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Why Janet Jackson deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

She'll join Stevie Nicks and five British bands when the Class of 2019 gets inducted at the Barclays Center ceremony.

Janet Jackson performs at the 2018 Essence

 Janet Jackson performs at the 2018 Essence Festival in New Orleans.  Photo Credit: Invision/AP/Amy Harris

Janet Jackson’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sparked controversy because a) pretty much everything sparks controversy these days and b) some rock purists complain any time a singer, especially a popular female one, gets inducted.

However, Jackson, who has sold more than 160 million albums worldwide and has had 10 singles hit No. 1 and 27 hit the Top 10 on the Billboard pop charts, is the rare artist who would have generated lots of attention if she wasn’t honored.

“As a voting member of the Rock Hall it’s criminal that Janet Jackson has NOT been inducted yet,” Roots drummer Questlove wrote on Instagram last year, pointing out how influential her album “Control” was in 1985, even on the superstars of the day, her brother Michael and Prince. “Not to take away from her peers in the RRHOF that made marks in the 80s. But half of them can NOT claim they changed music.”

Questlove and Jackson’s supporters got their wish. Jackson will be inducted into the Rock Hall on Friday, March 29, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, alongside Stevie Nicks, and five British bands — The Cure, Def Leppard, Radiohead, Roxy Music and The Zombies.

“Thank you, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Jackson said in a statement after her induction was announced. “I am truly honored and I am happy to be in there with my brothers.”

For those who still ask why Jackson should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there’s a simple answer: “Black Cat.”

The 1989 single from her “Rhythm Nation 1814” album is packed with roaring guitar riffs. And not only did it hit No. 1 on the pop charts, it was nominated for a Grammy for best female rock performance.

There is also a longer answer, which Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO Joel Peresman readily offers.

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“We get this about a variety of artists that get inducted — whether it was Donna Summer or N.W.A or Public Enemy,” he says. “People are saying, ‘How is this rock and roll?’ Well, rock and roll’s roots all came from the same place, but the tree expanded in a lot of different ways. To say because someone doesn’t play an instrument or that something is ‘too pop,’ I think it’s just misguided … What one person doesn’t consider rock and roll, somebody else does. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. This isn’t physics. This isn’t an exact science.”

That said, the nominating committee, which considers artists 25 years after they made their debut, makes its decisions based on more than opinions. “This isn’t about how many records you sell or how many tickets you’ve sold,” Peresman says. “This is about your musical influence and your musical excellence. And I think you can talk to a lot of current artists and they can say how much Janet’s music has meant to them and how much it has influenced them. That’s what you look for.”

In some ways, this kind of spirited debate is good for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, showing how important getting inducted is to so many people.

“I appreciate that people are very passionate about the artists that they want to see get inducted,” Peresman says. “They get upset when they are not inducted and they get excited when they do … There are so many different genres that can be defined as rock and roll. Some people stay in their lane and some people are open to a wider highway.”

Jackson has always drawn influences from the wider highway of music. Though the bulk of her success has come with songs in pop and R&B, there is plenty of evidence of traditional rock in her work — from the guitar riffs that open “Just a Little While” to the samples of America’s “Ventura Highway” in her single “Someone to Call My Lover” and Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” in “Son of a Gun (I Betcha Think This Song Is About You).” And her work with hip-hop greats, including Chuck D on the powerful “New Agenda” and her numerous collaborations with Missy Elliott, show Jackson looking forward as well as back for her influences.

“Janet Jackson doesn’t get the pioneer credit she deserves,” Chuck D tweeted last year. “Literally 90% of the urban style the past 30 comes from herself (and producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis).”

Questlove says that her breakthrough album “Control” influenced the direction of pop and R&B. “Whether we credit it or not: ‘Control’ was the first #NewJackSwing album,” he wrote on Instagram. “Yeah it was breakbeat free, but the young brash attitude made it a first. This was NO ONE’s kid sister.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Friday, Barclays Center, Brooklyn

INFO $225-$506; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com

THE INDUCTEES

This year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee class is among its most eclectic, spanning several generations and a wide variety of styles. Here’s a look:

THE CURE

BIO The British new wave band, led by singer/guitarist Robert Smith, inspired generations of goths, both in fashion and in lyrical content, before storming the pop charts with a string of bubbly hits, including “In Between Days” and “Friday I’m in Love.”

BIGGEST HIT “Love Song” (No. 2, 1989)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 2004

INDUCTED BY Trent Reznor

DEF LEPPARD

BIO The leaders of the British Heavy Metal movement in the ‘80s, Def Leppard combined heavy guitar riffs with catchy pop melodies, spawning a string of memorable hard-hitting hits like “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages,” and power ballads like “Bringing on the Heartbreak” (covered by Mariah Carey) and “Love Bites.”

BIGGEST HIT “Love Bites” (No. 1, 1 week, 1988)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 2005

INDUCTED BY Queen’s Brian May

JANET JACKSON

BIO The youngest of the Jacksons, she became a superstar in her own right with her coming-of-age R&B album “Control.” Jackson then took that stardom and used it to address social issues in her “Rhythm Nation 1814” album, launching a string of hits in various genres. 

BIGGEST HIT “That’s the Way Love Goes” (No. 1, 8 weeks, 1993)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 2007

INDUCTED BY Janelle Monae

STEVIE NICKS

BIO Long one of the most important women in rock, Nicks makes Rock Hall history by becoming the first woman to be inducted into the museum twice, for her work in Fleetwood Mac and now as a solo artist. Her solo work allowed her to explore more dance rhythms, like in “Stand Back,” as well as more experimental work in “Edge of Seventeen.”

BIGGEST HIT “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (No. 3, 1981)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 2006

INDUCTED BY Harry Styles

RADIOHEAD

BIO Though the British band started as a straightforward alternative band with “Creep,” it began to push the boundaries of rock, first with the progressive “The Bends,” then by embracing electronic sounds and rhythms with “OK Computer” and “Kid A” to become one of rock’s most adventurous and respected bands.

BIGGEST HIT “Creep” (No. 34, 1993)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 2017

INDUCTED BY David Byrne

ROXY MUSIC

BIO The avant-garde British group founded by Bryan Ferry and Graham Simpson in 1970 inspired New Romantics like Duran Duran and countless new wave bands with its mix of glam rock, dance rhythms and boundary-pushing imagery on songs like “Love Is the Drug” and “Avalon.”

BIGGEST HIT “Love Is the Drug” (No. 30, 1976)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 1997

INDUCTED BY Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon and John Taylor

THE ZOMBIES

BIO The British rockers behind “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season” thought they were failures when they initially broke up in 1967. But their concept album “Odessey & Oracle,” which flopped and spawned the breakup, is now considered one of the best rock albums ever.

BIGGEST HIT “She’s Not There” (No. 2, 1964)

ELIGIBLE SINCE 1989

INDUCTED BY Susanna Hoffs

— GLENN GAMBOA

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