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.”