I was a sophomore in college the first and only time I’ve seen Janet Jackson in concert. It was 1990 and her Cab Calloway-inspired hit “Alright” was climbing the charts. My fraternity brother Marty and I drove from Springfield, Mo., to Kemper Arena in Kansas City to see Janet and her massive Rhythm Nation tour. I left that concert in awe of her command of that arena and her perfectly synchronized dance moves. I practiced all her dance moves from her iconic videos in my room at home and in my dorm room when my roommate was at class. Cut to me hoofing it to classics “Miss You Much” and “Escapade.” As the years progressed, I’ll admit, like Jennifer Hudson did in Dreamgirls, that “I… am not a dancer.”
Two well-designed decades later, I have the chance to see Ms. Jackson again, this time on her aptly-titled Number Ones tour at Radio City Music Hall. Before I go any further, there’s just a thing or two I want to get off my chest. First, details matter. Second, production value matters. Third, the music matters and that’s what trumps my first two gripes. Janet, details: the biggest typo ever printed ever… Are your number ones really possessive?
The concert opens with two videos, the first a montage of Mo’ Money snippets featuring the Wayans brothers and the dashing Stacy Dash to Luther and Janet’s “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Ok, fun warm-up. Next, the full-length video of “Rhythm Nation.” Confused. Does this means she won’t sing this one? Finally, Janet takes the stage in the first of four or five sets of medleys of her hits. She’s still gorgeous. That face. The tightly cropped hair. That body stuffed into a super-tight military onesy that thrust her chest out of the top. Amazing. She opens with “Pleasure Principle,” “Control” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately.”
Gripe 2: Production value. For her first costume change, four videos played: Janet as Penny from Good Times in the scene when her mother comes after her with a hot iron. Dammit Janet. Bring down the room, why don’t you? Then Janet as Charlene from Diff’rent Strokes. Janet in “Poetic Justice” and finally, Janet in “Why Did I Get Married Too?” and the angry scene when she remodels her living room with a golf club. For her next costume change, a PowerPoint presentation of her iconic photos. This on top of a very boring set and lame graphics on the screen behind her. I’m typically not a big complainer about things like this, but c’mon… You’re Janet Jackson! The whole show felt very low-budget and it showed.
What redeems her though is the massive string of hits this woman has accumulated in over 30 years in the business. I also remember all the struggles she’s been through lately and decide to give her a break. Highlights of the show included the medley of her ballads, including “Let’s Wait Awhile,” “Again” and “Come Back to Me.” I also loved her rocker side with “Scream” and “Black Cat,” her sexy set, “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” “If” and “Throb” and her nostalgic cute side, “Nasty,” “When I Think of You” and “Miss You Much.” She played everything — that is everything off Control, Rhythm Nation, Janet and Velvet Rope. Only “All For You” and “Feedback” made the cut — representing her last four albums. In the end, she played my favorite song of her’s, “Together Again,” and featured images of her late brother Michael overhead. I thought it was a really tasteful, heart-felt way to honor her brother.
So Janet, good job overall. But I have higher expectations of you on your next go around. Remember, details and production value matter, especially when you’re a Jackson.