Janet Jackson is music royalty. Along with her show-stopping performances, undeniable charisma, and cinematic music videos, Jackson’s back catalog of studio albums is a good example of why she is one of the most influential artists of all time.
After practically being born into the spotlight, Jackson pursued a career in acting before following in her brother’s footsteps as a singer. The all-around entertainer debuted on the music scene in 1982 but didn’t start to make noise until 1986. Ever since Jackson took control of her destiny, there has been no stopping her.
While delivering hit after hit, Jackson has continued to break boundaries as a Black artist. Some of her most noteworthy accolades include being the first woman to be nominated for Producer of the Year at the Grammy Awards and the first artist to have a No. 1 single on the US Hot 100 in three consecutive decades.
Currently, Jackson holds the record for embarking on the highest-grossing debut headlining tour, as well as having the most consecutive top 10 hits on the Billboard’s Hot 100.
Her next-level music videos also made her the youngest recipient of the MTV Video Vanguard Award. At the 1993 Academy Awards, she became the first Black artist to be nominated in the Best Original Song category.
To honor Jackson’s groundbreaking career, we are ranking all her studio albums from our least favorite to her very best while revealing more of her major achievements.
11. Dream Street (1984)
Key tracks: Fast Girls, Don’t Stand Another Chance, Communication
As most expected, Janet Jackson’s sophomore album, Dream Street, is ranked as her worst album. The reason for it being placed at the bottom is due to the record’s overall lack of originality. There are definitely some sweet songs, but it’s very forgettable on the whole.
During this time, Jackson’s father — Joe Jackson — was her manager and controlled her every move, therefore, she was being forced to record this already-written material. Knowing what we know now, it’s obvious that this record would have been stronger had she had been able to have the creative input.
10. Janet Jackson (1982)
Key tracks: Say You Do, You’ll Never Find (A Love Like Mine), Young Love
Janet Jackson’s self-titled debut album in 1982 didn’t set the charts alive, but it’s heaps more of an enjoyable listen than Dream Street.
Like her sophomore, she didn’t have much of a say in the album’s creative process because of her dictatorial father. However, it does contain far more bops.
The LPs opener, Say You Do, was an obvious attempt to re-create Michael Jackson’s classic Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough and is one of the album’s finer moments. With that being said, the best song on the record comes in early at track two, You’ll Never Find (A Love Like Mine).
9. Discipline (2008)
Key tracks: Feedback, Rock With U, So Much Betta
Discipline is Janet Jackson’s first and only album with Island Def Jam. It is also her first album since 1984’s Dream Street, where she has no writing credits on any of the songs and where producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were not involved. Despite all of this, the record debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart and became her sixth chart-topping album.
The first half of Discipline is a lot more dance-heavy, which are the main stand-out tracks on the album. Feedback remains an effortlessly cool song, while the futuristic Daft Punk-esque Rock With U is undoubtedly one of her most overlooked and underrated singles.
In addition to those, Luv, 2nite, and Rollercoaster keep the pace going until the album is ultimately slowed down with a number of forgettable R&B ballads, aside from Never Letchu Go and the album title track.
8. 20 Y.O. (2006)
Key tracks: So Excited, Daybreak, Enjoy
20 Y.O. often gets a bad reputation from Janet Jackson fans and doesn’t always get the love it sometimes deserves. Minus So Excited, the other singles didn’t do the era justice and weren’t a fair representation for the majority of the album.
All in all, the best songs on 20 Y.O. can be found within the album cuts. In addition to the anthemic bangers that open the record on an energetic note — Show Me, Get It Out Me, This Body — there are some hidden gems — Enjoy and Daybreak — that deserve more attention.
7. Unbreakable (2015)
Key tracks: Take Me Away, No Sleeep, Night
Unbreakable became Janet Jackson’s first album in seven years and saw her return to the top of the charts. Along with scoring her seventh No. 1 album on the US Billboard 200, she joined Barbara Streisand and Bruce Springsteen by becoming one of three solo artists to have a chart-topping album in the past four decades.
