It’s no secret that Janet Jackson and her brother, Michael Jackson, were close, but the singer is opening up about how their relationship changed at the peak of the late singer’s career. In the Control artist’s four-part documentary from Lifetime and A+E, Janet Jackson, the 55-year-old looks back at her life and career, and brings fans into her life in a rare moment of vulnerability.
The pop icon looks back at her turbulent past, especially her struggle to step out of her family’s shadow and her shifting relationship with the brother she idolized, Michael.
“We had a studio at home and I would go in there and just watch my brothers rehearse all the time. Everything I could I would try to be in the middle of my brothers,” Janet recalled. “We always had fun and I loved being around them. So, when they had to work and travel, I missed them. I just felt [like an outcast]. Where do I fit in?”
She shared that she was always closest to her older brothers, Randy and Michael, and the former joins her throughout her reminiscing for most of the first episode of the documentary. But while her relationship with Randy is still strong and full of love, her connection with Michael suffered a change that they never recovered from by the time he died on June 25, 2009, at age 50.
“There were times when Mike used to tease me and call me names. ‘Pig, horse, slaughter hog, cow,'” Janet revealed in the series, sharing how she often struggled with her body image and confidence while growing up in the spotlight. “He would laugh about it and I’d laugh too, but then there was somewhere down inside that it would hurt… When you have somebody say you’re too heavy, it affects you.”
While Janet and Michael remained close throughout their childhood despite a seven-year age difference, the Rhythm Nation singer said that a “shift” between the siblings began when Michael’s solo career boomed in 1982, after the release of his iconic Thriller album. Janet was 16 years old and Michael was 24.
“I remember really loving the Thriller album, but for the first time that’s when I felt it was different between the two of us, that a shift was happening,” Janet said. “He would always come in my room and we’d talk, and this particular time, he came in my bedroom. Neither of us said a word to each other, and then he got up and left. That’s the time Mike and I started going our separate ways. He just wasn’t as fun as he used to be.”
Even as Janet’s career blossomed after her tumultuous marriage to James DeBarge and she let their father Joe go as her manager, she was still living under the weight of the Jackson name.
“Even with the success of Control, I don’t think she was able to escape Michael’s shadow,” super-producer Jimmy Jam said in the documentary as he and Terry Lewis helped Janet create that album’s socially conscious follow-up, Rhythm Nation.
The episode shows how, during a publicity tour overseas, every interview includes questions about her brother and even as Janet gamely indulges the interviewers, it’s visibly weighing on her.
Then, in 1993 when Michael was first accused of child abuse, and despite a successful solo career of her own, Janet found herself battling against “a great deal of scrutiny” as a result of her brother’s controversies.
“It was frustrating for me,” she explained in the doc. “We have our own separate lives and even though he’s my brother, that has nothing to do with me. But I wanted to be there for him, to support him as much as I possibly could.”
The support resulted in a hit to Janet’s career when a deal with Coca-Cola – set to be the biggest brand deal of her career – was quickly derailed by the shocking allegations.
“When that came out, Coca-Cola said, ‘No, thank you,'” she revealed. “Guilty by association. That’s what they call it, right?”
Still, Janet attempted to mend things with her brother by supporting him on the 1995 single “Scream.” But even that was turned on its head when Janet was kept away from her brother throughout production.
“Michael shot nights, I shot days. His record company would block off his set so I couldn’t see what was going on. They didn’t want me on set,” she recalled. “That really hurt me because I felt I was there fighting the fight with him, not to battle him. I wanted it to feel like old times between he and I, and it didn’t. Old times had long passed.”
Despite their estrangement, Janet stayed by her brother’s side when he was on trial after new child abuse claims surfaced. After his death, Janet also made a surprise courtroom appearance to hear testimony in Michael’s wrongful death trial. Since then, she’s continued to honor her brother, even performing “Scream” during a tribute at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Most recently, in 2020, Janet shared a black-and-white photo from their childhood on Instagram, celebrating what would have been her brother’s 60th birthday. “I miss u big bro,” she captioned the photo, along with a kiss emoji.
Janet Jackson airs on Friday, Jan. 28, and Saturday, Jan. 29 on Lifetime and A&E.