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Long before Janet Jackson was known for being a sex symbol, bearing a midriff and a six-pack, the youngest Jackson sibling took a more tomboy approach via her fashion choices. In the 1980s, Jackson used her music, and fashion choices, to send a message about individuality and beyond. Women of all ages mocked her style. She turned heads with the simplest clothing choices, setting trends along the way. One of her famous looks was her hoop earring with a key dangling from it. As it turns out, Jackson wore the key earring as a reminder. 

Janet Jackson performing in Dortmund in 1989.
Janet Jackson in November 1989 | Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

Janet Jackson wore the key earrings as a reminder to complete a daily chore

Jackson donned a hoop earring with a dangling key throughout much of the ’80s. Along with her all-Black iconic “Rhythm Nation” costume, the key became synonymous with her look. While one would think that the earring had deeper meaning due to the lyrical content of her music featuring important subject matter about the state of the world at that time, the “Nasty” singer told Jimmy Fallon in a 2020 interview that it was for a much simpler reason. 

Source: YouTube

“We had so many animals growing up. We had fawn, mouflon sheep, peacocks, giraffe; just all kinds of animals. So, it was my job to feed them, to clean the cages,” she told Fallon. “That was my chore. It was a working key. So all through school, I wore hoop earrings and I would keep the key on my earring.”

Many of the Jacksons are known for their love of animals. The Poetic Justice star’s brother Michael had plenty of exotic animals at his Neverland estate, including his famous chimpanzee, Bubbles. Michael allowed Bubbles to accompany him to many places. Unfortunately, Michael later revealed that he had to give Bubbles away because he eventually became too defiant. 

She got the world’s attention with ‘Rhythm Nation’

Despite Jackson’s key not representing much, her music was the exact opposite during that time frame. She donned the earrings in her music video for “Rhythm Nation.” The song became a statement piece and set her aside from the pop image she once was known for, transitioning her into an artist of substance.

Unlike previous dance hits, Jackson wanted her fans to get real about the injustices and travesties of the world. It was much more politically correct than songs featured on her previous hit album, Control, which detailed her journey to independence outside of her overbearing father/manager, Joe.

Source: YouTube

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“Rhythm Nation” featured lyrics opposing racism, police brutality, war, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and beyond. She called on fans to unite in order to make a positive difference, singing: “Things are getting worse, we have to make them better / It’s time to give a damn, let’s work together.”

The song was a massive hit. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Dance Club Songs charts. The song also won the BMI Pop Award for “Most Played Song”, the Billboard Award for “Top Dance/Club Play Single” and earned Jackson a Grammy nomination as “Producer of the Year,” making her the first female artist to ever be awarded in that Grammy category.