Janet appears in the upcoming W Magazine in a stunning Michael Thompson photo shoot. Here is a large excerpt from the article by Jenny Comita as well as photos from the magazine. Subscribe now to W Magazine to ensure you get Janet’s issue delivered straight to your door which includes the full article and more photos.
Janet Jackson arrives at New York’s Rosa Mexicano restaurant in a pair of low-rise jeans, a cocked newsboy cap and a clingy cotton top with the words I ♥ MY PEOPLE printed across her now infamous breasts. The T-shirt doesn’t lie. For her lunchtime interview in a private upstairs room, Jackson’s beloved people—in the showbiz sense of “have your people call my people”—surround her. A publicist is within spitting distance, listening to every word. Security guards and a man whose laptop is loaded with songs from her soon-to-be-released album enjoy their guacamole nearby. An hour prior to the meeting, it’s made clear that J.D., as her friends call her, won’t talk about certain things: her beleaguered brother Michael, her ex-husband René Elizondo and anything related to the exposure of her bejeweled nipple at Super Bowl XXXVIII. (That last one is a legal matter, her publicist points out: Two and a half years later, the court battle between CBS and the FCC over fines for the incident continues to rage.)
Such stipulations are hardly a shock. Decades of nearly back-to-back scandal have turned the Jacksons into a tight-lipped crew. And while Janet hasn’t gone to the wacko lengths that her most famous brother has—shrouding children in blankets and hiding out in Bahrain—this is a woman who kept her last marriage (to the now unmentionable Elizondo) secret for eight years. Still, there are certain seemingly personal subjects that Jackson is more than happy to blather on about. Get her started on the topic of her love match with Jermaine Dupri, for example, and she’ll spew forth with a self-help-speak-peppered gush worthy of an eHarmony commercial.
“The one thing I’ve wanted—even more so than music and acting—is love,” she says breathily, extralong false lashes fluttering around her big Bambi eyes. “And I just thought it wasn’t going to happen for me. You know, some girls just go through life, and they can’t get it right—never marrying, never having kids. And I thought that was me. I had honestly accepted it, talked to God about it and thought that was going to be my life.” It had gotten to the point that many of her male friends were offering themselves up as sperm donors, should she want to go the single-mother route. “I thought, How sweet of them,” she says. “I had a lot of options.”
But as these things tend to go, says Jackson, as soon as she made peace with her lack of a soulmate, Prince Charming arrived in the form of Dupri, a seven-years-younger music producer who is now president of urban music at Virgin Records. The couple, who were just friends for years before dating, first met in 1991, when Dupri came backstage at a Rhythm Nation show. They took things to the next level in 2000, while vacationing together on the posh Caribbean island of Mustique. “I knew for sure when he told me some of his deepest secrets—not just one thing, a few things,” she says. “And my jaw dropped because they were the exact same secrets that I had, and I’d only spoken about them with God!” (Curiously, despite her many mentions of a higher power, Jackson, who was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, maintains that she’s “not a religious person. Organized religion is just not for me, at least not right now in my life.”)
Soon, Jackson and Dupri were inseparable, splitting their time between Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles. The connection, she says, is “visceral.” “When I look at him, I feel like I’m looking back at myself,” she explains. “And even when we’re not together, it’s like we’re always on our pagers, watching the game, paging each other: ‘Baby, our show is on.’ And we’ll watch a television show.” (For the record, they have several “our shows,” including The Sopranos and Entourage.)
According to Dupri, who also coproduced Jackson’s new album, Twenty Y.O., she is laid-back when it comes to their relationship. “She’s really down for whatever I want to do—going out, kicking it,” he says. “We like to ride around in our own car and look at people and talk and listen to the radio. We might go eat and then just ride around. She’s not like what people actually think. She’s a fun, cool, regular person, and she knows a lot of things.”
