions of love for Janet in my early teen years. Before I learned that moping was cool and changed music tastes accordingly, I adored the youngest Jackson child who I thought was the MOST beautiful and the BEST dancer and GREATEST singer.

Given my early love of Janet, and the apology tour the world has thankfully been embarking on in recent years to make things right with women the culture has wronged (see Britney, Free), in this doco I was anticipating a glorious post-MeToo reclamation of Janet’s nipple and all those who wronged it.

Janet Jackson doesn’t deliver the same catharsis that Framing Britney Spears did in 2021 however. But there’s good reason for that. The Britney Spears documentary was filmed without Britney’s input, and while it did wonders to raise the profile of her conservatorship, it could also be as speculative or embarrassing as the makers wanted it to be, without much worry of it re-traumatising the person who had actually lived through it.

Instead, with Janet in charge, as with any star-produced documentary like this you are only ever going to see a carefully stage managed version of the star, but isn’t that her right after all these years, to tell her story in a way that is comfortable for her?

A young Janet with her brothers. Photo / Getty Images

Spending four-ish hours in the company of people as talented, charismatic and, frankly, gorgeous, as the Jacksons is never going to be a waste of time so even without the jaw dropping reveals of the Britney doc, it’s still a very entertaining ride.

There is also of course a lot of darkness in the story of Janet and her family. It is these parts of the story where it feels like you might want to fill in some gaps yourself, just to get a full picture, as even the careful reveals made by Janet leave a lot to process.

The famously abusive Joe Jackson is treated gently by the Jackson kids who took part in the doco. All agree that he was strict but the company line is that the level of fame reached would never have happened without him. This seems to both excuse the abuser while also playing down the depth of their own talent. Joe died in 2018 and death does tend to soften memories, but this defence of Joe is also signalled by which siblings appear in Janet’s story, and which are conspicuously absent.

Joe’s abuse has been so widely reported as monstrous that Janet’s insistence on thanking him throughout for his ‘discipline’ is still unsettling. At times it feels like the director struggled with this too, and several scenes are edited in of an unsmiling, steely-eyed Joe telling different reporters of the importance of disciplining his kids. These are some very damaged people who have spent decades plastering over the trauma with the gloss of PR and it’s hard to know if Janet et al can tell the difference between reacting to trauma and a prepared statement about trauma.

This PR-as-trauma-response seems to run through Janet’s ongoing defence of Michael and the molestation allegations against him. While no mention is made of Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary that gave a credible voice to two of the alleged survivors of Michael’s sexual abuse, archival footage shows Janet stopping a concert to ask the fans to pray for Michael while he is in court facing sexual abuse charges. Viewed through a 2022 lens, praying for a molester at a concert seems completely bonkers, until you remember Hillsong and realise we haven’t really come all that far as a culture.

Interviews and archive footage of the recording of the song and video for Scream are heartbreaking. Janet views Michael’s request to do the song together as him reaching out to her for family support, rather than a shrewd business move to humanise the alien Michael. There is true sadness there of a sister who wants to help her brother but who also has years of resentment of him built into her DNA by the people around her.

There are dynamics in Jackson family that we will never understand. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the lives of child stars, let alone a family of them who are made to compete against each other. If you strip all that out though, along with the allegations of abuse across the board, and what you’re left with is a very raw longing for a little sister to be validated by her successful elder brother.

Janet Jackson in concert. Photo / Getty Images

But while Janet is shown passionately defending Michael’s innocence time and time again, he seems pretty disinterested in sticking up for his sister after the infamous Super Bowl incident, sharing empty platitudes with an interviewer that “this too shall pass”. Not very cool big brother behaviour, to say the least.

Janet remains frustratingly calm and forgiving when talking about the incident. Here again trauma looks as though it has been lacquered over with PR, though Janet’s measured responses must be given weight because they are hers – this happened to her so she can do and say as she likes, even if she is so much more gracious about Justin Timberlake than he has any right to. It is amusing that the Jehovah’s Witness-raised Jacksons are all too prudish to actually say the word ‘nipple’ and have to outsource the job to Tyler Perry.

(For an informative take on ‘nipplegate’, the You’re Wrong About episode covering the wardrobe malfunction is canon and better than the recent New York Times documentary that covers similar ground).

You know why we are never really going to get our head around the Jacksons? Because they are utterly un-relatable. The dynamics of the family and their talent and their trauma played out on a world stage is lightening in a bottle that can never be repeated, so how could we possibly ever understand it?

