Janet Jackson Describes Battle for Control of Her Career With Dad Joe: 'He Was Very Tough'

The singer's two-night documentary special premiered Friday on Lifetime and A&E.

The Jackson family patriarch, the late Joe Jackson, was well-known for keeping tight reins on his children during his time as their manager, and Janet Jackson is opening up about the complex relationship she shared with her father.

In the singer's four-part documentary from Lifetime and A+E, Janet Jackson, the 55-year-old looks back at her life and career to tell her story. It's a rare moment for the pop icon to open up about her past, especially her struggle to step out of her family's shadows and from under her father's management.

"He was a hard worker and he did whatever it took to feed his children," Janet explains as she details her father's origins as a worker in a steel mill. "He didn’t want his kids on the streets. He didn’t want us doing drugs. He wanted better for us."

That drive to see his children succeed was often expressed through Joe's strict control over his children's schedules, from ensuring their time at home be spent mostly rehearsing to selecting their upcoming roles himself. Throughout their careers, the family was followed by reports that Joe physically abused his children as he molded them into world-class musicians, even admitting in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he used a strap on his children, saying, "It kept them out of jail and kept them right." 

In the documentary, Randy Jackson recalls how the siblings often lamented their late father's methods of keeping them in line, wondering "how someone could be so strict and so mean."

"We didn't understand his vision to keep us out of the gangs, out of trouble, and get us out of [their old house]," he told his younger sister.

It's a sentiment that Janet shares, albeit, her feelings for their father are more complicated. 

"My father was a good-hearted guy, he really protected us. He went through a lot. The racism, the fighting, people seeing your children as money-making machines. If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have had the success as a family that we’ve had," she reasons. But then she admits, "Growing up I feel like I didn’t really experience my father the way I wanted to. The way I saw other kids experience their fathers."

Although she's grateful for her career, it's one that she didn't initially want. In the documentary, Janet reveals that she had dreams of attending college and studying to become an entertainment lawyer. But after she accidentally left a recording of her singing that her father heard, her plans were radically changed. Unsurprisingly, Joe was adamant that Janet join her brothers -- already playing as The Jackson 5 -- and be a performer.

"I wanted my own identity, but at that time, my father was in charge of my life, my career, and he was my manager," she recalls. "It's hard to say no to my father, so in order to do things the way I wanted to do, I guess he would have to be out of the picture… I wanted to go on my own."

Janet reveals that joining the cast of Fame was Joe's decision, not hers, as was the cover choice for her first album and the songs, which she didn't write or select. By the time it came time to record her second album, Janet dropped Joe as her manager. She then released the 1986 mega-smash album Control, a direct message that she would be calling the shots of her career from here on out.

Joe died at age 89 in June 2018, after a long battle with terminal cancer. Janet was reportedly among the many family members who gathered for Joe's private memorial service and burial at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery in Glendale, California.

Despite the troubles that plagued their relationship, Janet cites her father as the key behind her and her siblings' long-lasting careers. 

"It is because of my father that I’ve had the career I've had. It was tough at times. There was nothing easy about it. Period," she adds. "But when you see where we came from and look at where we are now, we owe so much to my father."

Janet Jackson airs on Friday, Jan. 28, and Saturday, Jan. 29 on Lifetime and A&E.