Stevie G: Janet - one of the all-time greats

Janet Jackson's influence runs very deep - you can hear it in artists ranging from Destiny's Child, J Lo, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and more, so says Stevie G in his weekly Downtown column
Stevie G: Janet - one of the all-time greats
Janet Jackson.

Janet Jackson is one of the greatest pop music artists in history. Her consistency, originality and longevity have made this undeniable, but she’s also been undeniably pushed to the margins in recent years too. A media blacklist following her famous superbowl controversy with Justin Timberlake helped destroy her huge run of hits which had run from deep in the 80s, and despite her best efforts she doesn’t get the respect she warrants anymore, particularly in the US.

The controversy itself was remarkable and it shows the conservative nature of Middle America. Despite plenty of apologies from her at the time, it recently came to light that CBS CEO Les Moonves became “obsessed” with ruining Janet’s career after the relatively tame incident, where her breast was exposed for a split second at the Superbowl. The powerful industry figure ordered that many radio and TV stations blacklist her music, while at the same time ignoring the part that Justin Timberlake had to play in it.

Timberlake’s career subsequently soared and he was invited back to the Superbowl again, while Janet suffered not only through lack of plays, but through constant criticism from a wide variety of outlets, who spoke more about the incident than her music from then on. Moonves had to resign his role in CBS a couple of years ago, following numerous allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, but the damage to Janet was done forever.

Let’s take it back. Janet Jackson has always been a supremely talented artist with a great vision, and even as a teenager she was determined to make her way on her own, leaving the powerful Jackson clan (her brother was the King of Pop) behind while she forged an innovative string of albums with producers such as Jam and Lewis. While never in the same vocal league as some of her peers, such as Whitney and Mariah, Janet had plenty of other skills and like Madonna she transferred her unique vision into one of the most successful hitmaking machines of all time.

As her career progressed into the 90s, she became even braver with many of the themes she explored, and her sonic innovations were matched by a more sexually provocative and socially conscious lyrical content. She’s always been an artist who did it her way, and it’s remarkable that her pop music career continued to flourish even in moments where she took a left-field approach to the music. She is an accomplished actor too, and a great dancer and style icon.

She’s not the first artist who struggled to shake off the influence of an older sibling and she won’t be the last. More recently Solange took many of the same career turns. Like Janet, she was married probably too young, and released bubblegum music as a teen, before she too took control and forged her own way out of the shadow of Beyonce.

Janet and Solange managed to step outside of these substantial shadows and become respected as great artists in their own right. Solange is most likely influenced by Janet too. As was her sister.

But Janet’s influence runs very deep.

You can hear and see it in not only Destiny’s Child, Aaliyah, J Lo and N Sync, but in Britney Spears, Brandy, Lady Gaga, Usher, Christina Aguilera, Rihanna and many many more. Her theatrical approach and choreographed performances both live and on video, remain hugely iconic in pop music, and despite some of the industry’s best efforts, this is a legacy that will last forever.

She is both a feminist and gay icon who was also very supportive of many AIDS charities, and she has been a long time ally of the LGBT movement. Her outspoken support of same sex love and against homophobia may not be seen as too revolutionary now, but Janet was doing this in less open times, and as we can see by the way she was treated in America, this is a land where conservatism remains rife.

Janet emerged in a rich era for pop music, but her catalogue stands up very favourably even with the best stars, of whom number her brother Michael and previously mentioned icons such as Whitney, Mariah, Madonna and even Prince. She was never gonna be as big as Michael or as innovative as Prince, but she’s one of the all-time greats, and she deserves a lot more respect when we are assessing the merits of a terrific career.

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