Janet Jackson at Rogers Arena, 9/26/17
Janet Jackson’s State of the World Tour has been praised for addressing racism, police brutality, fascism, and more through politically conscious imagery. But from my vantage point at Rogers Arena last Tuesday, besides a handful of songs and their corresponding visuals, little distinguished the performance from a typical pop show – except that the Princess of Pop did everything on a higher level than most everyone else and only nine months after becoming a parent for the first time.
From my seat looking nearly straight at the side of the stage, I could barely see any of the visuals projected onto the two curtains that ran from the stage floor to the ceiling. A jumbo screen hung on both sides of the arena, but they usually focused on Jackson, her dancers, and her band. My view was further obstructed by mobile lighting and curtain rigs; I can’t help but feel I missed vital details of the presentation when phrases including “deaths caused by right-wing extremists” and “There is no human being superior to any other human being on earth” played through the speakers.
I was under the impression that “The Knowledge”, with which Jackson opened her show, was going to set the night’s tone with lines like, “Ignorance. No. Bigotry. No. Illiteracy. No.” But the night abandoned much of its political intent after the next song from which the tour derived its name. Then it was head first into standard pop fare: love songs, club hits, and grand ballads bow-wrapped 80s and 90s nostalgia.
After the thumping “Nasty Boys” and a fiery Missy Elliott cameo (via projection) on “BURNITUP!”, the curtains retracted towards the ceiling making room for full dance routines amidst searing strobes. Love – both its sentimental and contentious sides – were on display with “Love Will Never Do Without You” and “What Have You Done for Me Lately”. And of course, Jackson’s dance routines were sights to behold. “When I Think of You” came with not just turntable scratches and blasts of synth but chair choreography too.
Everyone left the stage, and an uplifting string and piano melody wafted through the darkened arena. It was time for the slow, “intimate” portion of the night. Jackson traded her black leather and tights for the extremely 90s combo of over-sized denim jacket, plaid shirt tied around the waist, baggy track pants, and choker. She gradually wound back up with “Twenty Foreplay” which moved seamlessly into “The Body That Loves You” (one of several medleys throughout the night). She continued her ascent with her J. Cole collaboration “No Sleep” followed by classic favourite ”Got ‘til It’s Gone”. Following that was “That’s the Way Love Goes” which immediately led back to max-gear dancing as her troupe streamed out onstage for “Throb”.
Although Jackson closed with a string of ballads featuring big, windy guitars, one of the night’s most powerful moments came just before that. During “What About”, two pairs of dancers posing as couples acted out scenes of physical abuse, grabbing each other and pretending to shove each other to the floor. The uncomfortable sight of these domestic scenes paired poignantly with the song’s intensity.
Reviews thus far may have overstated the State of the World Tour’s emphasis on political issues, but there was nothing underwhelming about any other facet of Janet Jackson’s show. Except maybe the obvious heavy lip-synching… but that’s par for the course with live arena pop, and she proved she’s still the Princess.