Janet Still Got It!
by Kai EL’ Zabar
Could not wait, could not wait and then the moment came. I was at Chicago Theatre to see Ms. Janet Jackson (or is it Mrs. Al Mana)? Had main floor seats and full view of the stage. I really didn’t know what to expect. I had read that everyone who saw the show loved it. And my friends who went Wednesday night spoke very cryptic about the performance. Most loved it but had the following to say, “She certainly honored her husband;” “It wasn’t the old Janet moving like she used to but she still moved,” ” Janet didn’t dance a lot, she sort of let her dancers do the moves we were familiar with,” “She still sounds good.” “She was armored, covered from the neck down.”
The rumors were rampart—‘the sounds are familiar, but the look isn’t’
Perhaps the 49-year-old princess opted for a more age-appropriate wardrobe or maybe her new look has something to do with her marriage to billionaire businessman Wissam Al Mana.
I remembered thinking and then actually having the discussion with two friends about the evolution of Janet Jackson. We talked about “Rhythm Nation,” “Control,” ” The Velvet Rope.” She was always fully covered until . . . was it her album Janet when she went topless with the hand covered boobs photo? Do you remember?
It was back in 1993, the Jackson princess/star posed virtually nude for the cover of Rolling Stone in a pair of unbuttoned jeans, the hands of then-husband René Elizondo Jr. (who looks a lot like current hubby who looked like her first husband James deBarge) cupping her perfect breasts from behind. That racy image came to define her.
“On the ‘Velvet Rope” tour , she pulled up a guy from the crowd and did a lap dance. Then she straddled a guy from the crowd [while wearing] a PVC catsuit on the ‘All for You’ tour [2001-2002], and on the Rock Witchu tour  she got [another audience member] onstage and put him in bondage gear.” I was present at a concert for each tour.
Janet was known for her sensual and provocative performances. However when her nipple-baring SuperBowl fiasco occurred in 2004 it took her exposure over the top. In my book the real exposure was who Justine Timberlake really is. Oops, that’s another story. We’re talking Princess Janet, here. And to set the record straight, Janet handled that moment in her life very imposingly.
Anyway the point is that Janet’s music topped the charts because she could sing and dance not because she got naked. She could mesmerize and was the dream girl of so many . . . And what female peer artist or up and coming didn’t want to be her/(in her shoes)?
She was always sensuous, sexy and possessed that high voltage energy fro start to finish. Oh she was explosive. So I wasn’t too worried or concerned about her being covered up as long as she remained authentically creative and self-expressed. One thing is for sure— reining in her famously sexual persona onstage certainly hasn’t reined on her power to sell.
When I entered the Chicago Theater I did so with an open mind ready to enjoy myself. I wondered who would be in attendance this night. I went incognito, hat on with dark shades, hair hidden and collar up. It was not a working evening. I went to listen, to see, to feel the music of Janet Jackson and get lost in the experience.
I did notice the diverse audience Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, short tall, thick, then, loud, quiet the happy, the sad, the dressed-up and the dressed-down — all kinds of people were in attendance to welcome Janet to Chicago.
Old school new school fans, some wearing jeans, others in glitter and gold blinging while others were elegant and sophisticated in Prada, Gucci, Chanel and Kate Spade, some were decked out in snake skin and leather, gators and fur, hats, scarves, braids, locks, twists, wigs, weaves, extensions, perms, naturals and shaved heads. They sported cigars, tinted lenses, green and hazel contacts, jeweled fingers and a selfie stick.
The conversations were interesting . . . several people nearby were actually arguing about which of them was the greater fan. Who had the most albums, who went to the most concerts, who saw all her movies, knew the lyrics to all her song who saw all her films, who knew the deal breaker, how may times was she married? Others were trying to sort out who knew more Janet Jackson trivia by trying to impress each other with random facts.
“Oh yeah? Well, I went to her Velvet Rope tour when I was in high school,” one dude said. “I travelled from Toronto to be here,” the other responds, then a third interjected, “This is my third city, and I’m following her.” That got the other two’s attention and mine too. Then they all did a group hug and captured a selfie.
