BY CRISTINA GREEVEN CUOMO | January 1, 2010 | People
Last year was a tough one for pop princess Janet Jackson. But in the wake of losing her older brother Michael in June, she has forged ahead, immersing herself in a plethora of projects. As a result, 2010 will be one of her most prolific years to date: a new film, Why Did I Get Married Too? with Tyler Perry (the sequel to 2007’s Why Did I Get Married?, for which she won critical praise), due in April; a new as-yet-untitled book; a new album (her 11th) out this year; and a rumored new romance (the 43-year-old ended a seven-year relationship with music producer Jermaine Dupri last year).
You already know that her chart-topping albums are introspective (Damita Jo, The Velvet Rope), socially conscious (Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814), revealing (Discipline), feisty (Control) and sensual (janet.)—all of which have ranked her among the top musical artists of all time. And she’s broken ground with her mesmerizing performances, innovative choreography, music videos and undeniable talent. What you might not know is that Jackson is a vegan, incredibly personable, grounded, softspoken and the backbone of her family as she lives a low-key life in New York City. We sat down to discuss her new year.
GOTHAM: What have you taken away from Michael’s death?
JANET JACKSON: When you hear people say life goes on, it’s really the truth. You can’t stop living. It becomes a part of you. I feel a bit selfish because there are times I feel I shouldn’t be doing this, but I enjoy my work and I have to keep doing it. I have to keep my life going. There are days that are harder than others.
You were filming Why Did I Get Married Too? during your brother’s tragedy….
There was a lot of drama going into it on my end. I actually went from Michael’s service—that first service we had—and left that night to go back to work. It was tough, but at the same time, it was kind of therapeutic, too. It was a good way for me to move forward and stay busy. And I love acting—it was my first love. I had my first job at seven. I got a recording contract when I was 14, so I thought I was going to be an actress. I’m really blessed.
What can we expect from your new album?
It’s going to be a little different. The writing is about life experiences. There’s a part of me that’s craving escapism, which is a sense of wanting to keep moving on with my work but also of coming to terms with reality. So I think it will be upbeat and light.
What other songs move you at the moment?
You know what makes me feel good right now when I hear it on the radio? “Empire State of Mind” [by Jay-Z]. When I hear the chorus… it makes me smile. And I love the way Alicia [Keys] sings it. I was crazy about “Native New Yorker” [by Odyssey] when I was a kid. I was visiting my brother when he was doing The Wiz and living here with my sister [La Toya]. I was on hiatus from the television show Good Times. My mother asked me what I wanted to do with my time off, and I said I wanted to go to New York and visit Mike because I missed him so much. We would go to Studio 54 when I was just this 10-year-old kid and I would hear “Native New Yorker” and it made me feel so good and it never leaves your mind— that energy, that excitement, those endorphins being released within you.
What do you love about New York City?
Everything. I love the energy—the creative energy. I’ve been here for 12 years and I will be here for the rest of my life.
Talk a bit about your new book.
I hope it’s inspiring for all ages. I’m talking about weight loss, confidence, self-esteem— especially in your youth. It’s not an autobiography, but there are little anecdotes that I give here and there from my childhood all the way to the present that I thought would be interesting and helpful to share.
Is there something you haven’t done that you’d like to accomplish?
At some point I would like to do theater—it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ll do more films. Produce. And I would like to have children.
How do you stay so grounded?
I think it was the way I was brought up. I was very fortunate to see all of this before it ever happened to me through my brother, so I knew what to expect. I watched the way my brother handled it. It’s also important who you surround yourself with. True friends aren’t afraid to put you in check.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
If I want to take a break from work, I love going to the islands. I love the ocean. I also love being with my family. I love going to the movies. I love reading—right now it’s The Help [by Kathryn Stockett].
New Year’s resolutions—do you have any?
I want to learn a language. I haven’t decided which, but it’s between French, Spanish and Italian. I also want to get closer to God.
How do you do that?
It’s in your own way. We grew up Jehovah’s Witnesses. I do believe in God. I consider myself a Christian but I don’t belong to a specific religion. If something really resonates with me then I will try to apply that to my life.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MR PHOTO/CORBIS OUTLINE
STYLING BY JEANINE MCKIRNAN
DRESS BY KEITH LISSNER