More than 23 years ago, I took a group of teenage girls from the Fort Smith Girls Club to see Janet Jackson in Kansas City. These girls had worked all summer to earn the trip: busting their tails racking up hours in everything from career development to fundraising to health and sexuality and, as a result, got to go see one of their — and my — idols. Of course, reality never lives up to the dream, right? So when we arrived at the Sandstone Amphitheater, it just made sense that the view from our lawn seats (the best the nonprofit Girls Club could afford) made the stage appear about the size of a postage stamp. Young, optimistic me was dissatisfied, unable to accept the reality that was. Then I saw a short man with a newsboy cap on backward and a lanyard around his neck.
So, I did what any sensible, safety-minded 20-year-old would do, and went up to the guy and started yammering on about how I was from Fort Smith, Ark., and had brought a dozen young teenagers to see Janet, and talked about how they’d worked all summer, and how one of them hadn’t ever even been on an escalator before this trip, and BLAHBLAHBLAH until he stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Can you get your group up on the hill
It all worked out, of course. Lanyard Man gave us 20 second-row seats. I got him to sign my program. I shook his hand. Turned out he was Rene Elizondo, secret husband of Janet (at the time) and the man who held her breasts on the front of a very famous Rolling Stone cover. Let me break that down for you folks: I am one degree of separation away from Janet’s right boob (and therefore two degrees from Justin Timberlake’s right hand). But I digress. The concert was amazing. MC Lyte opened and we all screamed “Hey! Gotta what? Yo! Gotta get a
So, she had some big shoes to fill (albeit her own) when I went to see her Saturday night, almost two and a half decades later. And I had some high hopes upon arrival, where the opening DJ spun tunes from old-school Prince to modern Missy Elliott to Bell Biv DeVoe’s classic “Poison” (at which point the audience rose as one and began dancing with abandon). The stage was set for a good time, with show-goers wearing everything from leather bustiers and sequin pants to top hats banded with mirrors and tails emblazoned with “Janet 2017” in rhinestones.
Minutes before Janet took the stage, three stage-to-ceiling banners lit up with a stark video condemning domestic terrorism, fascism and white supremacy, the audio track declaring, “No human being is superior to any other on the face of this earth.” Electricity flowed through the crowd (6,304 in attendance). And Janet, dressed in a black asymmetrical waistcoat and leaning on a fashionable cane, appeared on the scene, fully bathed in
Until she began to “sing.” She had a large headset mic on that covered most of her mouth, so I wasn’t sure at first. But, in the first of a line of bad decisions, the show had large high-def screens on each side of the stage, from which it was plainly (and painfully) evident that Miss Jackson was not, indeed, singing live. And I have to call her Miss Jackson because, unfortunately, I’m going to be nasty.
The lip sync wasn’t great. It wasn’t anywhere near great. I’m pretty sure I knew more of the words to her songs than she did. Her dancing abilities had clearly diminished, as they naturally would over two decades, especially with her having had her first child within the last year. I mean, she's 50. And has a newborn. I get it, but it's like they're grasping at recreating 20-year-old Janet instead of focusing on what makes 50-year-old Janet amazing, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terribly disappointed. My date for the evening, a girlfriend of mine who, though was not of the group who went to see Janet the first time, was still a member of the Girls Club during said time, just wished she’d, “Take her hair down, put on some comfortable clothes, sit down, and just sing.” And for a hot minute there, we thought that wish was going to come true.
Janet came out (after a notably long absence while an instrumental interlude of “Again” played) in black and red track pants, a denim jacket, a checked flannel shirt tied around her waist (backward, for some reason), her hair tied up and a hoop earring with key dangling (hello, nostalgia!). She had a hand-held mic in addition to her headset, and she sat down on a stool, as if ready to get real. But did she? I couldn’t tell by watching from afar, and I was unconvinced by what I saw on screen. And by the time things took a turn for the better — when she pulled out some of her newer stuff and let the dancers do the dancing — it was just too little, too late.
Look, I’ve seen other reviews of this tour. I know I’m in the minority with my distaste for Janet’s return. And I might have been more forgiving, had the choreography been strong enough to mandate lip syncing. Instead, I thought, I could probably get a better version of lip syncing-Janet at just about any drag show, and that acts driven by a sense of nostalgia almost always look better in the rear view mirror.