So about the significance of the tour. . . The Unbreakable world tour is major for several reasons. It’s the first since her marriage to billionaire Qatari Wissam Al Mana in 2013. Her fans have been curious, wondering does she still have it? Is her husband controlling her? So when Unbreakable, her first album in seven years, was released shooting the J. Cole featuring lead single “No Sleep” to the near top of the Billboard charts.
After the album release a world tour was subsequently announced, her first since 2011 when she toured off of her greatest hits album, Number Ones. It was short of amazing that upon announcement, Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable tour was announced, 88 percent of the tickets sold out in just two weeks.
When tickets went on sell, here it sold out the scheduled two dates at the Chicago Theatre almost instantly and a third date was then added, which also sold out quite quickly. I bought my ticket in July so I know that’s true.
Once the tour was on the road word was that she was back but not the same. Her presentation had changed. It was said that she was almost unrecognizable. It was heard throughout the world that she shocked audiences by performing in a long white ensemble — a far cry from her sexy tours of the past.
Once on stage I knew, Janet Jackson is as she’s always been—regal and her onstage persona is majestic. Choreographed with her poised in front of a crew of seven powerful dancers, who spanned the spectrum from dancer-tight to thick-n-limber accompanied the rhythm Queen. Draped in night-black accented with gold, Ms. Janet looked a true fly mussilima (except head was not covered nor her face) with a court of priestesses that flanked her. Behind them, simple violet minimalist geometric visuals adorned the screen as the stage backdrop.
Ms. Janet opened the evening, this third night with a song from the new album, “BURNITUP!” featuring Missy Elliot. It only got better from there. The songs that we know and love like “Escapade,” “Got Till It’s Gone,” “What have you Done for me lately,” “Control,” “Pleasure Principle,” “Rhythm Nation” were full of nostalgia and she delivered them as powerfully as ever. And though she didn’t ride on that high voltage of 1000 like she used to, she can still did bust those moves.
Don’t get me wrong she danced, she danced! And on “Control,” she was sexy as hell just like the old Janet. What was different is that she didn’t dance consistently the entire show at 1000. She’d dance, throw down then pull back, sway rhythmically in place doing an in-place-groove-move and allowed her dancers to showcase their skills.
Note that she’s some years older than a long time ago. Heck, five years can make a difference in a performer’s life. So Ms. Janet is forty-nine and looks good too. She’s not that thirties slim but she ain’t fat. Da’ Sistah-girl is still tight but thick like the brotha’s say. Got to give it to her, she’s sassy and still permeates raw sex appeal.
Even now as I write I can see the vision of Chicago audience at the Chicago Theatre jumping up and down during, “Together Again.” Listen, Chicago is a hard audience more difficult to please than any other. So keeping Chicagoans up on their feet is a good, good thing. When she did her lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Scream,” I felt Michael’s spirit and it was a special moment. She paid homage to her big brother Michael Jackson with love and respect, no cheap or sleazy exploitation. Everyone was moved.
As the evening wound down Ms. J performed, a new song that’s a commentary on civil rights– “Shoulda Known Better,” Images that portrayed the struggle that the poor endures was projected across the screen while her dancers dressed in black hoodies with the word “Unbreakable” boldly written on them pumped the Black Power fist in the air to the pulse of the drums in a performance reminiscent of D’Angelo’s “The Charade.”
Oooh what a groove that was!
I had heard the album because it came with the purchase of the ticket but hearing them ‘live’ brings a reality that live concerts bring leaving us with the memory of the concert experience. Every time you hear the song in the future after the concert you remember it from the context of the live performance. The cuts “No Sleeep,” “UnBreakable,” “Damn Baby,” and “The Great Forever,” are my absolute favorites. Wish you had been there so that whenever we meet-up we could reminisce. Anyway . . . .
Then came the moment amid the set, when Ms. J in that soft spoken voice said, “It’s all about love!” Then she broke into, “That’s the Way Love is.” It was a smooth move. That wowed the crowd and Ms. J paused to let us have it as our outpouring of love reached out to touch her. She lingered momentarily, her arms wrapped around herself as our love and adoration caressed her.
Then the drums took over and the dancers circled around her and the show continued.
Then it was over.
I’m sorry that you missed it because it is not a do over. I’m looking forward to the next one! And if I must say so, I love her regalia. Something about it, reminded me of Phyllis Hyman. She was classy and beautiful but the show was phenomenal!