There’s so much Janet Jackson fever in 2018, it’s as if we awoke from a three-decade nap to find America is a “Rhythm Nation” again — or a Rip Van Winkle nation. And Jackson, 52, who’s getting the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards on Sunday (broadcast on NBC at 8 p.m. ET), won’t be the only 1980s superstar flying the over-50 flag at the influential event: Salt-N-Pepa’s Sandra Denton, 51, and Cheryl James, 52, and En Vogue’s Cindy Herron-Braggs, 56, and Terry Ellis, 54, will also be performing a number together, bringing back to the show that same wave of female-centric R&B and hip-hop that a few decades ago made it seem like funky divas would take over the world.
Maybe they did. The current superstar next-gen performers on the Billboard Awards’ female-dominated performance lineup — Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Demi Lovato, Camila Cabello, Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande — all owe Jackson, Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue a debt greater than any of the IOUs racked up by high rollers at the show’s venue, Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. If anyone can show the younger ladies how it’s done, even after a long absence from the airwaves, these grownup divas can.
Jackson is making her first TV appearance in nine years, but she hasn’t been absent from the headlines. She canceled her 2016 tour to have her first child, at 50, resumed touring in 2017 and will make this summer nicer (and nastier) by headlining several huge outdoor confabs including Essence in New Orleans, July 8; Panorama in New York City, July 28; and Outside Lands in San Francisco, Aug. 10. You don’t think she’s about to let Beyoncé, 36, be the most veteran festival headliner pushing a stroller backstage in 2018, right?
Awards shows don’t get any more youth focused than the Billboard Music Awards, so it’s clear the producers — like the bookers for all those summer festivals — have a firm belief that enduring Jackson hits like “Control” loom large over their target demo, not yet born at the peak of her impact. The same clearly goes for the impact of Salt-N-Pepa, the premier women of hip-hop, to whom everyone would say popular rapper Cardi B, 25, is indebted — and few would argue that Cardi B has improved upon them.
It’s not known what Jackson will be singing on Sunday night, but we know that Salt-N-Pepa and En Vogue will reprise their 1994 joint hit, “What a Man,” and that this whole confluence of ‘80s and early-‘90s girl power will have the entire audience thinking, What women! As much as the collective TV comeback of these three acts may mean to the Camila generation, it’ll mean more to viewers with actual salt-and-pepper hair.