Janet Jackson Is A Rock Hall Of Famer — & Here’s How She Was A Feminist Music Pioneer

Janet Jackson will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the 2019 class. The ceremony was broadcast on HBO on Saturday, April 27 in the US. She’s had a lauded music career, with 5 Grammys, 11 American Music Awards, 11 Billboard Music Awards, and 9 VMAs. Jackson has had No. 1 Album debuts in each of the past four decades, selling roughly 80 million albums worldwide. And among her long-list of top 10, chart-topping, record-breaking releases are some of the songs — and accompanying videos — that made me into the woman I grew up to be.

Janet Jackson, as you undoubtedly know, is a product of the unbelievably successful Jackson family. One of three girls among six brothers and the baby of the clan, she was not part of the Jackson 5, but made her mark as a child actress with a recurring role on the sitcoms Good Times and Diff’rent Strokes (both of which I watched religiously), and later on Fame. She recorded her first album in 1982 when she was only 16-years-old, but took her a few years to get traction in the music world — and to distinguish herself from her brother, Michael, who was the most famous person on the planet during that decade, and not yet mired in scandal.
My love affair with Janet began with her 1986 album, Control. My entry point was “Nasty,” which was the jam all summer at YMCA day camp. The song was irresistible from the opening yell to “Gimme a beat!” to the driving percussion; it was great to dance to. It also had that cheerleader vibe, where it sounded better when a chorus of girls sang it — which we did a lot, to the boys at camp, every time they were obnoxious…so on a near-daily basis. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the song was teaching me to demand respect from boys and assert myself, to never put them above me or cater to their gaze.
I immediately picked up what Janet was throwing down, though, on “Control” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” The lessons in taking control of your own life kept coming (out of eight tracks on the album, she released a remarkable six singles). “Pleasure Principle” and “Let’s Wait Awhile” were missives about sex I took to heart; they told me it was okay to prioritize my own happiness and not feel obliged to do things just because a boy (or my friends) were. It sounds corny, but media was very crass in the ‘80s. There were exposed breasts in every teen movie, and women in pop were being made over in the highly sexualized image of Madonna, but without the self-aware wink. The empowering alternative that Jackson offered in both her message and her on stage, on-camera wardrobe — her buttoned-up blouses and blazers, covering her from head to toe — was incredibly appealing and welcome.

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