Janet Jackson’s Overdue Inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The pop idol is part of a refreshingly forward-thinking class that includes Radiohead, Roxy Music, Stevie Nicks, The Cure, and Def Leppard.

Janet Jackson in 2018
Jeenah Moon / Reuters

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is probably as discussed for who’s not in it as for who is. Not long ago, the absence of Rush, of Kiss, of Bon Jovi, of Nina Simone was among the biggest reasons people talked about the the institution at all, spurring conversations about what “rock” means and who decides. And every time a long-ignored touchstone finally gets let in, the conversation moves on to the next-worst snub.

For more than 10 years now, Janet Jackson has been near the top of the list of people allegedly wronged by the hall. The rare artist boasting No. 1 albums in each of the past four decades, who at her peak scored an unprecedented run of top-10 hits and whose innovations—in vocal approaches, production styles, visual choreography, and pop politics—remain deeply important to the current pop landscape, became eligible for induction in 2007. She wasn’t nominated until 2016. She’s in today.

If Jackson’s ’80s dance-pop peer Madonna was deemed “rock” enough for induction in 2008, what was keeping Jackson out? One factor could have been the 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” and all the biases exposed when she, rather than her co-star Justin Timberlake, bore the brunt of the backlash. The sense that her career garnered undue damage from that incident was boosted by recent revelations that the former CBS chief Les Moonves, now facing allegations of serial sexual harassment, personally sought to sabotage her for not sufficiently apologizing to him after the halftime performance. The canonization process for the 52-year-old Jackson, though, now appears to be proceeding: She won the Billboard Icon Award this spring on the heels of her well-received single “Made for Now.”

The rest of the 2019 induction class follows in the Jackson mold in that it’s refreshingly un-fogylike, with dissidents of the Boomer orthodoxy getting nods. Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry’s ’70s act that pushed the sound and look of rock—more synths and more androgyny, with the member Brian Eno just beginning his career of making brainy body music—is finally in. So are some of its direct descendants: the ’80s new-wave goths The Cure, the ’90s and ’00s experimenters Radiohead. The fey U.K. rockers the Zombies, most famous for the lush 1968 single “Time of the Season,” also got a nod. In the realm of arena-filling, heroic-sounding guitar bands—the stereotypical hall-of-fame bait—the only inductee is Def Leppard, the ’80s group that’s hardly synonymous with respectability and gatekeeper acclaim.

Aside from Jackson, there’s another induction of a female superstar whose legacy is perpetually disputed: Stevie Nicks. Though Fleetwood Mac was inducted in 1998, Nicks has a significant number of solo hits, and her status as an individual icon has been shored up in recent years by new allegiance from Millennials. “I have a lot to say about this,” Nicks said in a statement about the induction, “but I will save those words for later. For now I will just say, I have been in a band since 1968. To be recognized for my solo work makes me take a deep breath and smile. It’s a glorious feeling.”

The nominees who didn’t make it in this time: Rage Against the Machine, Devo, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, Todd Rundgren, John Prine, MC5, and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. The list of historic snubs is still longer than that, too—Whitney Houston, Chic, and New Order are all, somehow, still waiting to get past the arbitrarily guarded velvet rope.