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Icon impresses with stripped-down presentation of hits

What statement does a 51-year-old music superstar have left to make in the midst of a 35-year career marked by 11 albums, 10 number-one hits and a slew of iconic music videos? If you’re Janet Jackson, you can just show all facets of yourself — from the serious to the sensual — without the spectacle. And that’s what the singer did during a stop at the Schottenstein Center on Tuesday as part of her “State of the World Tour.”

Having renamed the tour following a hiatus to give birth to her son, Eissa, Jackson highlighted political content from her catalog, including “The Knowledge,” from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, and “State of the World,” from Unbreakable. The singer opened the show with those two songs, following a dramatic video montage focused on social issues and featuring a list of unarmed African-American men killed by police.

That encapsulated the most political section of Jackson’s show. Next, she dove into an impressive series of hits, from “Nasty” and “Miss You Much” to “All for You” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You).” Once known for showing off her famously toned physique in revealing attire, she kept covered up in black pants and a black, long-sleeved top.

Sultry but not over-the-top sexy, Jackson strutted across the stage, flashing her signature, dazzling smile and flipping her long ponytail. She was accompanied by a crew of dancers in all white, which she called her “tribe.” To engage in the “Janet Jackson experience” also means engaging with her dancers and choreographers, who have always been an integral part of the package; alumni from her tours and videos have almost as much name recognition as Jackson.

But while the “State of the World” dancers were certainly talented and appeared to be a close-knit group, some of the spark was missing compared with previous “tribes,” which overflowed with personality and technique. For her part, Jackson kept up with the dancers, falling in and out of the choreography as she pleased — her commitment to the signature moves from the “You Want This” video elicited a joyous response from the crowd — instead of dancing through entire songs.

But her understated approach did not take away from her captivating performance — a sign of a seasoned entertainer who knows the choreography in her sleep, but is not sleepwalking through the execution. Nor did she have to rely on auxiliary distractions. Gone were the elaborate costume changes (which she famously filmed during the HBO broadcast of her 2001-2002 “All for You” tour) and colorful props she’d often wheel out for songs like “Escapade.” And no lap dances were given to audience members.

For the second section of the show, Jackson returned to the stage to sing a handful of slow songs such as “Twenty Foreplay” and “The Body That Loves You” while sitting on a stool. It was a familiar staple of her tours, though noticeably absent was the towel she once needed to dab the sweat worked up from hard dancing. But, as with previous shows, it wasn’t the most enthralling section, and the subsequent performances of songs such as the J. Cole-assisted “No Sleep” and classic “Got ’til it’s Gone” — featuring some impressive, smooth dance moves — were a welcome change. “That’s the Way Love Goes,” remixed with Aaliyah’s “Rock the Boat,” was a standout moment.

Jackson wrapped up with a fiery trio of songs — the unexpected “What About,” a moving commentary on domestic violence, followed by “If” and “Rhythm Nation,” bringing her political message full circle. The encore, including three songs from Unbreakable, was a bit underwhelming, if only because the material was unfamiliar. But it was fitting that she closed with “Well Traveled.”

“I’ve come a long way,” sang Jackson, a confident artist who doesn’t have to put on an extravagant stage production or dance like she’s 21 to cement her status as a legend. “Got a long way to go, ’cause I’m so well-traveled/Wherever life takes me I’m willing to go.”

Laura Nov 30, 2017

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Be prepared for Janet Jackson to take the mantle for social change when she brings her “State of the World” tour to Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday.

The tour, a revamped continuation of her “Unbreakable” tour from 2015, which was postponed for her to bear her first child, launched in Lafayette, Louisiana, in September.

“I decided to change the name of the tour,” she said when the tour was announced. “It’s not about politics. It’s about people, the world, relationships and just love.”

A reviewer for Essence magazine had this to say about that launch:

“The 51-year-old opened with a video showing the evils of white supremacy and xenophobia. Having a child of Muslim heritage, the message hit close to home for the always-conscious Jackson family member who’s raising a child in Trump’s America.”

Jackson’s marital issues surfaced in her Houston tour stop. She and husband Wissam Al Mana, the father of her son, Eissa, married in 2012 and are in the process of divorcing. During that Houston show, as she sang her 1997 hit “What About,” a tune that focuses on physical and emotional abuse and coming face to face with it.

According to ABC News, a fan’s Periscope video showed Jackson breaking down in tears as she sang, then telling the crowd “This is me.”

