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The 35 Best Janet Jackson Songs

We’re looking at Janet Jackson’s fabulous discography to celebrate her birthday. Most of these songs are pop classics and define ’80s/’90s pop and dance radio.

When Janet Jackson released her self-titled debut in 1982, she showed some real promise, but it wasn’t until 1986’s Control that she found her musical voice. Paired with the brilliant team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jackson asserted her independence not just from her strict parents and superstar siblings but from her controlling label. She grew as an artist and, with her collaborators, became one of the decade’s most essential and successful pop stars. She wrote and sang songs of female empowerment and love, inspiring young women with her stories of pop feminism and self-confidence.

In 1989, Jackson looked outward and released Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which took on socio-and-political issues. In the 1990s, Jackson continued to dominate the pop charts and embarked on a series of sold-out tours. She is no longer seen as anyone’s “little sister” but as a superstar and pop icon in her own right.

Looking to her musical foremothers like Donna Summer, Loleatta Holloway, and Diana Ross, Janet Jackson became a dance diva, scoring endless nights in nightclubs and gay bars with her pop-friendly dance tunes. Drawing on various genres and influences, including disco, synthpop, house, and soul, Jackson has created some of the most indelible and memorable dance-pop artists of the last 40 years. When a label suggested that she turned to downtempo light soul, Jackson refused, asserting, “I love doing dance songs, and I think my fans expect that of me.”

This is a busy year for the pop diva. She’s embarked on her tenth concert tour, and this year will see a sequel to last year’s eponymous documentary. There’s also been talk of new music, a new studio album, Black Diamond, has been discussed since 2020.

We’re looking at her fabulous discography to celebrate her 57th birthday (16 May). Most of these songs are pop classics and define 1980s and 1990s pop and dance radio. These songs – representing her most significant musical achievements – also count as some of the greatest moments in pop history.

35. “Young Love” (1982)

Though Janet Jackson’s early music has been ignored in favor of her hit singles, this bristling dance cut gives insight into the kind of excellent dance music she’d master later on. With echoes of her brother Michael and Chic and Diana Ross, “Young Love” is a perfect example of post-disco pop joy.

34. “All Nite (Don’t Stop)” (2004)

One of the worst legacies of Jackson’s Superbowl fracas is how her singles, from the underrated gem Damita Jo, stalled on the pop charts. This exciting funky dance song jolts listeners with some sleek, muscular electronic soul.

33. “Rock With U” (2008)

A long-time ally of the queer community, Janet Jackson dedicated this icy, disco-house tune to her gay audiences. A startingly progressive and innovative tune, Jackson, Jermain Dupri, and Eric Stamile created a cool disco classic.

32. “Unbreakable” (2015)

Pop music loves a good comeback, and 2015’s Unbreakable was a fantastic way for Janet Jackson to return to the pop charts. This title track is another of her patented inspirational, confident tunes with some of the best singing. It’s an homage to her loyal fans who’ve stayed with her through her long and storied caree. This is a joyful, swinging midtempo soul-pop sonic hug.

31. “Just a Little While” (2004)

This fantastic mid-tempo rocker from Damita Jo is another song from Jackson’s oeuvre that deserved to be a huge hit. Crunchy, marching guitars give the piece a New Wave, Prince-like Minneapolis Sound sheen.