In honor of the 2017 American Music Awards, Billboard is counting down the best performances from the awards show’s history. Here is No. 16.
The 2000s did not treat Janet Jackson kindly — or fairly. The superstar bore the brunt of the backlash surrounding the “Nipplegate” fiasco during her 2004 Super Bowl performance with Justin Timberlake, subsequently being banned from attending the Grammys that year and suffering diminishing sales on subsequent albums.
Thus, the stakes were high when Jackson took the stage on Nov. 22, 2009 at the 37th Annual American Music Awards. The R&B/pop powerhouse rose to the challenge, determined to rewrite her narrative and demanding the respect and adoration she deserved.
Entering atop a rotating stage to rapturous applause, Jackson marches down the steps and immediately bursts into a career-spanning medley of hits. She kicks off with a one-two punch of “Control” and “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” off her 1986 breakout Control. She then breezes through funky cuts off 1989’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and 1993’s Janet before teasing a new song, “Make Me,” off her 2009 compilation, Number Ones.
The performance boasts relatively minimal stage production, letting Jackson’s expert choreography shine. She leads a pack of backup dancers through several rapid-fire movements, occasionally breaking off to wring screams of audience approval from the sides of the stage.
The most poignant moment of the medley, however, comes during the final number, “Together Again” off 1997’s The Velvet Rope. Jackson dedicates the song to her brother, Michael, who died on June 25, 2009. She bids the audience to sing along to the emotional chorus: “Dancin’ in the moonlight / I know you are free / ‘Cause I see your star / Shinin’ down on me.”
At that moment, Jackson paid tribute to her brother in the most fitting way possible and reminded the world of her status as a pop legend.
Watch the full performance below.
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The 2017 American Music Awards will broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.