Jonathan Harris, Columnist
– “What’s my name ya’ll?” Janet posed the question to the crowd at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards, Sunday night before Bruno Mars presented her with Billboard’s 2018 Icon award. Without any hesitation, the crowd responded, “Janet!” This performance marked Janet’s first live performance on broadcast television in nine years (her last was at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, following the sudden death of her brother, Michael Jackson). Once a seemingly unstoppable hitmaker, Jackson’s career hit a landmine in 2004 following the infamous Super Bowl Halftime Show where pop singer Justin Timberlake exposed her breast on live television. Somehow Jackson effectively received all of the backlash for the incident, despite not having been the one to have exposed her breast, nor the one singing the words, “going to have you naked by the end of this song”.
Janet’s music was blocked on radio and her videos blocked on television, all for an incident both artists maintained was simply a malfunction of the costume Jackson was wearing. 14 years later, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, it is regarded as unacceptable. Professionally, the downs for Janet were swift. The album she released following the incident, 2004’s Damita Jo was her first album of all new material not to debut at No. 1 since Rhythm Nation 1814 debuted at No. 2 in 1989. Though it was the first to miss the top spot since then, it was not her last to do so. Her 2006 effort, 20 Y. O., also hit the No. 2 spot. The ups began a couple of years later.
Things began to get back on track for Janet when she scored her first No. 1 album since 2001’s All For You, with the release of Discipline in 2008. The album also spawned the hit single, Feedback which reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. Following this, Jackson took a longer break than usual from releasing albums and was largely musically dormant, until the release of 2015’s Unbreakable. Living up to its title, Unbreakable debuted at No. 1. Not only did this album give Jackson another consecutive No. 1 album, it also gave her another No. 1 single, as No Sleep (featuring J. Cole) sat at No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult R&B chart for 12 weeks. It has become her most successful song on the chart, ever. That same year she embarked on her Unbreakable World Tour. Jackson paused the tour in 2016 to have her first child (Eissa Al Mana), picking it back up in 2017, renaming it the State of The World Tour. The tour closed out the year as one of the top 10 most in-demand concert tours for the fall of 2017, grossing more than $33 million from 56 shows.
2018 has continued Jackson’s winning streak. In February Jackson made headlines, somewhat ironically, on Super Bowl Sunday. When the news of Justin Timberlake performing at the Half Time Show began to circulate, social media erupted in criticism of the idea that Timberlake was allowed on the stage while Janet appeared to be banned (though the NFL denied Jackson was barred from performing). This morphed into social media backing Jackson using the hashtag #JusticeForJanet. The day of the Super Bowl, #JusticeForJanet morphed, as former NFL player and filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry, began using the hashtag #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay. Almost instantly, celebrities and fans alike flooded Twitter with Janet’s countless hits and music videos, to the point that “Janet Jackson” began trending.