Janet Jackson played a time-worn performer’s trick on Norfolk last night to begin her show at Scope.
After a stirring montage reflecting the State of the World, Janet graced the stage with careful steps, holding a cane, and with a grande dame, regal posture befitting of one of the princesses of pop. She didn’t dance much as she made her way through her first song, “The Knowledge,” seeming to settle for modest movements with the cane.
Had Janet Jackson gotten old, was the question she urged us to ask…
… A question she patently answered as she discarded the cane — like the way they used to throw off their fur coats back in the day — and got down to business, more than keeping up with the troop of young dancers that surrounded her most of the night.
Janet Jackson is still in control. She wants you to be in control, too.
“Cryin’ for a better day, until you educate for a better way,” she sang in the opening number. “So if you wanna be in control, ya gotta get yourself in the know.”
The word sang needs an asterisk. But she made up for the lack of consistent live singing with a lot of dancing, and all these little moments of audience interaction that felt real. I know she’s an actress; I also know and empath when I see one. Janet seemed eager to connect with the fans who screamed for her like she was Elvis.
Wearing what amounted to a body suit much of the evening, there was plenty to scream about. Janet Jackson did a lot to define the feminine ideal for myself and men of my generation. “That’s the Way Love Goes” Janet is everything. Strong. Charming. Stylish. She’s got a dope crew of friends. She’s soulful sexy, the kind of lady who makes you believe that God has got to be a woman.
Yes, I had that poster up on my wall. Rhythm Nation was actually one of the first CDs I ever owned, from my first Columbia House order. But my thing for Janet — our thing for Janet — started even before that, as she made appearances on shows like Diff’rent Strokes as a child performer. I’ve loved Janet Jackson for the entirety of my conscious life. I’m at a point now where I’m looking toward the next chapter: I’m not at those ‘That’s the Way Loves Goes’ kinda parties as much anymore as I am wondering about the woman I’m going to grow old with. Janet keeping her blood flowing the way she has gave me a kind of hope that the making of love never needs to end.
“Nasty, nasty boys, gimme a nasty groove,” she sang, “Nasty, nasty boys, lemme see your nasty body move.”
And got damn if she didn’t mean it! Janet had some moments last night where she full on, straight up grabbed a handful of male dancer crotch. In a time in our society where we are taking a hard look at men in power, Janet has lapped the field, living as a full-fledged boss woman. She’ll do the sexual harassing around here, thank you very much, boys.
(I will assume she had conversations with these dancers during the hiring process to gain their consent. Still — it was striking.)
Black and white scenes from some of her classic, so-very-90s videos projected as she moved through all the hits, with one medley of “Control, “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “The Pleasure Principle” and “Escapade” leaving the crowd breathless….. even if I must admit, these kind of medleys from megastars leave me slightly cold. I like full songs; even though the chorus might be the same every time through, it is still building on itself.
You can tell why she was able to get pregnant and have a baby at 50. While who knows what kind of medical help was involved, Janet looked every bit an icon of fertility. While the sexiness is great, I appreciate the way Janet has always had a strong base of romance that sexiness was built on. It’s never felt like it’s just about fucking for Janet. It’s more, even in a siren’s song to a taken man like “If.”
“I’ve closed my eyes and thought of us, a hundred different ways,” she sang. “I’ve gotten there so many times, I wonder how ’bout you.”
The Jacksons are a Steinbeck novel. While Janet is in the pantheon of great pop acts, it can be hard to place her in her own light beyond that glow. If Mariah Carey would have been a Jackson instead of Janet, how would that change how we see her? Who knows. (Who cares.) But the Jackson family history adds weight to everything Janet does. [The important conversation about his alleged flaws not-with-standing for the moment] we all loved Michael. He still gets us out on the dance floor. We miss him. I miss him. The emotional highlight of the night came during “Together Again.”
“Everywhere I go, every smile I see, I know you are there smilin’ back at me,” she sang. “Dancin in moonlight I know you are free, cause I can see your star shinin’ down on me.”
“I love you, Mike,” she said, head tilted toward the rafters. I looked over at my friend. Both of us immediately went from dancing to tears in our eyes. The Jacksons are that real to so many of us.
Janet ended her main set with “Rhythm Nation,” placed front and center of the dance routine like the enduring star that she is. Like all classy performers she thanked her band by name, and even let her dancers each have a solo, laughing and teasing them like she does her friends in the videos. Her laugh, like her dancing, is magic.
“It gave me life,” one of my friends said after the show.
“I’ve come a long way,” she sang in her last song, “Well Traveled.” “Got a long way to go.”
It was a night to throw down our canes and fur coats on a cold winter night, and to lose control as Janet showed us she’s still in control.