By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Janet is 35 or so but still has undeniable naivete, a professional (if not actual) belief in the power and duty of dance to lift us all above a drowned world. This was clear despite lots of attitude and scanty clothes. The now-trademark undulating belly and bust-out cleavage is not nearly as much about sex (it never was) as it is about giving a thousand percent, every Broadway performer’s maxim. Even when Janet did the queen-bitch thing in a number assisted by the decidedly hip-hop Missy Elliott, in which she, too, glowered -- and grabbed her crotch and gave all the dancer boys withering looks -- we all knew better: The real Janet is the spun-sugar voice and ear-splitting grin, the earnest approach to ballads like ”Again“ where she took to a stool and a darkened stage a la Barbra Streisand. Janet still lives for audience connection, still submits herself for our approval. She is not the greatest of talents but still posits the possibilities of dance. That makes her a messenger among her younger peers -- performers who can certainly sing, and certainly dance, yet who have nothing to ask us. There‘s plenty of show and tell these days, but little in the way of wonder.
Beyonce Knowles, while fun to watch, knows too much already. Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu are more probing but hardly qualify as divas of dance. There are few such creatures anymore besides the expertly packaged Britney Spears, and I don’t count her because the only things she ever asked anyone is whether they‘d like a Pepsi. For all her ubiquity, Britney is the hapless victim of her times Madonna never wanted to be and actively measured herself against, and Janet avoided simply by being at the forefront of ’80s synth-funk. It goes without saying that without Janet and Madonna, there‘d be no Britney, or Christina Aguilera, or any number of aspirants to the dance throne who, interestingly enough, are not black anymore but black-inflected for days. The actual black female singers at this point all seem preoccupied with being odd hybrids like Ashanti, who wavers between vulnerable and vapid and seems a bit lost without the presence of one tough rapper or another. Not exactly the stuff of liberation dreams.
But anyway: There was, and is, Janet. I was concerned for a while, after the Velvet Rope period especially, that she might be going introspective for good, that she would consciously grow up and follow Madonna, if not into that diva emerita’s dark netherworld, into a place not at all conducive to dancing. After that Friday I am certain that Janet Jackson is still among the living, and hoping. Any doubt of this was put to rest as I watched her go through a backstage costume change at the hands of prop people who stripped her down to her skivvies as the music vamped madly outside and the crowd roared in anticipation. I saw the black bra, the enviably flat stomach, the legs -- the legs. It struck me that in all the years of Janet, in all the getups and paeans to nasty boys, she had never shown them. She was stooping now for cover, uncomfortably aware of the camera ogling overhead. A strange but touching bit of modesty in the midst of all the baring that‘s become mostly boring, in the base but still-beating heart of a naked age . . .
The concert ended. I stopped dancing, out of breath. Then I hurried upstairs to write.