It’s Janet June! All month long, we’re paying tribute to Janet — Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty — with a celebration the legacy of the icon as she prepares to make her long-awaited comeback to the music scene. Welcome back, Miss Janet.
Ten time nominee and four time winner of the MTV Video Music Award for best choreography (a record), Janet Jackson is the greatest dancer in pop music — no caveats.
Matched (but never bested) only by her own brother, Janet has gifted the world with timeless, memorable and inspiring choreography emulated by such lesser girls as Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Beyoncé, Ciara and more.
In celebration of her upcoming return to music, we're counting down Miss Jackson's 20 best dance routines. Gimme a beat!
P!nk, Usher & Mya Dance TributeMTV Icon, 2001
Technically not a Janet performance, but the choreography remains mostly unchanged. And if you haven’t seen this video of 2001’s finest paying tribute to the Queen, now is the time to enrich your life.
Who even remembers that Alecia Moore can dance like this? (If you haven't already, check out our #TBT about the Janet MTV Icon special.)
In 2015, the "Runaway" video would be pulled from VEVO quicker than you can say “cultural appropriation,” but back in 1996, this tribute to Asian culture and dancing was a colorful exploration of a different style of movement for Janet — lots of small hand movements, but big hip and torso rolls.
"I Get Lonely"Released 1998
A subdued routine, but no less great for its subtlety. The more laid-back moves highlight Janet’s innate rhythm - every single note of the music plays out on her body, and show that even slower numbers can be choreographed to perfection.
"Doesn't Really Matter"MTV Video Music Awards, 2000
One of Janet’s weaker routines in general — it’s a bit “seen it before” — but it gets a mention for its two dance breaks, which are super high octane and exciting to watch.
"All Nite (Don't Stop)" / "R&B Junkie"BET Awards, 2004
There are so many great (but same-y) performances of "All Nite" to choose from (Miss Janet went hard on the promo that era!) but the BET Awards performance that mashes in "R&B Junkie" (plus the way it remixes in Elephant Man towards the end) is the obvious choice to me. The ease in which she slips between slickly rehearsed moves and the more relaxed freestyle is beautiful to watch.
"You Want This"Released 1994
There is a certain aggression to all Janet Jackson choreography, especially the more precise routines, but "You Want This" is down right macho. The swagger in the final minute is too much. TOO. MUCH. Amazing.
"Together Again"Released 1997
There is so much joy and celebration in the "Together Again" choreography — enough to make you forget that at its core, the song has a true, resonating sadness, even as it looks to celebrate life. The tribal fusion style of the dancing gives the feeling of a “We Are The World” block party.
The "Feedback" choreography is interesting — not just for the moves, but for the staging of them. Despite the fact that in the big dance scene, both Janet and the dancers are doing the same moves, you get the sense that at any moment it could erupt into the fight moves seen earlier in the video. The climax of the routine, which sees Janet playing with projections — long before Beyoncé ever ran the world — reminds who the real MVP is.
"That's The Way Love Goes" / "If"MTV Video Music Awards, 1993
An absolute masterclass in provocative movement. The "If" video appears again in this ranking, but the 1993 VMA medley with "That’s The Way Love Goes" deserves its own rating.
"Control"American Music Awards, 1987
In much the same way Madonna’s performance of "Like A Virgin" on the MTV VMA stage anchored her star status, Janet’s performance of "Control," immaculately executed at the AMAs, elevated her from sweet teen queen to certified icon. She won 4 awards that night out of 12 nominations...an unbeaten record.
"Hits Medley"American Music Awards, 2009
This dance medley of Janet’s hits is 7 full minutes of historically iconic movement. Also she’s 43 years old here. What’s your fave’s excuse?
Many of Janet’s early videos (half of the Control era singles) were choreographed by Paula Abdul, and they can easily be identified by her theatrical style — lots of quick, but simple footwork combined with big! theatrical!! arms!!! and slinky hip thrusts. "Nasty" was the first of Janet’s ten nominations for Best Choreography at the MTV VMAs — and also her first win. The same year, she was also nominated for "When I Think Of You" (also choreographed by Paula Abdul) and this video of them rehearsing the final dance break is unmissable pop culture history viewing.
"All For You"MTV Icon, 2001
This "All For You" performance is magnificent in its allure: the opening minute is almost entirely Janet serving sexually confident poses and body rolls. The defiant dance break at the end tops the whole thing off, along with the winks at iconic Janet eras. (Check out the dancers’ attire!)
"All Nite (Don't Stop)"Released 2004
The "All Nite (Don’t Stop)" choreography isn’t nearly as intricate as it looks, and in the hands of a lesser dancer it would be cute, but unremarkable. The speed and precision of Janet’s delivery is what makes it extraordinary: Every mark hit, hip roll and hair flip is razor sharp — a testament to the consummate control she has over every muscle in her body.
"Miss You Much"Released 1989
Inspiration for the "Stronger" video by Britney Spears - and also "(You Drive Me) Crazy" - the "Miss You Much" video is intricate and kinetic, the choreography never stopping even between motifs as Janet’s body keeps bouncing like a jogger forced to stop for traffic.
"Scream (feat. Michael Jackson)"Released 1995
The two greatest dancers in pop music took home a deserved best choreography VMA for this in 1995, and the video remains the most nominated in VMA history, earning nods in 11 categories and winning three of them. The side-by-side of Michael’s more fluid approach to movement compared to the relative structure of Janet’s routines is fascinating to watch. The dance break, the pinnacle moment of the video, effortlessly combines both their styles, beginning more like Janet shifting into a perfect amalgamation and ending more typically Michael. It’s criminal that the two never performed this together live.
"The Pleasure Principle"Released 1987
Choreographed by Barry Lather and winner of the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for best choreography, "The Pleasure Principle" was one of two Janet Jackson videos that inspired the creative direction of Britney’s "Stronger" video. Janet carries the whole of this clip alone — there are no supporting dancers, just a chair and a mic stand — and the choreography is the entire focus. She covers an incredible amount of ground, dancing all the way, and does an exceptional job of making it look freestyled and unrehearsed.
"Rhythm Nation"Released 1989
Another award winner (choreographed by Janet herself!), the often imitated but to date un-bested "Rhythm Nation" video marks the early stages of a dancing style that was much more strongly identifiable as Janet, rather than her Paula Abdul-assisted work from the previous era. Structured and angled, the "Rhythm Nation" choreography makes true army drills look comparatively sloppy and unrehearsed.
The sexiest dance routine to ever be recorded on film. It’s hard to find more words to say. The dance edit-only version of the video is the best capture of Janet in her prime — the complexity of the dance break is mind blowing, and she never. Stops. Moving. Just perfection.
"If" was laughably beaten to the 1994 best choreography Video Music Award by En Vogue with ‘Free Your Mind." There is no justice.
"Scream" (Michael Jackson Tribute Performance)MTV Video Music Awards, 2009
The "Scream" choreography is undeniably striking and iconic, but the weight of this performance is what earned it the top spot: A grieving Janet, smashing through a screen and striding out onto the stage with more power in her signature walk than ever seen before, dancing this unforgettable choreography with a giant projection of her late older brother.
It is the performance of a lifetime, from the second they slide across the floor in complete sync, to the lean and shoulder lift to the ending pose, as the other dancers run back into center stage with Janet and Michael projected behind them.
There will not be another live performance as visually, sonically and emotionally powerful again in our lifetime. This was the pinnacle of dance excellence.