The Story Behind Janet Jackson’s Infamous Key Earring

Janet Jackson has made a name for herself as a widely successful artist who’s established a new sound for pop music. Though she’s made waves in the music industry with her chart-topping hits and indelible dance moves that have been tightly woven into pop culture, Jackson has also taken the fashion industry by storm, rocking some incredibly memorable looks over her lengthy career. 

One of her most iconic looks to date is the key earring she wore during her “Rhythm Nation” era. Though the look started a trend that is still worn today, it turns out that serving as fashion statement wasn’t the accessory’s only purpose. 

Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson |The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Janet Jackson’s key earring was iconic

Jackson has given us several moments in the ’80s and ’90s that served nothing but fashion realness (Poetic Justice braids anyone?). But one of her looks was pretty unique to her. Yeah, we’re talking about that key she wore on her earring. 

The youngest Jackson sibling’s infamous earring made its debut in the late ’80s around the time her third studio album, Control, was released. 

While promoting the album, attending red carpet events, and performing songs off the record, Jackson would wear the unique accessory. Soon, the earring became her fashion staple as she was hardly ever seen without the one of a kind hoop. 

Jackson even rocked the jewelry piece in the music video for her 1989 track “Rhythm Nation,” which has received several accolades over the years. By wearing the earring along with a black military-style uniform, many began regarding Jackson as a fashion icon. 

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Now, the outfit is one of the most mimicked looks in entertainment history. 

Janet Jackson says she started wearing the key earring long before it became a fashion statement

Though the key earring made Jackson a fashion icon in her own right, it turns out that this wasn’t the reason she started wearing the accessory in the first place. 

During a February 2020 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jackson shared the story behind that famous key earring of hers.

According to the “Any Time, Any Place” singer, she started wearing a key on her earring when she was a child because she never carried around a keychain. 

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As for the key’s purpose, Jackson said it unlocked the cages of the many animals her family owned, explaining that she was responsible for taking care of them when she was young. 

“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,” Jackson 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.”

Does Janet Jackson still have her infamous earring?

Like many celebrities who hold onto mementos from their careers, Jackson revealed that she still has her iconic key earring. 

Though she no longer rocks the unique accessory in the public eye, the singer says the earring resides in her storage.  

Who knows, maybe it’s packed away next to her Poetic Justice outfit and her controversial Super Bowl Halftime Show costume? But despite where it lives now, we’re sure the earring is packed away safely. After all, it did make Jackson the fashion icon she’s known as today!