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Negative Guest List: Janet Jackson

On a purely visceral level, Janet Jackson is the consummate performer. After two years off, due to emergency throat surgery and giving birth at age 50, she shouldn’t have to take her show on the road. She’s a Jackson, pop royalty, and the only one left standing (though she did give a shot-out to Jermaine).

The only reason one could imagine that Janet keeps on touring is for self-preservation, a modern Ozymandias. But her two hour set during her “State of the World” stop at the Schottenstein Center, proved otherwise. She’s out for blood. She ripped through her hefty career of hits. It was hit after hit after hit. Sometimes packing 5 hits into one devastating medleys. Medleys usually symbolize giving in, but in this context it’s simply for economy. Were Jackson to play every hit in its entirety, the crowd would have to stay around till about 3 in the morning. That wouldn’t be all that bad as Jackson was dancing every beat, singing (almost) every note, and noticeably enjoying herself and the audience with equal aplomb. It’s genuinely for the love of the game, no needs to stay relevant.

The theme of the night, and the tour though, is bitingly topical. In her first act she pulled heavily from her Rhythm Nation 1814 album. It’s arguably Jackson’s best moment, a dystopian concept record that dealt with societal ills Jackson observed as the ’80s turned to the ’90s. It was quite prescient because many of those problems have only been exacerbated under our current regime. Images of white supremacy, police brutality,  poverty, and domestic violence, flashed from the stage — as Janet grounded the joyful vibe that preceded the show, with the sobering “State of the World.” The heavy message would be returned during “What About” and the aforementioned “Rhythm Nation.” that said, serious Janet was measured, it felt vital, and never bogged down the perfectly choreographed flow of set.

Seeing a iconoclast such as Janet Jackson makes us more thankful for what’s still alive and well, and less nostalgic for what we have lost in the last decade (namely Prince, Michael, and David Bowie). In many ways Janet covered them all in her own way. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis painted the corners of Control in purple, her brother forced her to become a better dancer (the dancing was pure fire all night), and Bowie taught her to take chances (again, the conceptual oddity of Rhythm Nation), all of this was on full display.

It’s was a tiring marathon night that showed she’s still got it, and in the end, the refrain of “Rhythm Nation” was an invigorating call to arms — “People of the world today, are we looking for a better way of life? Sing!” Everyone was singing, everyone was dancing, everyone there understood the message.

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