As Janet Jackson pointed out in her induction speech at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in March, the nod is an honor that not many women have historically received. “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, please, [in] 2020: induct more women,” she said. Her recognition by the organization—an honor bestowed upon more than 200 individuals and musical groups, fewer than 20 of which are solo female performers—is a long time coming for a musician who has created generation-defining art and served as a voice for marginalized groups for more than 30 years.
Jackson, 52, who logged 18 consecutive top 10 hits between 1989’s “Miss You Much” and 1998’s “I Get Lonely” and secured a number one album on the Billboard 200 in each of the last four decades, has a music and visual catalog that spans several genres. Her legacy extends beyond the record books: Her storied career has laid the blueprint for future generations of women, especially black women, in the music industry.
HBO will air the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony on April 27 at 8 p.m. ET. Ahead of the TV special, we spoke with some of Jackson’s closest collaborators and the artists who draw inspiration from her work about what her induction means for the industry as a whole.
Jimmy Jam, producer and songwriter
“It’s a proud moment. She calls [Terry Lewis and me] her two dads sometimes and we’re just extremely proud of her. I know there are some people that feel like it’s overdue but I always feel like things happen in the way that they’re supposed to happen.
A lot of people say she didn’t do a whole lot of interviews and I would always say, ‘Anything you want to know about her, just listen to her songs.’ In that moment of taking control in her life and being an 18-year-old girl and moving out on her own, people could relate to that. When three or four years later, she looked around and saw the need to talk about social justice, she did that. When she fell in love, she talked about that on the janet.album. When she went through periods of depression or not feeling the way she thought she should feel, it was The Velvet Rope. To me, her importance and her influence, not only artistically, but psychologically for people, particularly young women, that were growing up with her and going through a lot of things in their lives. She’s been a soundtrack for that.
I remembered early on there was a lot of talk that we somehow manufactured her [and] we were some sort of svengalis, but all we did was ask her what her opinions were and then helped her put those into song. If anything, the empowerment was that all of a sudden someone asked her opinion rather than just [sending] her in the studio to sing songs.
Her musical IQ is off the charts and so when you would suggest an idea that would be crazy to suggest with someone else, she would take it and go, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s definitely do that.’ For [me and Terry Lewis], as writers and producers, there’s no one we trust more than Janet and, I think there’s probably no one she trusts more than us. We just connect on a level that’s very magical, divine or...I don’t even know what word to put on it.
It’s funny to talk about legacy with her because I was literally just texting back and forth with her this morning and she’s preparing her show for Las Vegas, Metamorphosis, which is going to be amazing. I think what’s always stood out to me was her ability to touch people through song. She gets the responsibility of that. I just think her impact is one of a person who has been so inspiring to people.”
Terry Lewis, producer and songwriter
“It’s definitely a significant moment, just remembering the first day that Janet arrived in Minneapolis and we started to form a relationship. When we came she was just sheltered and kind of afraid of everything. She hadn’t really gotten a chance to be free to experience a lot of things. Now she’s blossomed into this powerful woman with all types of ideas. It’s amazing just to watch that kind of metamorphosis over the years. But, through it all she’s always been very sweet. [She is] a great businesswoman, a great friend, a great musician. She’s become a great songwriter. She comes from a musical tree. You can’t help but be able to pluck a good fruit out of that tree.
That moment [of her being inducted] was, ‘Finally.’ You definitely want to see people get their flowers before their funeral. And, it’s just great to see more women going into the hall of fame.
Before Janet, I don’t think anyone approached it like her. She’s one of the early women who approached it in a tenacious way. It was always very aggressive. Artists—like Aaliyah—who didn’t necessarily have big voices were influenced by her ability to make a really beautiful song, very aggressive. A lot of the early songs were about earning the respect of other people, mainly men. Then, after you get comfortable with yourself, you get into your own sexuality. For my daughters, I would want them to be inspired by something like that.”
Janelle Monáe, singer and actress
“Janet’s cultural impact can’t be quantified. She did something very important for female artists everywhere by being fearless in her approach to music. Janet made it clear that we, as female artists, can and should craft our own sound and control our self-image. When I listen to her outstanding award-winning catalogue it reminds me daily that being carefree is as important as being socially conscious. Her approach to art has been groundbreaking and deeply personal. For an artist like myself, knowing that Janet exists provides me the freedom to be exactly who I am. Her thoughtful and incredible journey allows me safe-passage as I continue with my artistic endeavors.
[Janet being inducted to the Hall of Fame means] that every black girl from a small town has the potential to tap into what makes them unique and has the power to change the world. Janet is from Gary, Indiana and I’m from Kansas City, Kansas. As a woman from the Midwest, watching her ascend higher and higher means so much to me. Janet’s revolutionary acts through art defy categorization. Her uniqueness and global impact solidifies that she is one of one. There is no one like her in the Rock Hall. To be clear—- there is only one Janet.”