At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at Janet for wanting to get a version of the truth out there that she feels most comfortable with. She’s earned it. In the final episode of the series Janet is filmed on tour with her baby whose face is never shown, and you think, ‘good, keep that baby safely out of the limelight’. Keep something for yourself, you’ve given us enough and by golly it’s nice to see you again and on your own terms.

Janet Jackson is available on TVNZ on Demand.

No items found.
Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

Janet Jackson, a new four-part documentary filmed over five years, reminds viewers what a cultural juggernaut Janet Jackson is. By keeping a tight handle on the storytelling, Janet remains in control, seldom allowing more than a brief glimpse behind the PR mask. Given all she’s been through though, surely she doesn’t owe us more than that, so rather than waiting for revelations and bombshells, just sit back and let the spectacle of her talent wash over you.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was a seminal album for me. At countless school socials in the early ‘90s I danced my ass off to the title track, arms flapping as I tried to pull off the new jack swing dance moves. My friends and I also attempted Miss Jackson’s faux-military luxe style, working with what we had: an endless supply of black bike pants, some rusty badges from dad’s shed to stick on our hats, and black mittens that we pretended were leather gloves.

My terrible dancing and tetanus-adjacent fashion stylings were my expressions of love for Janet in my early teen years. Before I learned that moping was cool and changed music tastes accordingly, I adored the youngest Jackson child who I thought was the MOST beautiful and the BEST dancer and GREATEST singer.

Given my early love of Janet, and the apology tour the world has thankfully been embarking on in recent years to make things right with women the culture has wronged (see Britney, Free), in this doco I was anticipating a glorious post-MeToo reclamation of Janet’s nipple and all those who wronged it.

Janet Jackson doesn’t deliver the same catharsis that Framing Britney Spears did in 2021 however. But there’s good reason for that. The Britney Spears documentary was filmed without Britney’s input, and while it did wonders to raise the profile of her conservatorship, it could also be as speculative or embarrassing as the makers wanted it to be, without much worry of it re-traumatising the person who had actually lived through it.

Instead, with Janet in charge, as with any star-produced documentary like this you are only ever going to see a carefully stage managed version of the star, but isn’t that her right after all these years, to tell her story in a way that is comfortable for her?

A young Janet with her brothers. Photo / Getty Images

Spending four-ish hours in the company of people as talented, charismatic and, frankly, gorgeous, as the Jacksons is never going to be a waste of time so even without the jaw dropping reveals of the Britney doc, it’s still a very entertaining ride.

There is also of course a lot of darkness in the story of Janet and her family. It is these parts of the story where it feels like you might want to fill in some gaps yourself, just to get a full picture, as even the careful reveals made by Janet leave a lot to process.

The famously abusive Joe Jackson is treated gently by the Jackson kids who took part in the doco. All agree that he was strict but the company line is that the level of fame reached would never have happened without him. This seems to both excuse the abuser while also playing down the depth of their own talent. Joe died in 2018 and death does tend to soften memories, but this defence of Joe is also signalled by which siblings appear in Janet’s story, and which are conspicuously absent.

Joe’s abuse has been so widely reported as monstrous that Janet’s insistence on thanking him throughout for his ‘discipline’ is still unsettling. At times it feels like the director struggled with this too, and several scenes are edited in of an unsmiling, steely-eyed Joe telling different reporters of the importance of disciplining his kids. These are some very damaged people who have spent decades plastering over the trauma with the gloss of PR and it’s hard to know if Janet et al can tell the difference between reacting to trauma and a prepared statement about trauma.

This PR-as-trauma-response seems to run through Janet’s ongoing defence of Michael and the molestation allegations against him. While no mention is made of Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary that gave a credible voice to two of the alleged survivors of Michael’s sexual abuse, archival footage shows Janet stopping a concert to ask the fans to pray for Michael while he is in court facing sexual abuse charges. Viewed through a 2022 lens, praying for a molester at a concert seems completely bonkers, until you remember Hillsong and realise we haven’t really come all that far as a culture.

Interviews and archive footage of the recording of the song and video for Scream are heartbreaking. Janet views Michael’s request to do the song together as him reaching out to her for family support, rather than a shrewd business move to humanise the alien Michael. There is true sadness there of a sister who wants to help her brother but who also has years of resentment of him built into her DNA by the people around her.

