Janet Jackson was able to escape the considerable shadow of her big brothers to become a global icon, and it speaks to how amazing she is as a performer and artist. Everyone from Aaliyah to Tinashe is inspired by her onstage craft and her recording excellence. Ms. Jackson-If-You're-Nasty turns 52 today (May 16).
Janet's legacy was kick-started with a bold decision. Frustrated with her father Joe Jackson's management, the veteran singer decided to split from him and link up with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who'd become longtime contributors to her music. The result was her breakout 1986 album Control.
The album was both a feminist statement and the beginning of her Billboard chart reign. "Nasty" laid that out succinctly; it was a No. 3 hit that's known for the line that's roughly Janet's career thesis: "My first name ain't baby, it's Janet – Miss Jackson if you're nasty."
Control kicked off a decade and a half of continued commercial and critical excellence. In the process, Janet gave a multi-dimension look at what it means to be a woman in America. After Rhythm Nation 1814, a social commentary-driven concept album sweetened by ultra-popular tunes (it had an unprecedented seven Top 5 singles), Janet switched to sexual exploration with 1993's janet.
Fans had to wait four years for the follow-up, but it was worth it. After battling depression and abuse, Janet came out with The Velvet Rope, a magnum opus that touched on homosexuality, abusive relationships, sadomasochism and the value of self-love. The album's commercial success combined with the fantastic live performances further solidified her legacy.
Janet followed that success with the smash All For You in 2001. But then Nipplegate happened in 2004. While Justin Timberlake got off scot-free despite his involvement, Viacom and Clear Channel Communications refused to play her videos and singles. Although her projects where high-caliber, that lack of support slowed her commercial run. Despite that setback, Janet remains an icon.
She's a happy mother now and has gotten back into the business of being a superstar. Jackson has started touring again, and this year the 52-year-old will receive the ICON award at the 2018 Billboard Awards. Janet Jackson is a living legend.