As to whether they’ll marry and have children, Jackson, who was wed briefly to singer James DeBarge before her secret union with Elizondo, a dancer who went on to cowrite many of her songs, insists that the decision is totally up to her man. “I didn’t think marriage was for me, especially with me being so successful at it,” she jokes. “I didn’t want children. And Jermaine was the first person where I felt, you know, I could do that. We joke that if we had kids, they’d be nothing but eyes because we both have such big eyes. But it’s up to him. I’m so content with what we have right now. And if that’s all he desires, I’m happy with it. And if he wants more, I’m happy with that too.” It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from a high-achieving woman who just turned 40, especially one famous for singing, “I wanna be the one in control.”
But that was the old Janet. The new Janet is, as she says, “happy for once.” After all of the drama of her past relationships, the last few years have been—thanks solely to Dupri, she insists—the most joyful of her entire life. That’s saying a lot, of course, because to the outside observer, the last few years chez Jackson look like kind of a disaster. As the whole world knows, there have been family troubles. Late in 2003 Michael, the brother with whom Janet has said she was closest growing up, was charged with child molestation. The 14-week trial that followed was the most ballyhooed since O.J.’s. On the record, Janet, who, along with her parents and many of her siblings, was present for at least part of the proceedings, won’t even mention her brother’s name. (A couple of days later when Jackson is asked over the phone whether she sees Michael and his children, her publicist interrupts with a firm, “That’s not a topic we’re going to touch base on, okay?”) What Jackson will say is that she has “no clue” why the media are so interested in the private affairs of her family. “I don’t know if it’s because we’re kind of quiet and to ourselves, so they wonder what goes on behind closed doors,” she says. “Or because we’ve been performing for so long and we’re really the only family like that.” Demonstrating either a lack of self-awareness or a complete ignorance of what the rest of the world considers normal, she insists that her famously eccentric clan is “just your average family, and we do family stuff. We get together and we play board games, and it’s very competitive. My mother’s the worst. She doesn’t even give it up to my nieces and nephews who are eight or nine.”
The closest Jackson will come to acknowledging familial drama is to say that while she remains in constant contact with her mother and her (at last count) 28 nieces and nephews—”They’re always sending me pictures on my pager, and I download them and hang them in my apartment”—she’s never had much of a relationship with the allegedly tyrannical Joe Jackson. “I was never that close with my father,” she says with a shrug. “He was always traveling with my brothers, always gone, and then when he’d come back he’d be working.”
Still, as Rockwellian a picture of her family life as Jackson paints, there’s no question that Michael’s trial was an ordeal. “My family and I have just gone through the least humorous chapter of our lives,” she said upon accepting an award from the Human Rights Campaign a week after Michael’s acquittal. “I’m going to leave the jokes to the late-night [comics] if that’s okay.”
Sadly for Janet, by that point she was the butt of almost as many Letterman quips as her brother. Just 16 days after Michael’s arraignment, Janet took the stage at the Super Bowl halftime show and, as anyone who owns a television can tell you, finished off her duet with Justin Timberlake by revealing her right breast, its nipple unflatteringly pinched by an uncomfortable-looking sun-shaped shield. Whether or not the flash was intentional is, at this point, anybody’s guess. Jackson issued several apologies afterward, insisting that “it was not my intention that it go as far as it did.” A spokeswoman for the singer later explained that when Timberlake ripped off a piece of Jackson’s costume, a lace undergarment was supposed to have remained intact. But CBS president Les Moonves, whose network was fined a whopping $550,000 for the supposed “wardrobe malfunction,” made no secret of the fact that he wasn’t buying it. “She knew what she was doing,” he told Playboy magazine. “I don’t think this was an accident in any way.” CBS later took the FCC to court over the fine. It was upheld, and this past July the network filed an appeal.
In the wake of the scandal, Jackson released her eighth album, Damita Jo, and defying the old marketing maxim that all publicity is good publicity, it was something of a flop, racking up unimpressive sales, failing to get radio play and receiving, on the whole, disappointing reviews. Instead of promoting the album with her usual tour, Jackson virtually disappeared from public view. When she re-emerged this past winter, she had ballooned up to 180 pounds, thus setting off a new round of humiliating headlines like JANET HITS BIG TIME and DIET MALFUNCTION.
