3. Janet Jackson’s janet. Album (1993)
We Knew Her When…She was the baby of the Jackson entertainment dynasty, appearing in their family variety show and bagging roles on classic sitcoms like Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes, A New Kind of Family and Fame. “No one ever asked me if I wanted to go into show business … it was expected,” she once said, and reluctantly began her singing career despite her desire to be a horse-racing jockey. She dropped her self-titled debut in 1982, and followed it up Dream Street in 1984. In 1985 she severed managerial contacts with her father, delivering Control the next year. Viewed as a great artistic leap forward, the record was still famously conservative in in tone, as illustrated by the sex abstinence anthem “Let’s Wait Awhile.”
But Then:The 27-year-old’s sexy side came to the forefront in 1993, with the release of janet, for which she wielded greater creative control than ever before. The sexual lyrics and themes of the music (with titles like “Throb” and “You Want This”) were viewed as a radical departure from her former fresh-faced image. “Sex has been an important part of me for several years,” she said in her infamous Rolling Stone cover story that borrowed the record’s artwork. “But it just hasn’t blossomed publicly until now. I’ve had to go through some changes and shed some old attitudes before feeling completely comfortable with my body. Listening to my new record, people intuitively understand the change in me.”
The record’s title (pronounced “Janet, period”) was her way of striking back at critics who claimed that she just coasted on her famous family name, asserting her artistic and sexual independence. The career-defining disc was a record-breaking smash, vaulting her into the superstar stratosphere, making her one of the most sought after women in pop, and solidifying her status as a major artist and sex symbol.
Britney Spears Does It Again At The 2000 VMAs
We Knew Her When…Britney Spears had been in the public eye since a young appearance on Star Search in 1991, and most notably in Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club (along side Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, and even Christina Aguilera). But she became lodged in popular consciousness forever while dancing by her locker in a (slightly altered) Catholic school uniform. 1998’s “…Baby One More Time” sewed the seeds of her legend, but at the time it made her a media darling. She famously announced that she would remain a virgin until marriage, presumably to her old friend and now flame, Justin Timberlake. They even had his ‘n’ hers denim suits made up, y’all!
She weathered her fair share of controversies in 1999 and early 2000s, including a racy Rolling Stone cover and boob job rumors, but it was fairly standard issue for a teen pop star in the spotlight. By May 2000, Britney-Mania had reached a fever pitch with the release of her second album, Oops!…I Did It Again. A change was in the air…
Eager and anxious to begin ditching her bubble-gum sound and image, Britney used her appearance at the September 7th awards extravaganza to shake things up. After slinking her way through a cover the Rolling Stone‘s “Satisfaction”, she tore off her MJ-esque suit to reveal a flesh colored body suit that scanned across TV cameras as nude, causing home audience (or at least 12-year-old us) to momentarily wonder if Brit had just ripped her clothes off on national television!
Obviously she definitely didn’t, but it was still a formative TV moment (for us, at least). She seamlessly shifted into “Oops!…I Did It Again,” dancing her heart out like she was born to do. As she purred the final “I’m not that innocent” to close the song, you knew she wasn’t kidding. Many saw it as the begins of her adult career as a more provocative entertainer, and certainly her tabloid headlines got much more salacious soon after. For all of the controversy and personal battles that followed, this performance remains one of her best.
1. Christina Aguilera Gets Stripped And “Dirrty”
We Knew Her When…Xtina is definitely not the only Disney alum on this list, and she even served on The Mickey Mouse Club alongside Britney Spears. At 17 she lent her voice to the song “Reflection” from the animated film Mulan, which earned the young singer a nomination for Best Song at the 1998 Golden Globes. Her 1999 self-titled debut album topped the charts with fun, catchy, inoffensive pop that didn’t get much darker than the inside of a genie’s bottle. Yes, “Genie in a Bottle” made her a teen music, going on to become the best-selling single of the year. Follow-up single “What A Girl Wants” was met with similar success, and also lent it’s title to an Amanda Bynes teen movie. In 2000 she released her own Christmas album, and even sang “The Christmas Song” at George W. Bush’s White House.
By 2002 she was “Dirrty”! Similar to Janet Jackson before her, Christina fired her old management and took greater creative control on new album, Stripped. The 21-year-old began co-writing “down and dirty” songs intended as a move away from her previous teen-pop sound. She penned the song “Miss Independent” during this period, and even though it went on to become a single for Kelly Clarkson, the message was clear: Christina was in charge!
“When you’re part of a pop phenomenon, you have so many opinions shoved down your throat,” she was quoted as telling USA Today at the time. “People try to tell you what you should do, how you should act, what you should wear, who you should be with. At the time things started happening for me, it was popular to be the squeaky-clean, cookie-cutter pop singer. But that role didn’t speak to me, because it’s so boring and superficial.”
Her look changed greatly in this period, as she dyed her familiar blonde dresses black, got several tattoos and piercings, and began posing nude on magazine covers. She dubbed this provacative new persona “Xtina”, and it caused quite a stir among fans used to her more conservative incarnation. To make the message even more obvious, the lead single was titled “Dirrty” and featured a vid which has regularly been ranked among the raunchiest of all time.