Nearly a decade after its release and Unbreakable has aged like fine wine. Instead of just delivering her signature R&B and dance-pop sound, Jackson experimented further and delivered one of her most unique and mature-sounding albums to date.
The lead single, No Sleeep, was her best slow jam in years while her collaboration with her good friend Missy Elliott, BURNITUP!, proved her choreography days were far from over. Furthermore, Jackson gave us the euphoric Take Me Away, funky bop Night, and the big band-influenced Gon’ B Alright, which was seemingly a homage to her Control era.
After a couple of hit-and-miss albums, Unbreakable was the perfect project to launch her comeback with.
6. All For You (2001)
Key tracks: All For You, When We Oooo, Come On Get Up
Janet Jackson’s first album of the 2000s, All For You, was a lot happier and lighter than the previous. Following the divorce from her second husband, René Elizondo, Jackson decided to embrace her uptempo, optimistic side and release an album filled with carefree and feel-good bops.
After nearly 20 years in the game, the infectious album title track cemented her status as a music powerhouse by making radio history for becoming the first single to be added to every pop, rhythmic, and urban radio format within its debut week of being released. For this reason, Jackson was hailed the “Queen of Radio” by MTV.
All For You has one of the most flawless run of singles for an album released in the 2000s and is Jackson’s most popular album from the decade. From the ridiculously catchy Someone To Call My Lover and Come On Get Up, the shameless Son of a Gun and Trust a Try, to the soothing mid-tempo’s When We Oooo and China Love, All For You has a lot to offer with its variety of flavors.
5. Control (1986)
Key tracks: Control, Nasty, When I Think Of You
After letting go of her father as her manager, Janet Jackson moved to Minneapolis to record the breakthrough album, Control, that put her on the map globally. It was her first time working with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and was the start of a groundbreaking partnership.
Control is practically a Greatest Hits album as six of the eight tracks were singles and huge hits — Nasty, What Have You Done for Me Lately, and Let’s Wait Awhile, to name a few. The album became her first chart-topper on the US Billboard 200 and featured Jackson’s first-ever No. 1 smash on the US Hot 100 — When I Think Of You. The two songs that weren’t released — You Can Be Mine and He Doesn’t Know I’m Alive — could have easily served as popular singles and would have potentially contributed to the six top 15 hits she had already achieved.
At the Grammy Awards, the album earned herself four nominations including Album of the Year.
Control has stood the test of time. Not only as a hit-producing record but also for its message. Years before stars were preaching about girl power and being independent, Jackson was out here telling folk, especially women, to take control of their destiny.
4. Damita Jo (2004)
Key tracks: All Nite (Don’t Stop), Island Life, SloLove
Damita Jo was released under two months after Janet Jackson’s infamous Super Bowl halftime show performance, causing the album to not receive the treatment it deserved. Despite the backlash she was facing over her wardrobe malfunction, she still managed to remain on top form creatively.
The Grammy Award-nominated record contains Jackson’s very best interludes and showcased more sides to the personality of the private star than ever before. From the tropical jams Island Life and Spending Time With You, dance anthems All Nite (Don’t Stop), R&B Junkie, and SloLove, love songs I Want You and Thinkin’ Bout My Ex to the intimate ballads Moist and Truly, this 22-track album has a song for every mood.
Many may disagree but Damita Jo is Jackson’s best album from the 2000s.
3. Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
Key tracks: Miss You Much, Lonely, Love Will Never Do (Without You)
Rhythm Nation 1814 is one of the most legendary albums in music history. Period.
While Janet Jackson could have gone down the easy path and made another Control, she decided to push the envelope further and delivered a body of work that tackled a few serious topics — racism, poverty, and substance abuse — on songs Rhythm Nation, The Knowledge, State of the World, and Livin’ in a World (They Didn’t Make) that others may think were too daring for music at the time.
