With a solo career spanning four decades, Janet Jackson is still a proud citizen of the Rhythm Nation. The pop star proved as much on Sunday, when, before accepting the Global Icon Award at the 2018 MTV European Music Awards in Bilbao, Spain, she took the stage to perform some of her greatest hits, and barely broke a sweat throughout the multiple dance breaks.
For the high-energy medley, Jackson wore a loose black harem-style jumpsuit with a black leather harness crossing her body, and pulled her curly hair back into a dramatically voluminous high ponytail that reached down to her waist. She walked onstage barefoot, with a long black sheet billowing from the back of her head, surrounded by fire dancers and drummers. Throughout her rendition of the recently released “Made for Now,” Jackson out-moved her backup dancers, easily leading the pack and keeping perfect time while singing along to her latest single. During two separate dance breaks toward the end of the set, 2001’s “All for You” and 1989’s “Rhythm Nation” played while Jackson and her crew strutted and moved across the stage, though she opted not to sing along to those hits.
After the performance, Jackson accepted the (clearly well-deserved) Global Icon Award from Camila Cabello and Jason Derulo, and commemorated the moment with a powerful speech about speaking out against misogyny and other injustices. “I accept this award with profound gratitude. To be called an icon is a tremendous honor, but one that comes with a tremendous responsibility,” she began. “Tonight I feel moved to speak for women whose voices have been stifled. I am one of those women. Women who have been gagged, both literally and emotionally. Women who have been abused. Women who have been intimidated. Women who have lived in fear. I stand with you. You are my sisters.”
She continued, “Tonight I carry the hope that a new world is emerging. A world in which caring people—male as well as female—will no longer tolerate gender inequality. Women: Our voices will be heard. We will be heard when we speak out for justice. Speak out for a spirit that crosses all borders, recognizes the dignity of all people, and affirms the beauty of all faiths. Speak out for acts of true charity, small and large. Speak out for an all-embracing love, because it’s love that will heal our wounds, love that will give us strength to come to one another’s aid.”
The empowering moment came only a few months after the Grammy winner accepted a similar award Stateside, at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards in May. She preceded that inspiring speech with another epic medley, featuring “Nasty,” “If,” and “Throb.” “I believe that for all the challenges, for all our challenges, we live at a glorious moment in history,” Jackson said while accepting the Icon Award that night. “It’s a moment when, at long last, women have made it clear that we will no longer be controlled, manipulated, or abused. I stand with those women—and with those men equally outraged by discrimination, who support us in heart and mind.”
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INGLEWOOD, CA – AUGUST 27: Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars attends the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 27, 2017 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)