There are dynamics in Jackson family that we will never understand. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the lives of child stars, let alone a family of them who are made to compete against each other. If you strip all that out though, along with the allegations of abuse across the board, and what you’re left with is a very raw longing for a little sister to be validated by her successful elder brother.

Janet Jackson in concert. Photo / Getty Images

But while Janet is shown passionately defending Michael’s innocence time and time again, he seems pretty disinterested in sticking up for his sister after the infamous Super Bowl incident, sharing empty platitudes with an interviewer that “this too shall pass”. Not very cool big brother behaviour, to say the least.

Janet remains frustratingly calm and forgiving when talking about the incident. Here again trauma looks as though it has been lacquered over with PR, though Janet’s measured responses must be given weight because they are hers – this happened to her so she can do and say as she likes, even if she is so much more gracious about Justin Timberlake than he has any right to. It is amusing that the Jehovah’s Witness-raised Jacksons are all too prudish to actually say the word ‘nipple’ and have to outsource the job to Tyler Perry.

(For an informative take on ‘nipplegate’, the You’re Wrong About episode covering the wardrobe malfunction is canon and better than the recent New York Times documentary that covers similar ground).

You know why we are never really going to get our head around the Jacksons? Because they are utterly un-relatable. The dynamics of the family and their talent and their trauma played out on a world stage is lightening in a bottle that can never be repeated, so how could we possibly ever understand it?

At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at Janet for wanting to get a version of the truth out there that she feels most comfortable with. She’s earned it. In the final episode of the series Janet is filmed on tour with her baby whose face is never shown, and you think, ‘good, keep that baby safely out of the limelight’. Keep something for yourself, you’ve given us enough and by golly it’s nice to see you again and on your own terms.

Janet Jackson is available on TVNZ on Demand.

Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program
No items found.

Janet Jackson, a new four-part documentary filmed over five years, reminds viewers what a cultural juggernaut Janet Jackson is. By keeping a tight handle on the storytelling, Janet remains in control, seldom allowing more than a brief glimpse behind the PR mask. Given all she’s been through though, surely she doesn’t owe us more than that, so rather than waiting for revelations and bombshells, just sit back and let the spectacle of her talent wash over you.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was a seminal album for me. At countless school socials in the early ‘90s I danced my ass off to the title track, arms flapping as I tried to pull off the new jack swing dance moves. My friends and I also attempted Miss Jackson’s faux-military luxe style, working with what we had: an endless supply of black bike pants, some rusty badges from dad’s shed to stick on our hats, and black mittens that we pretended were leather gloves.

My terrible dancing and tetanus-adjacent fashion stylings were my expressions of love for Janet in my early teen years. Before I learned that moping was cool and changed music tastes accordingly, I adored the youngest Jackson child who I thought was the MOST beautiful and the BEST dancer and GREATEST singer.

Given my early love of Janet, and the apology tour the world has thankfully been embarking on in recent years to make things right with women the culture has wronged (see Britney, Free), in this doco I was anticipating a glorious post-MeToo reclamation of Janet’s nipple and all those who wronged it.

Janet Jackson doesn’t deliver the same catharsis that Framing Britney Spears did in 2021 however. But there’s good reason for that. The Britney Spears documentary was filmed without Britney’s input, and while it did wonders to raise the profile of her conservatorship, it could also be as speculative or embarrassing as the makers wanted it to be, without much worry of it re-traumatising the person who had actually lived through it.

Instead, with Janet in charge, as with any star-produced documentary like this you are only ever going to see a carefully stage managed version of the star, but isn’t that her right after all these years, to tell her story in a way that is comfortable for her?

A young Janet with her brothers. Photo / Getty Images

Spending four-ish hours in the company of people as talented, charismatic and, frankly, gorgeous, as the Jacksons is never going to be a waste of time so even without the jaw dropping reveals of the Britney doc, it’s still a very entertaining ride.

There is also of course a lot of darkness in the story of Janet and her family. It is these parts of the story where it feels like you might want to fill in some gaps yourself, just to get a full picture, as even the careful reveals made by Janet leave a lot to process.

The famously abusive Joe Jackson is treated gently by the Jackson kids who took part in the doco. All agree that he was strict but the company line is that the level of fame reached would never have happened without him. This seems to both excuse the abuser while also playing down the depth of their own talent. Joe died in 2018 and death does tend to soften memories, but this defence of Joe is also signalled by which siblings appear in Janet’s story, and which are conspicuously absent.

