Her legacy was cemented two decades ago, and even if the 52-year-old icon decides to never release another project, she’ll go down in history as one of the most influential female artists of all time.
The world got a major look at her star power with her breakout third album, 1986’s Control. The record, produced entirely by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, found Janet proclaiming her individuality and taking charge of her music and career, and maybe most importantly, stepping out of her big brother Michael‘s shadow to assert her grown woman status with hit after chart topping hit (“Pleasure Principle,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Control,” “When I Think of You,” “Let’s Wait Awhile”).
Then, in 1989, Janet returned with Rhythm Nation 1814, a socio-political manifesto that saw Janet continue to morph into a woman with a voice. The success of that record (it sold over 12 million copies worldwide) trickled into the ’90s, where Janet undeniably dominated, releasing hit after hit.
From 1993’s janet. which sold over 14 million copies worldwide, to 1997’s statement album The Velvet Rope, her most personal record to date, and beyond, she continues to be an influence for women asserting and owning their sexuality, vulnerability and power.
It’s confounding that after all this time and all that she’s accomplished—an estimated 100 million records sold worldwide and nine consecutive albums in the Top Ten on the Billboard 200— it’s even necessary to make a case for why Janet should be inducted. It should’ve happened a long time ago. With her name on the ballot for the Class of 2019, hopefully that can change. Here are five obvious reasons why.
When you talk about artists who established the video medium, Janet has to be one of the names at the top of the of the list. Alongside her brother Michael and Madonna, she dominated the music video medium in the ’80s and on into the ’90s, becoming one of the world’s biggest stars in the process.
Ranging from playful and sweet, to sensual and politically righteous, Janet has helped define what a music video could be, back when artists relied on the medium to be their voice, before social media was a thing.
Add that to the videos that made powerful socio-political statements, like “Rhythm Nation” from her 1989 groundbreaking album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, as well as the videos that embraced female empowerment and sexuality (“If,” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” “Anytime, Anyplace”), and it’s even clearer why Janet is a music video icon.
And we haven’t even mentioned “Scream” with Michael, the most expensive music video of all time, which threw a triumphant middle finger to the meddlesome media.
As mentioned above, Janet’s work on 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814 transformed her from a breakout pop star to a woman with a message. She’d previously dabbled with feminist messaging, namely on her 1986 breakout album, Control, demanding respect as a woman coming into her own on tracks like “Control,” “Nasty Boys” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately?”
Three years later, that messaging would take on a different tone as she explored the state of the world and the country, which was at the tail end of the crack epidemic and the effects of Reagnomics. Rhythm Nation made Janet more than a cutesy, dancing pop star—it gave her a voice. Its socio-politically charged content undoubtedly inspired Beyoncé’s 2016 visual film, Lemonade, and remains one of the most important pop records released in the past 50 years.
Ever since her 1986 album, Control, female empowerment has been an underlying theme for all of Janet’s work, which has trickled down to inspire some of music’s biggest names—from Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to Katy Perry and Ciara. From embracing her sexuality, to declaring “control” over her music, Janet’s feminist influence is undeniable.
With an estimated 100 million albums sold, she’s currently listed as the 11th bestselling female artist in history, with a career that spans three decades. And she’s still relevant, even after the 2004 “Nipplegate” debacle, where Viacom CEO Les Moonves later admitted that he tried to ruin her career.
Without Janet Jackson’s defiantly powerful Rhythm Nation 1814 and its subsequent world tour, would Beyoncé’s incredible, acclaimed visual album, 2016’s Lemonade and the Formation tour even have been possible? Probably not.
Also, the dancing that’s native to pop stars? Yep, that’s largely credited to Janet too. If you’ve seen a female pop star dancing in their videos post-1986, chances are, they were at least moderately influenced by Janet. That means Missy Elliott, Ciara, Bey, and even the new dancing Taylor Swift.