Janet Jackson invited problems when she titled her 2015 tour “Unbreakable.”
Named for her 2015 album, the tour was more fragile than imagined. The oft-postponed tour had three different sold-out dates scheduled in St. Louis before Jackson officially pulled the plug on the whole thing. On social media, she told fans she was halting the tour so she could focus on starting a family.
The fallout was ferocious. Many fans, feeling jerked around one too many times, assumed there was no chance of Jackson’s returning to the stage any time soon. Many sought refunds for their tickets.
But 2017 has turned out to be one of Jackson’s biggest years in recent memory. In January, she gave birth to her first child, Eissa Al Mana. There also was news that she and husband Wissam Al Mana were separating.
Soon came the announcement that her tour was back on, though retitled the “State of the World Tour.”
In the reconfigured show, Jackson switches focus from her “Unbreakable” album to her past work. And in essence, she speaks to today.
She’s not performing particular classics just because she feels she has to. She’s performing them now because they still matter.
“New Agenda,” a track from “janet.” (1993), includes these lyrics:
Because of my gender (no) I’ve heard no too many times
Because of my race I’ve heard no too many times
But with every no I grow in strength that is why
African-American woman I stand tall with pride.
It’s not a stretch to find relevance in those words today
Reviews of the tour so far have been joyous. The show is said to focus on Jackson and her dance crew, while eschewing the large-scale production of other pop stars of her stature. The accompanying set list is packed with classics – “That’s the Way Love Goes,” “If,” “Together Again,” “Miss You Much,” “Escapade,” “When I Think of You,” “Nasty,” “No Sleeep” – many in medley form.
The warm embrace she’s seeing is in contrast to the fallout from her infamous 2004 Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction.” That halftime show with Justin Timberlake, who ripped away part of Jackson’s costume to reveal her breast, turned her career inside-out.
That performance was more than a dozen years ago. But Jackson’s career truly hasn’t been the same since, while Timberlake’s star continues to soar. That has bugged her fans, especially with news that Timberlake will headline next year’s halftime show.
It has been said that Jackson was blackballed following the Super Bowl incident. Her lack of radio airplay and diminished sales may be direct fallout; it also could be due to a natural decline in popularity of an artist beyond her heyday.
Whatever the reason, Jackson, 51, seems unfazed. She’s taking things in her own hands and moving forward.
She released “Unbreakable” on her own indie label, Rhythm Nation. And instead of working through publicists, she speaks directly to fans through social media.
As she dictated early in her recording career, “it’s all about control, and I’ve got lots of it.”
©2017 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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