Mary Lambert, director
“I think it’s just fabulous that the industry is recognizing her as an artistI directed [the videos for] “Control” and “Nasty” and it was a transitional period for Janet. It was a really tumultuous period. She was just exploding with creativity and talent, and also the emotional things you go through when you’re a young person [at] that age. She was really struggling to get away from the domination of her father at that time. The family dynamics were intense. They would’ve cracked and broken a weaker person than Janet. She really handled it all with so much grace and sweetness. The thing I remember most about [working with] her is the sweetness of her voice and her presence. It was one of the sweetest, most affecting work relationships that I ever had with somebody. She just has a beautiful, beautiful heart and soul.”
“I think it’s major because she also joined her brothers [in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]. I think it was well deserved. It was long overdue, to be honest. To see it finally happen [is] amazing and a special moment in music history, obviously for her, but also for us female artists. It’s something that continues to give more hope to other female entertainers. When you see women like her get acknowledged, it’s very inspiring. While she is being honored, she is still thinking of other women. I think that’s very special and I think it’s very necessary for us to continue to break through as women.
I’m really happy for her. As a friend I’m really proud of her and as an artist I’m really grateful for her contribution to music, and how much impact she’s had, not only on the music industry, but also on artists like myself.
She and I have become friends over the years. I look at her as a big sister, honestly. Beyond who she is as a performer, she’s an incredible person. I think more than anything, I just admire who she is not only as a woman but also as a mom. She and I probably just have more conversations about normal life [than anything else]. We get to have that real sister moment in those times that we chat. It’s really cool. You grow up and you see women who you admire, [who] inspire you and then you end up becoming friends with those women. It’s very special.”
Gil Duldulao, creative director
“She’s a fighter, no matter what adversity it is. I think that’s what I take from her journey. No one thought she could come back after having a child or [after] all of the journeys she’s had with different men. Or, even after the Super Bowl. Let’s just be real. Every bit of the world just put her [to] the side [but] she stayed on that course and she kept fighting and believing in herself. She had patience. She knew we’d be here at this moment.”
“I know for a fact that my first encounter with Janet goes back beyond my earliest memories. My mom used to play Janet records in the car even before I learned how to talk. Janet was hands down my mom’s favorite artist. I remember evenings where we’d all huddle up together in our living room and watch old Janet videos on our TV. I still vividly remember nights where my family and I would all sit by the TV waiting for her to hit the stage and steal the show. Janet will forever remain one of the greatest and polarizing artists of all time for generations and generations to come. She is a visionary, an innovator and a true icon.
Janet’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is such a deserving moment for her and an inspiration to myself and women not only in music, but around the world. She is the quintessential example of how hard work, perseverance, and staying true to who you are as an artist and person will pay off… especially in the climate [of] today’s “man’s world”. Her perseverance from the early stages of her career, when she was constantly compared to others including her siblings—being the youngest and a girl—is truly inspiring as she was able to navigate her career and create her own destiny of greatness.
Representation matters and having more women like Janet inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame shows young girls and women from all walks of life, whether they have dreams of being a one of the biggest artists in the world or whatever it is that they aspire to be, that if you work hard and take real ownership in everything you do, then you can achieve whatever it is you set out to do. I admire a woman [who] can create a strong vision for herself and is able to chase after it and execute.”
Teyana Taylor, singer
“Janet, Janet, Janet! Her influence has been so strong on me, because I admire her sexuality, passion, and ability to demand a room. She’s the reason why I love this. Putting passion, love, and soul on stage and creating sexy music. Not only sexy though, but music that really tells a story and hits home for all of us.
Too many legends fail to get their just due while they are here. It’s something that my generation definitely needs to do: embrace and learn from all of the legends while they are still here! However, the legend, the icon, Janet Jackson deserves all of her roses now! Let’s love on her and appreciate her more than we already do, she’s changed the game!”
Harmony Samuels, producer
“I’ve been a fan of Janet’s since the ‘80s. I think I was about five years old [when I became a fan]. When I got the call [to work with Janet], I thought it was a joke. Working with her was probably one of the hardest tasks I’ve had to do. I had to really find something that I felt like Janet hadn’t experienced yet. I had to research. This woman has touched so many genres of music and still been the same person.
She’s just an icon. She’s really one of the first females to do as much as she’s done and still is as relevant today. This is a huge moment for her. She deserves it. She’s a black female who has worked very hard and is multifaceted. I think it inspires more black women that they can achieve those kind of great things. Some of the older female superstars that we had [didn’t get] in those spaces.”
Anthony Thomas, choreographer
“When [Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814] came out, we came back the next day and we knew what our mission was. We knew the project was special, we just had no idea what it was going to do. When we were in the eye of the storm, we had no idea the type of funk destruction that was going on all around us. To see it 30 years later...it’s gained steam with this new generation.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.