However, despite the campaigns political image, the rest of the album was fairly lighthearted and featured some of her most superior romantic songs — Lonely, Someday Is Tonight, and Love Will Never Do (Without You) — along with more iconic pop anthems — Escapade, Miss You Much, and Alright — that dominated the airwaves.
Rhythm Nation 1814 connected with audiences all over and saw Jackson go on her first world tour. While most start out in clubs and theaters, Jackson went straight to stadiums and performed on the highest-grossing debut tour of all time. The album scored a record-breaking seven top 5 hits, including four No. 1’s. Jackson also became the first artist to have a chart-topping single in three calendar years (1989-1991).
Rhythm Nation is Jackson’s pop bible.
2. The Velvet Rope (1997)
Key tracks: Go Deep, Empty, Velvet Rope
The Velvet Rope is Janet Jackson’s most experimental and raw album to date. Ahead of releasing the LP in 1997, she signed the largest recording contract in music history with Virgin for the second time for $80 million.
After facing a long-term case of depression, Jackson channeled her energy and created a masterpiece. As always, the lyrical content reflected on a variety of topics, some of which included self-worth, social networking, domestic violence, and same-sex relationships.
A stand-out track, Free Xone, is a protest song about LGBT discrimination and Jackson’s desire for everyone to feel free and accepted. During this time, she was hailed a gay icon and was honored with a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music.
Another noteworthy deep cut is Empty, which has proven to be ahead of its time as it discusses a topic many more can relate to today: having a connection with a person you’ve never met from the internet. Fan-favorite What About is one of Jackson’s most passionate songs as she lets out her inner feelings about a man who physically abused her.
Both the imagery and singles for The Velvet Rope remain top-notch 25 years later. Got ‘Til It’s Gone, which features an iconic Joni Mitchell sample, won Jackson her fourth Grammy Award for Best Music Video and recently made Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Music Videos list.
Her best-selling single, Together Again, was an open letter to her friends who died from HIV and has become one of her most recognizable songs for the new generation. Selling over six million copies, a portion of the proceeds from the single sales was donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR). The up-tempo smash has since become a classic dance anthem and a healing song for those mourning over a loss.
1. Janet Jackson – janet. (1993)
Key tracks: That’s the Way Love Goes, If, Throb
After fulfilling her contract with A&M, Janet Jackson moved over to Virgin Records and signed the largest music contract at the time for $40 million in the early 1990s. What separated janet. from Jackson’s previous albums was the shift from pop to more R&B. While doing so, she embraced being a sex symbol, posing topless for Rolling Stone magazine — one of the most famous magazine covers of all time.
janet. is a career-defining album on many levels. During the era, Jackson cemented her status as the Billboard queen, achieving another 7 top 10 singles on the Hot 100, and became the first female to have a No. 1 album during the SoundScan era with the largest first-week sales. Jackson’s persona as a sexually charged superstar is one of music’s greatest reinventions and has made a big impact on the likes of Britney Spears, Toni Braxton, and Tinashe.
The 28-track album delves into various themes of love while sonically exploring different sounds throughout. In addition to delivering the typical R&B slow jams — That Body That Loves You and Anytime, Anyplace — sing-along head-bopping tunes — Because of Love and Whoops Now — and warm-hearted ballads — Again and Where Are You Now — Jackson made sure to pick up the pace by getting groovy on Funky Big Band while having us sweating it out to the acid house banger Throb and the bouncy You Want This.
The lead single, That’s the Way Love Goes, still to this day is one of the best R&B songs of all time and set the standard for songs that followed. When it comes down to killer choreography, many videos from Jackson spring to mind. However, nothing has ever come close to the level of the album’s second single, If.
janet. joins the likes of Secrets, CrazySexyCool, Never Say Never, and Butterfly as one of the golden R&B albums of the ’90s and is the best-selling LP in Jackson’s career, shifting over 14 million copies worldwide.More: Janet Jackson