The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a highly debated entity. Since it’s inception in 1983, there have been countless opinions openly floating around about its methodology, process, and, most abundantly, its list of inductees. We can nitpick every single artist who has ever been inducted, nominated, or snubbed and begin the debates over whether or not they’re deserving, or who they should be inducted before or after, and so and so forth, but there’s been a circular motion to these arguments for 30-some years that seems unbreakable (they’re still fun.) While, on the outside, it may all just seem petty and obsessive, the fact remains that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is just about the only measurable entity for cementing one’s contributions to music, an art form notorious for its widespread subjectivity. Award shows are definitive snapshots in time that only on a rare occasion hold long term relevance (Michael Jackson’s 8 Grammy sweep was his defining “King of Pop moment.” On the other hand, we can safely say that Christopher Cross, who walked away with all four major categories, will not be seeing a Hall of Fame Induction any time soon,) and other organizations are far too specific or not nearly noteworthy. When it comes to music, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the endgame of all endgames.
I have been compiling lists of noteworthy snubs (See the 2014 Update Here) that feature artists who have been completely overlooked by the Hall of Fame over the years, inciting various levels of passion from their supporters and abhorrers, but there has seemingly been none more polarizing than Janet Jackson. I have to admit, it kind of caught me off guard. Obviously, as an artist with a huge, longterm fanbase, it makes sense that she’d have some rally towels spinning in her favor, but I was unaware that so many others would be so quick to write her off. Now, as an extension of my pro-Janet argument on my list of snubs, I’d like to take some time to really explain why this artist deserves to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
The best way to really make this objective is to see if she meets the criteria for induction. What exactly is this “criteria” that I’m referring to? Well, just like music itself, it’s a pretty subjective thing. I’m sure we could come up with exact measurements, (sales, chart hits, etc,) but none would ever create an even playing field for artists spanning over 60 years (and counting!) You have to kind of go with the gut check on three major categories: popularity, acclaim, and impact. So let’s start with popularity; that sounds like the easiest one. In a general sense, people clearly have to know your music in order to quality for induction. Popularity is still kind of a difficult thing to measure, though. Some acts have made cosmic impacts on rock and roll without ever landing a top-40 hit, while, conversely, there are countless artists who have racked up a plethora hits that will never even be considered for induction. It doesn’t come down to size of fan bases, but it’s more about a general public knowledge (again, a gut check kind of thing.) Regardless, it is actually impossible to deny Janet Jackson’s popularity no matter how you slice and dice it. She has a legendary run of hits under her belt, has a widespread fanbase, has been a huge concert-draw, and is, at large, a household name; Check!
Another easy one to quantify would be critical acclaim… just look at all of her reviews and ratings over the years. In summary, critics have been in Janet’s corner ever since she unleashed the highly-influential (we’ll get back to that) Control LP. That record has already been acknowledged by the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (along with her classic janet. album) by making their list of the 200 Most Influential Albums Of All Time. Additionally, Rolling Stone has included two of her albums (Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and The Velvet Rope) on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. She is a multi-Grammy winner, in addition to countless other awards, recognitions, and honors, so it’d be pretty difficult to say that critics haven’t taken her seriously as an artist. There you have it… as much critical acclaim as you’re ever going to be able to quantify. Check!
This also segues nicely into the third major criteria, impact. This one is a little harder to measure because “impact” or “influence” is sort of an “aftermath” type of thing. Some records are immediately cemented into pop culture, but some others hit the underground or select markets before truly being heralded by the general populous. It has been almost 30 years since Janet Jackson released Control (actually her third album,) so there has been plenty of time to really look back at her impact. We could take the time to really analyze what music was like before and after each of her major records, but the proof is really in the pudding with this one. The pudding here being the countless artists who have acknowledged her direct influence or have been considered a direct decedent of her work… Beyoncé, Aaliyah, Usher, Kanye West, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Bruno Mars, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, even her brother Michael (you may have heard of him)… just to name a few. I’ll let that list speak for itself. Seemingly, the only recognition left to bestow upon her actually is an induction into the Hall of Fame. Impact? Check!
Ok, so we’ve established that she meets the criteria for induction, but it still seems like people don’t have an understanding of her career. First off, you have to really praise Janet for shedding the “Jackson” so successfully. Not that being a Jackson is by any means a bad thing… five of her brothers are already in the Hall of Fame (Michael’s in there twice!)… but she’s been determined to follow her own path. Taking “Control” was her mantra from the minute she fired her father as her manager straight through to today. For anyone who has any doubt about the determination and drive of this artist, please guess again. Additionally, it would be totally remiss to not bring up Jam & Lewis. They’re kind of the puzzle pieces that many are using to argue against her (“they did all of the work,” “it was their sound, not hers,”) but it’s more or less an empty argument. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (of The Time fame,) are a LEGENDARY production duo that helped get Janet on the map and change R&B, hip hop, and pop music as we know it. They, themselves, deserve to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, they were not Janet’s puppeteers. If you really want to simplify it, glance over the credits of any of her albums. You’ll see writing, production, and performance (and not just vocals, mind you!) credits on almost every one of the tracks. Jam & Lewis themselves have even acknowledged Janet’s input and artistry. No matter how you look at it, Janet Jackson has been in the drivers seat the whole time, and if that isn’t Hall of Fame worthy, then I don’t know what is.
Much like Madonna, who was instantly (and rightfully) swept into the Hall Of Fame, Janet was an artist existing in the pop world, and you can’t hold that against her. For one, being a pop star doesn’t have anything to do with your music, it has to do with your impact on pop culture. With her countless iconic videos, images, fashion, and performances, Janet Jackson is a pop icon, standing as Madonna’s only true peer, internationally speaking. However, Janet Jackson is a well-rounded R&B artist who has given us incredible hit after incredible hit to dance to, cry to, escape to, and make love to, unapologetically pushing boundaries and buttons along the way. If you strip away the excess of all of her pop stardom, the music actually still holds up incredibly. Her albums and hits have stood the test of time, and not only is her influence as present as ever, Janet is still a viable success to this day. If you really think about, Janet Jackson belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and not because she has a fan base that thinks so, but because she’s earned it.
If you need some audio proof, help yourself: