This past Sunday, Janet Jackson became the first Black woman ever to receive the Billboard Icon award at the annual Billboard Music Awards. She was honored days after her 52nd birthday as well as the 25th anniversary of her groudnbreaking 1993 album janet. For someone whose artistry has often been overlooked, the award represents a well-deserved milestone in the legendary entertainer's career.
As someone who grew up and came of age with Janet, the last time I can remember Jackson being honored so prestigiously was in 2001, when she became an MTV Icon. The ceremony featured tributes from music artists whose careers were influenced by Jackson, including pop stars like Christina Aguilera, Mya, and Beyoncé's former girl group Destiny's Child.
Those who think that Jackson's relevance ended after 2004 need to look at today's current musical artists and works. You can hear Jackson's influence in albums such as Janelle Monáe's Dirty Computer, Beyoncé's Lemonade, and in Rihanna's Anti. Her impact is even clearer when you consider other artistic elements such as performance and music videos.
The military-style outfits that Beyoncé and her dancers wore at her 2016 Super Bowl halftime show performance evoke Jackson's "Rhythm Nation," while the carefree sexuality of Janelle Monáe's "PYNK" music video recalls Jackson's visuals for "You Want This." Jackson's legacy is undeniable, touching not only music artists, but also marginalized identities like the LGBTQ community.
With her 1997 album The Velvet Rope, Jackson channeled her own personal pain into themes such as self hatred, domestic violence, homophobia, and sexuality. The album would make a significant impact on transgender activist Janet Mock, who named herself after Jackson. In an interview with Metro Weekly, Mock stated, "I was obsessed with The Velvet Rope. It shows the intersection of how pop culture for me was so vivid and vital to my understanding of self."
Besides inspiring people like Janet Mock, Jackson has been vocally and visually supportive of the LGBTQ community. Many of her professional dancers that have appeared in her music videos and performances have been gay or lesbian. One of her past music videos, "Rock With U," features an appearance from trans entertainer Mimi Marks and the song itself was specifically written for her gay fans.
In four decades, Janet Jackson has redefined what pop music can be and what pop music can do. With her electrifying dance moves, stunning music visuals, and a fashion that slays, Janet Jackson has given music artists and everyday people the power to be in control, be fierce, and be unapologetically themselves.