Photographs by Randall Vasquez
“Give me a beat!” These four words are more than a call to action; for Janet Jackson, they are way of being. The 51 year old icon came to Toronto with her State of the World tour. Jackson has been a force in the pop music world since she released her pivotal album, Control, in 1986. That record was a statement of independence – from her famous family, from the music industry, from expectations. Jackson never looked back. Her musical instincts were sharp and she became an impressive hit machine.
Janet Jackson seems to have a good handle on where she is in 2017. The concert did not feel nostalgic. It was a well-crafted celebration of a woman whose music has had lasting impact. The flavour of the night was established when Philadelphia super spinner, DJ Aktive opened the show, mixing and scratching his was through a flurry of R&B and Hip Hop hits from the last four decades. The list of songs was designed to awaken a youthful spirit with everyone from Bruno Mars, to Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, to big bro Michael Jackson filling the room.
When Janet Jackson appeared a short time later, it was to deafening cheers. No doubt, many had been hoping to see the artist on her Unbreakable Tour two years ago – a tour that was postponed due to Jackson’s desire to start a family. Now, with a new baby and a split from her husband, she is back on the road with the newly rebranded State of the World tour. A video montage calling out many societal woes preceded her appearance – her message of diversity and unity front and centre. The older songs came strung together, running into one another. The run that started with Nasty and ended with You Want This allowed Jackson her first real diva moment. Backlit, she stood – silhouette, wind machine, long pause. The crowd adored on cue. Jackson then launched into Control. The Control/What Have You Done for Me Lately/Pleasure Principle combo hit all the right notes. High energy and full of attitude, Miss Jackson knows how to entertain. The band was a supporting player in this show, dressed in black they receded into the background. The spectacle of the night was the singing and the dancing. Jackson’s dance crew was diverse and brilliant to watch. They matched their leader in technical prowess and presence. The precision was awe-inspiring.
As the night progressed, it was hard to believe the sheer number of hits that kept coming. Highlights included Love Will Never Do, Come back to Me and Together Again. The two sides of Janet Jackson’s stage persona were evident. Most of the evening, she was dressed in black tailored outfits, commanding attention. There was a set, mid-show, that had her and her troupe of dancers in more relaxed “street” clothes. She took time to sit in a stool and offer a less dance oriented production for a few tunes, but just long enough for everyone to catch their breath. The choreography and exuberance were back in no time. Perhaps the song that exemplified everything associated with the Janet Jackson mystique was Rhythm Nation. Anthemic and driving, it had the arena united in song, dance and a shared moment.
The show gave fans everything they could have asked for and everyone seemed happy to bask in the Jackson glow. Ultimately, Janet Jackson proved to everyone that she is still a force, still an entertainer and still in control.