Janet Jackson delivered a thrilling yet brief medley on Sunday night at the Billboard Music Awards. The singer was honored with the Icon Award, recognizing her four decades of musical success presented by noted admirer, Bruno Mars.
Few careers in popular music have included as many hits and touched on as many genres as Jackson’s, but she kept her medley surprisingly short. The singer revisited the pointy synth-funk of “Nasty” and the club thumper “Throb,” which she updated with a trap-leaning intro. Ciara and Normani were among the celebrities grooving hard in the crowd.
Jackson barely started her acceptance speech before she was overwhelmed by chants of “Janet!” Janet!” “I believe that for all the challenges, for all our challenges, we live at a glorious moment in history,” she said. “It’s a moment where at long last, women have made it clear that we will no longer be controlled, manipulated or abused. I stand with those women and with those men equally outraged by discrimination who support us in heart and mind.” Jackson then pivoted to encourage the crowd to embrace their faith in God during a time when “our public discourse is loud and harsh.”
After releasing a pair of moderately successful albums early in her career, Jackson established herself as a formidable force in pop music with 1986’s Control. In the years since, she carved out an impressive career characterized by commercial dominance and aesthetic daring. Jackson has released a Number One album in four different decades, a feat only matched by U2, Bruce Springsteen and Barbra Streisand; she’s also the only artist in history to have released three different albums that each spawned five top ten hits. That tally includes Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which singlehandedly launched seven different top five hits.
As she was selling millions of albums and controlling the airwaves, Jackson was also widening the lanes available to future generations of black female performers. She was frank about sex at a time when that was still considered taboo for women, and she pushed her longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to concoct adventurous music that encompassed R&B, hip-hop, house, experimental electronic music and more.
Jackson is currently performing around the U.S. on her State of the World tour. The jaunt wraps up August 7th in Tampa, Florida.