That doesn’t mean she’s not still gaining fans. And we’re talking NAME fans. Busta Rhymes has known the “Rhythm Nation” singer for a long time, but this month, he caught her live. Billboard reached out to him and described him as “gushing.”

It’s an accurate use of the word.

“Me being an artist myself, I’m super-inspired in a whole new way,” he told the magazine. “She is probably the most incredible, timeless, God-sent talent that I’ve ever seen in my life — I salute you queen!”

The Washington Post did its own gushing, and honestly made Rhymes’ effusiveness seem like that of a shy teenager:

The Post reviewer, writing said of her Nov. 16 show in the nation’s capital, that it made the artist “one of our greatest living pop stars, a singer whose zero-gravity falsetto can make heaviness feel light and lightness feel heavy. As a stylist and a utopian, she’s a bridge between Parliament-Funkadelic and Beyonce — or maybe a bridge into a future that still awaits us.”

Glenn Gamboa, formerly a critic for the Akron Beacon-Journal and now with Newsday in New York City, took in her show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“The first 40 minutes of her show was dizzying, moving from the socially conscious opening volley of ‘The Knowledge’ and ‘State of the World’ to the fast-paced medleys that gathered impressive strings of hits and fan favorites — including a trio of songs from her breakthrough album ‘Control’ — and updating the choreography without letting any of her trademark moves pass.” Gamboa wrote.

The Allentown Morning Call was equally impressed with her show there earlier in November, extolling her dance moves and energy first, and then moving to her vocals.

“Her voice was good, too — though it’s hard to say all the vocals were live, many certainly were; showing that Jackson’s voice was never the strongest, but she sang with aplomb, weaknesses and all,” wrote critic John J. Moser. “She even did a high falsetto on ‘Pleasure Principle,’ and sounded a lot like her late brother Michael on ‘Where Are You Now.'”

Janet Jackson
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec.3.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Center Court, Cleveland.
Tickets: $55 to $135, plus fees, at the box office, at Discount Drug Marts, online at theqarena.com and by phone at 1-888-894-9424.

Laura Nov 29, 2017

Although the lyrics of “What About” describe situations that aren’t the same as this year’s reckoning of sexual assault and sexual harassment, it wasn’t a stretch to assign an abundance of vile male behavior to the dancer as he received Jackson’s message.

How did the audience know the personal relevance of “What About”? Jackson concluded the song by saying, “This is me.”

The forceful statement arrived as one of a handful of onstage remarks by Jackson, who lived in Gary, Ind., for the first few years of her life.

“I have to tell you, it feels so good to perform for my home state,” she said near the end of Sunday’s show.

Jackson returned to Gary, where she and her iconic siblings lived in a house roughly the size of a two-car garage, following a Chicago tour stop in October. Speaking to students at Roosevelt High School, the 51-year-old talked about the February birth of her first child.

“Every doctor told me it wasn’t possible. But I’ve got a beautiful, healthy son,” Jackson said.

Youth provides one theme for Jackson’s “State of the World” tour. Despite an overall assessment that things aren’t great, a new generation can bring change.

Jackson performed 1990 chart-topper “Escapade” with two female dancers who resembled high-school students pulling the best job-shadowing assignment ever.

And Jackson deserves all credit for radiating youth at 51. She’s breezy, fit and holding onto a teenager’s bold attitudes.

Minimalism defines the “State of the World” production. Jackson began the night wearing black military boots and she steamrolled through more than one medley of hit songs.

The sound mix was far from finessed, so it was great to hear Jackson sing the melodies of “Control,” “What Have You Done for me Lately” and “Pleasure Principle” back-to-back-to-back above her rough-edged band.

A satellite stage or some type of catwalk would help the show keep pace with other modern productions as well as bring Jackson closer to her fans.

She clearly was at ease during the show’s middle segment, when she wore a denim jacket and track pants covered by a flannel shirt.

This part of the program delivered the highlight of her latest studio album, 2015’s “Unbreakable.” With assistance from rapper J. Cole via video, Jackson navigated the seductive beats of “No Sleeep.”

An audience estimated at 8,000 attended the show, making it a smaller event in the arena’s 2017 parade of blockbuster concerts starring Garth Brooks, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Billy Joel and Lady Gaga.

