By 1989, Janet Jackson was in unfamiliar territory. Her first two albums, a self-titled 1982 effort and 1984's Dream Street, had fizzled on the charts, but her third LP united the budding singer with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The result, Control, topped the Billboard 200 and spun off five top five hits on the Billboard Hot 100.
Yet, the success introduced a new variable to Jackson's fourth album, Rhythm Nation 1814: expectations. "There was pressure to follow that up, and an anticipation of what the next project would be," producer Jimmy Jam told Billboard. "This album was much more under the microscope."
Faced with that weight, how did the trio respond? With "Miss You Much," the first of the Rhythm Nation creations, and though Jimmy Jam reveals that "I got rid of everything [sonically we had done on the Control record]…I wanted it to be fresh and have a new sound," the single imitated Control in one crucial way: It returned Jackson to the Hot 100's top 10, and with it, ignited a record-setting streak in the top tier.
On Sept. 23, 1989, "Miss" entered the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 with a 15-8 surge, and in that moment, kickstarted an unparalleled Billboard achievement. The singer's next 17 Hot 100 entries also all bulldozed their way into the top 10 — a stretch that encompassed nine years and three albums — until a featured turn on Shaggy's "Luv Me Luv Me" stalled at No. 76. Among songs with Jackson in the lead role, the stint extended to three more tracks — "Doesn't Really Matter," "All for You" and "Someone to Call My Lover" — before "Son of a Gun" misfired at No. 28 in 2001. (As for her last entry before her streak? Sixth Control single "The Pleasure Principle" stopped at No. 14 in 1987.)
The 18-song feat just outdid the then-record held by one of Jackson's biggest pop rivals, Madonna, who dropped the proverbial baton just in time for Jackson to pick it up. One week before "Much" reached the top 10, Madonna logged her 17th straight top 10 with "Cherish," continuing an unbroken pattern that began with 1984's "Borderline" and cemented her as one of the 1980s most sure bets. And then she tripped: The adult-leaning follow-up single "Oh Father" hit a ceiling at No. 20, and the blip allowed Jackson to pass her.
Here's the full roster of Jackson's record-setting relay:
Song Title, Peak Position, Peak Date "Miss You Much," No. 1 (four weeks), Oct. 7, 1989 "Rhythm Nation," No. 2, Jan. 6, 1990 "Escapade," No. 1 (three), March 3, 1990 "Alright," No. 4, June 2, 1990 "Come Back to Me," No. 2, Aug. 18, 1990 "Black Cat," No. 1 (one), Oct. 27, 1990 "Love Will Never Do (Without You)," No. 1 (one), Jan. 19, 1991 "The Best Things in Life Are Free," with Luther Vandross, BBD and Ralph Tresvant, No. 10, June 13, 1992 "That's The Way Love Goes," No. 1 (eight), May 15, 1993 "If," No. 4, Sept. 11, 1993 "Again," No. 1 (two), Dec. 11, 1993 "Because of Love," No. 10, March 19, 1994 "Any Time, Any Place"/"And On and On," No. 2, June 25, 1994 "You Want This"/"70s Love Groove," No. 8, Dec. 24, 1994 "Scream," with Michael Jackson, No. 5, June 17, 1995 "Runaway," No. 3, Oct. 21, 1995 "Together Again," No. 1 (two), Jan. 31, 1998 "I Get Lonely," featuring Blackstreet, No. 3, May 23, 1998
That incessant hot streak helped Jackson snag other records for her Billboard résumé. The first seven songs listed all appeared on Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 album, helping it become the first — and only — album with seven top five Hot 100 hits and just the third of four to register even seven top 10s, following brother Michael's Thriller and Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.; Drake's Scorpion joined the club in 2018.
The extensive chart domination fueled Jackson to a No. 2 finish on Billboard's Top Pop Artists of the 1990s decade-ending recap, behind only Mariah Carey.
Now, when several long-standing Billboard records have succumbed to new challengers, changes in music release and consumption trends all but suggest this specific feat should be safe for a long, long time. Besides, of course, the rare career consistency needed to attain such a streak — this was a nine-year process, after all — streaming consumption has led to the highest class of superstars having entire albums gobble up more than a dozen spots on the Hot 100 at once. Though that is impressive in its own way, it creates a cycle in which the only artists with enough clout to mount a challenge to Jackson's streak effectively reset the count each album cycle.
Still, even if someone links 19 or 20 top 10s, they'll need to take a page from the Jackson playbook: seamless sonic shifts to keep up with current trends, master the timing and promotion to avoid both over or under-exposure, and, well, rinse and repeat that for nearly a decade. Good luck.