Return to Rhythm Nation: 13 Times Janet Jackson Made History

REX USA/Eugene Adebari

When Janet Jackson released her fourth studio album 30 years ago, the music world did not know what hit them.

With Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814—or, simply, Rhythm Nation, if ya nasty—the youngest Jackson sibling wasn’t merely content to reunite with newfound collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the two men who’d help shape the sound of Control, her third album and the first to have both excluded father Joe Jackson from the process entirely and, perhaps not coincidentally, hit No. 1 on the Billboard. She’d already broken away from her family, found her new sound, and gotten her big fat hit record in the process. Now she wanted more.

And over the course of 12 songs and eight interludes, introducing the sort of album composition that would go on to become something of a trademark in her career, Janet not only delivered a mix of songs both socially conscious and eminently danceable, but she invented her own damn musical utopia. 

“We are a nation with no geographic boundaries, bound together through our beliefs,” she explains in the album’s spoken intro. “We are like-minded individuals, sharing a common vision, pushing toward a world rid of color lines.”

While Rhythm Nation may not have changed the world as she’d hoped—if you hadn’t noticed, it’s still pretty grim out there—the album did change the course of her career. Its staggering performance during the cycle of its life on the charts kickstarted what would be three decades of the icon breaking records and making history. And, while she didn’t rid the world of all the ills she sings about, she did prove that you can make thoughtful pop music that also fills the dance floor without effort. And that’s not nothing.

In honor of 30 years of this groundbreaking, game-changing album, join us on an escapade as we look back on all the ways Janet’s gone on to make history since its release.

A&M Records


With the release of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, her fourth studio album, on September 19, 1989, Janet delivered the only album in history to ever produce No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in three separate calendar years, beginning with “Miss You Much” that year. In 1990, both “Escapade” and “Black Cat” topped the chart, followed by “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” in 1991.

Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage


Despite being released in 1989, Rhythm Nation would go on to become the best-selling album of 1990. Since it’s release, it has been estimate to have sold over 12 million copies worldwide.



To this day, Rhythm Nation also remains the only album to have seven commercial singles peak within the top five of the Hot 100. The only one.

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REX USA/Eugene Adebari


When Janet embarked on the Rhythm Nation World Tour 1990, her first headlining tour, it became the most successful debut tour by any recording artist, a title it still holds. Grossing $28.1 million in the U.S. alone, it ranked No. 5 of the best-selling tours that year, making her the only female to place in the top 10.

Bill Nation/Sygma via Getty Images


Having fulfilled her initial recording contract with A&M Records in 1991, she signed a multi-million dollar deal with Virgin Records, estimated to be between $32 and $50 million dollars, making her the highest paid recording artist at the time.

Virgin Records


When Janet, her fifth studio album, was released in May 1993, it opened at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, making her the first female artist in the Nielsen SoundScan era to do so.

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Teaming with her brother Michael Jackson for “Scream,” the lead single from his 1995 album HIStory, the siblings delivered the first song to ever debut within the top five on the Hot 100. (It debuted at No. 5.) The music video, directed by Mark Romanek, cost $7 million to make and was listed in the Guinness World Records as the most expensive music video ever made.

A&M Records


With the release of “Runaway,” a new track recorded for her first greatest hits album, Design of a Decade: 1986-1996, the same year as “Scream,” she became the first female artist in Billboard‘s history to debut in the top 10 of the Hot 100, entering at No. 6.

John Barrett/Shutterstock


In 1996, Janet renewed her contract with Virgin Records for a reported $80 million, making her the then-highest-paid recording artist in history, surpassing her brother Michael and Madonna‘s then-unparalleled $60 million contracts.

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When “I Get Lonely,” the third single off her sixth studio album The Velvet Rope, debuted at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in February 1998, it became her 18th consecutive top-10 hit on the chart, setting a record as the only female artist to have done such a thing. To this day, she is surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

AP Photo/David Phillip, file


While her wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show in 2004 nearly derailed her career completely (and rather unfairly, we might add), the incident in question became the most recorded and replayed moment in TiVo history and went on to inspire the creation of YouTube.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images


Despite the Super Bowl debacle, she wasn’t making history just yet. With the release of “Make Me,” the lead single from her second greatest hits compilation Number Ones, in September 2009, she became the first artist to have No. 1 singles in four separate decades. (It became her 19th No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart.)

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Michel Dufour/WireImage


With a performance under the iconic I.M Pei glass pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2011, part of the museum’s biannual fundraiser, Liasons au Louvre, she became the first female pop star to ever do so. “Janet Jackson is one of the world’s greatest artistic treasures,” Louvre President-Director Henri Loyrette said in a statement at the time. “Accordingly, we are profoundly honored, and believe it most fitting, that her performance in the Louvre Museum will be yet another masterpiece captured under our glorious glass pyramid.”

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