Jackson last performed in Indianapolis in October 2001, a wait made even longer by canceled plans between then and now. Her 2011 concert at the Indiana State Fair didn’t happen in the wake of the fatal stage-rigging accident the night country-pop duo Sugarland was scheduled to perform.

Sunday’s show originally was set for January 2016 and then pushed back again from July 2016.

With a performance as strong as Sunday’s, there’s no reason we won’t see her again on an Indianapolis stage.

Jackson closed the show with “Well Traveled,” an “Unbreakable” selection inspired by her life’s countless adventures: “I never want to arrive. Because if I ever reach there, there’s no place left to go.”

Laura Nov 28, 2017

Janet Jackson, 51, is a better dancer than you’ll ever be. So there’s that.

There’s also, in this age of minutely parsed identity, the maddening fact that both her musical and physical skills have always been forced to take second place: to white women, perhaps namely Madonna, and to men, her brother Michael most obviously.

Janet is everything, which thousands of fans showed her at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Thursday night. Everybody danced and sang all the words all night, both when her mic was open, to prove she still has lungs, and when the prerecorded vocals were on, so she could focus on her footwork.

We appreciated her music, but also her resilience, perseverance and sense of self. These are the qualities one needs to survive in 2017 and Ms. Jackson has got them.

This was clear about three songs into her set, during Burnitup! from the 2015 album Unbreakable. Featuring the rapper Missy Elliott, who appeared larger than life on screens behind the exuberant dancers, the song is a jam, danceable, fun and fully of the moment, even though Janet delayed this tour two years in order to have a baby before divorcing her new son’s father, a Qatari billionaire.

It’s also a song that I hadn’t heard until this week, as I mainlined Janet videos in anticipation of the show. Like every other jerk, I had been more or less ignoring her since the 2004 Super Bowl controversy, when her black woman’s nipple so disgusted mainstream America that it ruined her career for more than a decade.

Janet has released three full-length albums in the meantime, and although I know every word of every song on every album she released in the 1980s and 90s, I basically didn’t notice them. This is partly because of the ennui that greets many mid-career artists, but also because of the media blackout and shunning that stuck to Janet after her “wardrobe malfunction.”

It’s beyond a shame, maybe even a sin, that Janet was sidelined for so long. Consider that, with the #takeaknee protests as a backdrop, her younger, whiter, more male partner in crime Justin Timberlake was just invited to headline the next Super Bowl halftime show.

This is exactly how stereotypes and assumptions have worked against Janet her entire career. She was almost an afterthought in the Jackson entourage: the youngest of nine kids, her entry into showbiz a given yet not especially nurtured, and sometimes still seen as secondary despite her undeniable magnificence.

On Thursday, I got loose alongside a friend of 20-plus years, both of us recalling being shamed in the 1990s for being Janet fans when the guys we liked were into punk, grunge and hardcore rap. Joke’s on them: Love has always been a harder sell than antipathy, but Janet got the full diversity of the Greater Toronto Area to sing along for five straight songs in a row this week. A girl snob might consider this solid evidence that R&B has more longevity than macho boy music.

Around here is the point where critics point out that the Jackson family is weird, to which I say, “Yeah? Well so are you.” Weirdness and malice are the State of the World, as the tour is called, and those who have truly been able to stay out of the fray may sing the first note.

Anyway, the main reason we were here is for a show, and we got one. We heard all of the hits, from The Pleasure Principle to the one with Q-Tip, and we saw Ms. Jackson and her entourage spin, bounce, kick and sweat their way through the night.

Twenty years later, If is still a song that imagines both a world with good sex and one where nobody gets hurt. Three decades on, Rhythm Nation still makes a convincing argument that courage and impeccable choreography could eliminate injustice.

Being seen, and valued, for your true self was a real possibility – at least for two hours, in the world where Janet reigns.

Laura Nov 5, 2017

Singer Janet Jackson and her brother Randy Jackson have visited their childhood home in Gary, Indiana, and talked with local high school students.

The (Northwest Indiana) Times reports that the Jacksons made the visit Friday, a day after Janet Jackson’s concert in the Chicago area. Janet Jackson told students at Roosevelt High School that she started crying when she saw the small house. She said, “me and my family are so blessed. I’m so thankful.”

The 51-year-old said she was 8-years-old the last time she was in Gary. The family moved out of the industrial city about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Chicago after the Jackson 5 recorded their first album in 1969, when Janet Jackson was a toddler.

She also told students she misses performing with her siblings.

Laura Oct 29, 2017
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