Jackson explains her weight gain as a calculated but ultimately ill-fated career move. She says she packed on the pounds—about 60, by her calculation—for a part in an upcoming Lee Daniels movie called Tennessee, which was supposed to start filming in late 2005. “I thought, How great would this role be?” says Jackson. “She’s a waitress, a heavyset girl and just a beautiful soul. But three days before I was supposed to start rehearsals, they called and told me they were going to push it back to the new year.” According to Jackson, this new shooting schedule didn’t jibe with her record release and planned tour, so after working with a dialect coach and learning guitar in order to play the aspiring country singer, she pulled out of the film. (The part subsequently went to Mariah Carey, but the movie is still in preproduction.)
Strangely, however, Jackson doesn’t seem to feel resentful about having put her body through so much for naught. “Let me tell you, it was fun!” she says of bulking up. “I would hit my favorite spots, Häagen-Dazs…and when I’d come to New York I’d have my St. Marks pizza.” When the time came to take it all off—which she managed to do at the seemingly impossible pace of 60 pounds in four months—she says she simply turned herself over entirely to her nutritionist, who sent premade meals to her house each night. “People call me spoiled,” she says. “But I don’t want to think about what I need to eat.” When she achieved half her goal, her longtime trainer, Tony Martinez, stepped in, putting her through daily workouts that involved resistance bands, boxing, football drills, tennis, running on the beach and trips to the batting cages. “I hate working out,” says Jackson. “I’d quit in a heartbeat. But I’m not my sister [LaToya]. The heaviest thing she’s ever lifted in her life is her purse, and she’s 10 years older than me and she’s got this beautiful body. She doesn’t have to work for it. I don’t have it like that.”
Because Jackson managed to transform herself from flab to fab with such rapidity, rumors about diet drugs, liposuction and even stomach stapling have been rampant. She insists that the only pills she swallowed were “supplements and natural things that are good for your system.” And as for allegations that she went under the knife, they make her positively irate. “It really pisses me off,” she says. “People should understand that the paparazzi were with me every single day, and I was never missing for, like, a month or two of recovery time. The new thing is that I had gastric bypass. To be a candidate for that you have to be 100 pounds overweight or something. So yes, not a lot of things get to me, but that got to me because I know how hard I worked.”
Though she’s nearly back to her usual 120 pounds, Jackson’s training sessions are about to get even more intense. In March she’ll kick off an international tour to promote Twenty Y.O., and prepping for that, she says, will mean working 10-hour days, six days a week, with two hours in the gym followed by eight-hour dance rehearsals. It sounds like the schedule of a woman on a mission—to reclaim her reputation as an artist; to get noticed for something other than a wardrobe whoops and a fluctuating waistline. But Jackson—whose first single from Twenty Y.O., a duet with Nelly called “Call on Me,” peaked at a lackluster 25 on the Billboard Hot 100—brushes off the idea that much is riding on this latest album. “I don’t think about it like that, whether there is or there isn’t,” she insists. “I do what I feel in my heart. I do what moves me at the moment.”
What was on her mind while recording Twenty Y.O.—which is short for “20 years old”—was that two decades have passed since the release of her first hit record, Control. At the time that album was released, says Jackson, she was at a crossroads. “My father had managed me, and firing him was a big step because I was a very, very shy kid,” she says. “I had been married for almost a year [to DeBarge] and got an annulment. That was the time I decided to do things the way I wanted to.” The new album, which she describes as “musically, more R&B related than anything I’ve done in a long time,” is something of a love letter to her inner child. “I wanted to look back on that young adult and say, ‘You know, I’m really proud of you. You did a really good job, and you stuck to your guns. As shy as you were and as nervous as you were, you did it and you got through it.'” And does she think, despite all that has happened, that kid would be proud of the woman she’s become? Jackson pauses and stares at her hands. “Yes,” she says. “Very much so. To have a career in music is not easy. To survive as long as I’ve lasted and be as successful as I’ve been, that’s not easy. So yes, I think she would be very proud of me.”