Joe’s abuse has been so widely reported as monstrous that Janet’s insistence on thanking him throughout for his ‘discipline’ is still unsettling. At times it feels like the director struggled with this too, and several scenes are edited in of an unsmiling, steely-eyed Joe telling different reporters of the importance of disciplining his kids. These are some very damaged people who have spent decades plastering over the trauma with the gloss of PR and it’s hard to know if Janet et al can tell the difference between reacting to trauma and a prepared statement about trauma.

This PR-as-trauma-response seems to run through Janet’s ongoing defence of Michael and the molestation allegations against him. While no mention is made of Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary that gave a credible voice to two of the alleged survivors of Michael’s sexual abuse, archival footage shows Janet stopping a concert to ask the fans to pray for Michael while he is in court facing sexual abuse charges. Viewed through a 2022 lens, praying for a molester at a concert seems completely bonkers, until you remember Hillsong and realise we haven’t really come all that far as a culture.

Interviews and archive footage of the recording of the song and video for Scream are heartbreaking. Janet views Michael’s request to do the song together as him reaching out to her for family support, rather than a shrewd business move to humanise the alien Michael. There is true sadness there of a sister who wants to help her brother but who also has years of resentment of him built into her DNA by the people around her.

There are dynamics in Jackson family that we will never understand. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the lives of child stars, let alone a family of them who are made to compete against each other. If you strip all that out though, along with the allegations of abuse across the board, and what you’re left with is a very raw longing for a little sister to be validated by her successful elder brother.

Janet Jackson in concert. Photo / Getty Images

But while Janet is shown passionately defending Michael’s innocence time and time again, he seems pretty disinterested in sticking up for his sister after the infamous Super Bowl incident, sharing empty platitudes with an interviewer that “this too shall pass”. Not very cool big brother behaviour, to say the least.

Janet remains frustratingly calm and forgiving when talking about the incident. Here again trauma looks as though it has been lacquered over with PR, though Janet’s measured responses must be given weight because they are hers – this happened to her so she can do and say as she likes, even if she is so much more gracious about Justin Timberlake than he has any right to. It is amusing that the Jehovah’s Witness-raised Jacksons are all too prudish to actually say the word ‘nipple’ and have to outsource the job to Tyler Perry.

(For an informative take on ‘nipplegate’, the You’re Wrong About episode covering the wardrobe malfunction is canon and better than the recent New York Times documentary that covers similar ground).

You know why we are never really going to get our head around the Jacksons? Because they are utterly un-relatable. The dynamics of the family and their talent and their trauma played out on a world stage is lightening in a bottle that can never be repeated, so how could we possibly ever understand it?

At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at Janet for wanting to get a version of the truth out there that she feels most comfortable with. She’s earned it. In the final episode of the series Janet is filmed on tour with her baby whose face is never shown, and you think, ‘good, keep that baby safely out of the limelight’. Keep something for yourself, you’ve given us enough and by golly it’s nice to see you again and on your own terms.

Janet Jackson is available on TVNZ on Demand.

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Creativity, evocative visual storytelling and good journalism come at a price. Support our work and join the Ensemble membership program

Janet Jackson, a new four-part documentary filmed over five years, reminds viewers what a cultural juggernaut Janet Jackson is. By keeping a tight handle on the storytelling, Janet remains in control, seldom allowing more than a brief glimpse behind the PR mask. Given all she’s been through though, surely she doesn’t owe us more than that, so rather than waiting for revelations and bombshells, just sit back and let the spectacle of her talent wash over you.

Rhythm Nation 1814 was a seminal album for me. At countless school socials in the early ‘90s I danced my ass off to the title track, arms flapping as I tried to pull off the new jack swing dance moves. My friends and I also attempted Miss Jackson’s faux-military luxe style, working with what we had: an endless supply of black bike pants, some rusty badges from dad’s shed to stick on our hats, and black mittens that we pretended were leather gloves.

My terrible dancing and tetanus-adjacent fashion stylings were my expressions of love for Janet in my early teen years. Before I learned that moping was cool and changed music tastes accordingly, I adored the youngest Jackson child who I thought was the MOST beautiful and the BEST dancer and GREATEST singer.

Given my early love of Janet, and the apology tour the world has thankfully been embarking on in recent years to make things right with women the culture has wronged (see Britney, Free), in this doco I was anticipating a glorious post-MeToo reclamation of Janet’s nipple and all those who wronged it.

