Few solo artists have been as influential over the last three decades as Janet Jackson. Even after her 2004 Super Bowl performance was marred by the weirdly regressive reaction to the onstage mishap spoken of in both hushed terms as a "wardrobe malfunction," she's maintained a legacy as one pop and R&B's inveterate experimenters and unfaltering activists. As she continues the career revival that began a few years ago—headlining festivals like Essence Fest and Panorama this summer—she's also starting to see some of the canonizing that often accompanies such a storied career.
This year, she's being honored with Billboard's Icon Award, and in an interview with the magazine recounts some of her favorite musical moments along with her perspective on today's musical climate.
In the interview, Janet shares an early memory of being featured on Michael's Thriller album at 16.
Michael was recording Thriller. He invited me to the studio where he was about to sing “P.Y.T.” and asked me to help out on background vocals. Since we had been singing together forever, I knew it’d be easy. I jumped at the chance. I loved being one of the P.Y.T.’s and was especially proud—I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging—that when the record was mixed, my single background voice was the one featured. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.
Janet has hope for the way today's music reflects the political climate, just like Rhythm Nation 1814 did in 1989.
I’m anxious. I’m angry. I’m certainly concerned, but when I hear new artists finding their voices, just as I found mine, I’m optimistic. Young artists are exhibiting more courage than ever. Music is more alive than ever. And more relevant. We women artists—and women in general—are saying we will not be controlled, manipulated or abused. We’re determined not to fall back to those days of emotional and even physical enslavement. It’s a blessing to be alive today and join in the fight for equality among all human beings.
Even with nearly 40 years of music history behind her, the singer still has her ears to the streets and wasn't afraid to tell Billboard who she's been listening to.
Daniel Caesar is proving that romantic R&B is alive and well. Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are proving that brilliantly original storytelling is one of hip-hop’s great gifts to world culture. SZA is proving that young women still possess extraordinary vocal skills and style.
I also have a special place in my heart for Bruno Mars. Bruno was really the first music my son responded to. During and after his birth, I comforted myself with Brazilian jazz, music that always relaxes me. Then when the baby began crawling, Bruno was breaking out big and on the radio all the time. That delighted both of us. Bruno is a throwback to the days when the greatest artists could do it all: write, sing, dance, produce.
Janet Jackson has left an undeniable legacy on not just R&B, but pop also, and it's time she gets recognized for her accomplishments. Read the full interview at Billboard.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.