Madonna and Michael Jackson may have dominated the music video medium in the ’80s and ’90s, but MJ’s kid sister Janet gave them both a run for their money with her memorable, energetic mini-movies. Her taut choreography and imaginative backdrops changed the form and set the stage for Britney Spears, Rihanna, Beyoncé, and many other pop artists of today.
In celebration of Janet Jackson‘s 50th birthday, we look back at her very best music videos.
10. “What Have You Done For Me Lately”
Janet made her own declaration of independence with her Control album, and she showed off her neck-swiveling sass in “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” Choreographer Paula Abdul makes a cameo.
9. “Son of a Gun (Remix)”
Before Beyoncé wielded a baseball bat in her “Lemonade” video, Janet showed us how it was done in this cheeky, bad-ass clip with Missy Elliott in tow. And check out the nod to Transpotting.
8. “When I Think Of You”
A glimpse of the long-take style she would later perfect with the “Alright” video (also directed by Julien Temple), this was Janet at her sunniest and most beguiling.
7. “Scream” (with Michael Jackson)
A slight cheat, as this is as much an MJ video as a Janet video, its space-age visuals are still awe-inspiring to this day.
6. “The Pleasure Principle”
Here, we get a sneak peek of the darker, more modern Janet to come. In the dark, warehouse-like loft apartment, she dances alone and with fierce abandon. The moment when she jumps into the chair and sends it tumbling over, landing on her feet, ranks up there with the most best moments in music video history.
5. “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
Fashion photographer Herb Ritts also directed Madonna‘s “Cherish” and Chris Isaak‘s “Wicked Game” videos. But this black-and-white desert frolic may be the most iconic of all his work, re-introducing Janet as a sexually carefree woman and making immediate stars out of ’90s hunks Djimon Hounsou and Antonio Sabato, Jr..
The zoot-suited Janet and her crew dazzled in this throwback to classic Hollywood musicals. The video featured Tinseltown royalty Cyd Charisse and the Nicholas Brothers, alongside the great Cab Calloway.
The moment when Janet ripped off her chastity belt and sent it flying. The raunchy dance moves, with their intimation of down-low female pleasures, were slightly scandalous at the time, especially for the then “good girl” Janet. An indisputable classic.
2. “Rhythm Nation”
Only now getting its due for its influence—see Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s epic, faithful re-enactment of the video on Lip Sync Battle—this warehouse-set video had a gritty feel to match the industrial beats of this groundbreaking track. The militaristic uniforms presaged Beyoncé’s “Formation,” while the multi-ethnic dance troupe harkened back to Sly and the Family Stone‘s post-racial utopian vision. (The song itself sampled Sly’s “Thank You [Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin].”)
1. “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”
Set in pre-apartheid-era South Africa, this Grammy-winning clip is Janet’s most stylish tour de force, an earthy salute to the African diaspora.