Janet Jackson doesn’t deliver the same catharsis that Framing Britney Spears did in 2021 however. But there’s good reason for that. The Britney Spears documentary was filmed without Britney’s input, and while it did wonders to raise the profile of her conservatorship, it could also be as speculative or embarrassing as the makers wanted it to be, without much worry of it re-traumatising the person who had actually lived through it.

Instead, with Janet in charge, as with any star-produced documentary like this you are only ever going to see a carefully stage managed version of the star, but isn’t that her right after all these years, to tell her story in a way that is comfortable for her?

A young Janet with her brothers. Photo / Getty Images

Spending four-ish hours in the company of people as talented, charismatic and, frankly, gorgeous, as the Jacksons is never going to be a waste of time so even without the jaw dropping reveals of the Britney doc, it’s still a very entertaining ride.

There is also of course a lot of darkness in the story of Janet and her family. It is these parts of the story where it feels like you might want to fill in some gaps yourself, just to get a full picture, as even the careful reveals made by Janet leave a lot to process.

The famously abusive Joe Jackson is treated gently by the Jackson kids who took part in the doco. All agree that he was strict but the company line is that the level of fame reached would never have happened without him. This seems to both excuse the abuser while also playing down the depth of their own talent. Joe died in 2018 and death does tend to soften memories, but this defence of Joe is also signalled by which siblings appear in Janet’s story, and which are conspicuously absent.

Joe’s abuse has been so widely reported as monstrous that Janet’s insistence on thanking him throughout for his ‘discipline’ is still unsettling. At times it feels like the director struggled with this too, and several scenes are edited in of an unsmiling, steely-eyed Joe telling different reporters of the importance of disciplining his kids. These are some very damaged people who have spent decades plastering over the trauma with the gloss of PR and it’s hard to know if Janet et al can tell the difference between reacting to trauma and a prepared statement about trauma.

This PR-as-trauma-response seems to run through Janet’s ongoing defence of Michael and the molestation allegations against him. While no mention is made of Leaving Neverland, the 2019 documentary that gave a credible voice to two of the alleged survivors of Michael’s sexual abuse, archival footage shows Janet stopping a concert to ask the fans to pray for Michael while he is in court facing sexual abuse charges. Viewed through a 2022 lens, praying for a molester at a concert seems completely bonkers, until you remember Hillsong and realise we haven’t really come all that far as a culture.

Interviews and archive footage of the recording of the song and video for Scream are heartbreaking. Janet views Michael’s request to do the song together as him reaching out to her for family support, rather than a shrewd business move to humanise the alien Michael. There is true sadness there of a sister who wants to help her brother but who also has years of resentment of him built into her DNA by the people around her.

There are dynamics in Jackson family that we will never understand. It’s hard for most of us to comprehend the lives of child stars, let alone a family of them who are made to compete against each other. If you strip all that out though, along with the allegations of abuse across the board, and what you’re left with is a very raw longing for a little sister to be validated by her successful elder brother.

Janet Jackson in concert. Photo / Getty Images

But while Janet is shown passionately defending Michael’s innocence time and time again, he seems pretty disinterested in sticking up for his sister after the infamous Super Bowl incident, sharing empty platitudes with an interviewer that “this too shall pass”. Not very cool big brother behaviour, to say the least.

Janet remains frustratingly calm and forgiving when talking about the incident. Here again trauma looks as though it has been lacquered over with PR, though Janet’s measured responses must be given weight because they are hers – this happened to her so she can do and say as she likes, even if she is so much more gracious about Justin Timberlake than he has any right to. It is amusing that the Jehovah’s Witness-raised Jacksons are all too prudish to actually say the word ‘nipple’ and have to outsource the job to Tyler Perry.

(For an informative take on ‘nipplegate’, the You’re Wrong About episode covering the wardrobe malfunction is canon and better than the recent New York Times documentary that covers similar ground).

You know why we are never really going to get our head around the Jacksons? Because they are utterly un-relatable. The dynamics of the family and their talent and their trauma played out on a world stage is lightening in a bottle that can never be repeated, so how could we possibly ever understand it?

At the end of the day, you can’t be mad at Janet for wanting to get a version of the truth out there that she feels most comfortable with. She’s earned it. In the final episode of the series Janet is filmed on tour with her baby whose face is never shown, and you think, ‘good, keep that baby safely out of the limelight’. Keep something for yourself, you’ve given us enough and by golly it’s nice to see you again and on your own terms.

Janet Jackson is available on TVNZ on Demand.

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