Janet Jackson announced her latest North American tour last year, but if you type her name into Google, it's hardly the first thing the search engine pulls up. Tom Brady’s comments on her, her former partner Jermaine Dupri’s latest interview about her, and even the infamous — and nearly 20 years old — "Nipplegate” are what you would find instead.
Even though Jackson has been wrestling for control over her life and career since her 1986 album of the same name, it seems that the media still talks about her through the lens of the men in her life. Even her brother, Michael, overshadowed her career with his own controversy.
Yet, Jackson has made a legacy for herself in her own right. Through her 11 studio albums, she's tackled racial injustice, environmental and social problems, female sexual empowerment, mental health issues, and domestic violence. She is a five-time Grammy winner, one of the world’s best-selling recording artists, and an accomplished actress. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, holds eight Guinness records, and is part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
She's a legend, an icon, and a controversial sex symbol. She's so much more than the men who continue to talk about her.
Still, it's impossible to make a case for the icon without addressing what happened on February 1, 2004. In case you've been disconnected from the last two decades of pop culture, Jackson performed during the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show, bringing out Justin Timberlake for a few songs. At the end of his number-one hit "Rock Your Body," Timberlake, as he sang the lyric, "Bet I'll have you naked by the end of this song," reached over and pulled off a part of Jackson's costume, exposing her breast to the audience and 150 million viewers at home.
Chaos ensued afterward.
Some assumed it was an elaborate PR stunt; the official explanation was a wardrobe malfunction. In the aftermath, Jackson was blacklisted from entertainment and disinvited from that year's Grammy ceremony. Timberlake was allowed to attend and continued to embark on a successful career relatively unscathed.
This year, the incident crept back into the news after Brady commented that the performance was "probably a good thing for the NFL." Brady is referring to the idea that all press is good press while simultaneously ignoring the ugly parts that affected Jackson and her career.
As noted in her four-part documentary, Janet Jackson, her career started under the strict control of her father, Joe Jackson. Joe was also the catalyst of her brothers in the Jackson Five and reportedly forced her into music when he accidentally heard a recording of her singing. The Jackson patriarch died in 2018 but was known to be prone to violence and tough love and remained estranged from Michael until his death. Janet noted that she believes her father acted the way he did out of love. Still, it didn’t stop her from breaking out from under his control when she could.
In 1986, Jackson became an icon as a strong, independent woman. She helped pave the way for sexually free female artists like Rihanna, Lizzo, and Ariana Grande. After cutting ties with her father, she released Control, which catapulted her to number one on the Billboard 200 and marketed her toward a more mature audience. This led to the socially conscious album Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 in 1989 and her more adult sexual expression in 1993's Janet.
In 1997, she released what the New York Times declared "her most daring, elaborate and accomplished album" yet, The Velvet Rope, addressing topics such as same-sex relationships, depression, anxiety, and sadomasochism.
A trailblazer in the industry, Jackson found true success when she stopped trying to please others and expressed who she truly was. Even years after the Super Bowl debacle, her music fought against radio blacklisting, but that still didn’t stop her from achieving massive success. In 2015, after finishing with Virgin Records following a directional misstep with 20 Y.O. and leaving Island Records after a perceived mishandling of her discography, she started her own record label, Rhythm Nation. She released her latest album Unbreakable on her label, finally releasing the music she wanted on her terms. The album debuted at number one on Billboard 200, leading to her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame shortly after, securing her legacy.
There needs to be a shift in how media covers female celebrities. Jackson is proof enough that women should be recognized for their accomplishments and not constantly compared to the bad choices of the men around them.
Janet Jackson. With Ludacris. 8 p.m. Friday, April 14, and Sunday, April 16, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood; 954-797-5531; myhrl.com. Tickets cost $85 to $205 via ticketmaster.com.