You knew that Janet Jackson's performance at the Billboard Music Awards would be iconic. She is, after all, literally receiving the ICON Award, which celebrates artists "whose body of work has made a profound influence over pop music on a global level.” But no one could have predicted this pyrotechnic, 10-minute extravaganza, which also marked the singer's first live TV appearance in nine years.
In a touching introduction, Bruno Mars reminded fans that even as "the name Jackson represents undeniable artistic genius" Janet has stood out as a force and a musical legend in her own right, beyond brother Michael and other siblings in The Jackson 5. That was followed by a clip detailing her rise to fame and her artistic and commercial achievements as well as her cultural influence and legacy. (Past Icon Award recipients include Cher, Prince and Celine Dion, so this is an exclusive club to join.)
But that was nothing, NOTHING, compared to the sight of Jackson herself taking the stage, with a fleet of dancers, to perform her hits “Nasty,” “If,” and “Throb," becoming to the first Black woman to be be so honoured.
Was it the most actually iconic performance of Jackson's career? Probably not. But it just felt so good to see her again. (And we will again soon, when her State of the World Tour begins in July). Plus, at 52, the standard-setting dancer nailed the challenging choreography power, grace and artistry. Accompanying her were the two winners of the global #DanceWithJanet competition.
Just as impactful was her acceptance speech, in which Jackson highlighted the challenges faced by women in the music industry and beyond, touching on the #MeToo movement and Time's Up initiative.
"Thank you Bruno. Thank you Billboard," Jackson said. "I am deeply humbled and grateful for this award. I believe that for all the challenges, for all our challenges, we live at a glorious moment in history. It's a moment when 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. This is also a moment when our public discourse is loud and harsh. My prayer is that, weary of such noise, we turn back to the source of of all calmness. That source, that source is God. Everything we lack, God has in abundance. Compassion, sensitivity, patience, and a boundless love. So again, I want to thank all of you for this honour. And I thank God for giving me the precious energy that lets me live my life as an artist who every single day seeks to expand my capacity to love."
Still, despite the straight fire of that entire segment, I still can't help but wish that the BBMAs had seen fit to have the first Black woman to win this award be introduced by a female performer, or the video honouring her narrated by a woman. This is just the kind of thing Janet was talking about, guys. Listen up.