Most of us who packed into the sold-out New Jersey Prudential Center on Sunday night (November 19) have loved Janet Jackson most (if not, all) of our lives.
It's literally been 40 years since Jackson's star turn as the black community's sweetheart, the girl with the golden smile, Millicent "Penny" Woods on Good Times. We cringed and damn near cried at every abusive action from her psychotic mom, played by Chip Fields. We cheered when Willona and the Evans clan took her in. We rooted for her like she was a part of our family because she was so relatable, she felt like it.
And over the past four decades, she has been.
Janet is an international treasure that we grew up watching and adoring. So many hits, so sexy, so mysterious—shoot, she was even So So Def for a while. A visionary, a style icon, an innovator. The dance moves, the videos, the royal bloodline. Janet is a once-in-a-lifetime artist and when you reflect on how much we miss the rare breed of the G.O.A.T.s—Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince—you revere Janet that much more. Mariah, Madonna...there aren't too many left from that Mount Rushmore-esque stature of uber popstar.
So if we had to wait over two years to see it in concert, so be it. The true Janet fans know that she would never come back half-stepping and that the wait would be well worth it. It was June 2015 when Jackson first announced she was going on tour to support her Unbreakable LP. Following a delay in the original scheduling, Janet then told the world that the 2016 outing would be postponed due to her pregnancy. Fast forward to May 2017, the singer revealed that she was finally ready to hit the road, and she has held true to her word. "Unbreakable" has now been changed to "State of the World," a single off of 1989's Rhythm Nation 1814 about the woes of society including poverty, homelessness, suicide, and drugs—all topics which are prevalent now.
At the Prudential, Janet was a human firework, dressed in black with a slew of dancers decked in white backing her up. "Miss you Much," followed by "Alright," took you back to an innocent, feel-good place. This was no diva on her last leg. Janet was every bit the majestic performer you remember her from previous tours and iconic TV performances.
Even standing directly next to her, you couldn't never tell that she's 51 years old. She still has that same teenage dream girl, ambrosial smile; she's in greater shape than most fitness instructors; and, as a performer, most acts half her age cannot do what she's doing now. Janet is timeless.
After a tease of "You Want This," Jackson paraded more blockbusters: "What Have You Done For Me Lately" and "Pleasure Principle." And that's when it hit. When you looked around and saw these thousands of people standing up and dancing like her, hanging on every word of her melodic light and whispery tone, you realized that "State of the World" is not about solving what has us all in such a panic right now; it's about escaping. For the two hours-plus that we were watching the spectacle, no one is thinking about Donald Trump or tiki torches or sexual harassment. We were transported back to 7th grade when we first saw the video for "When I Think of You," which was another missile that tore the house down. "I did this one when I was 19 years old," she said of the aforementioned record. "It went No.1 and it's because of you."
"All for You" and "Love Will Never Do Without" followed, then later Jackson depicted a very dark side of being in a relationship with "What About." A male dancer feigned doing lines of cocaine while a female dancer acted as his concerned lover trying to get him to stop, to no avail. Across the stage, another male and female played out a woman getting beat by her lover.
"What about the shit you done to me?," Jackson sang. "What about that? What about that?" As the music came to a stop, the crowd gave Janet an ovation that lasted several minutes. The music legend looked like she was fighting back tears and then made a jaw-dropping reveal: "This, this right here is me!"
Jackson, who told the audience how much she missed her brother Michael on "Together Again," kept the intensity on a fervor for "Scream" and "Rhythm Nation."
Jackson closed out, letting a breathless crowd gather theme selves just a bit on "Well Traveled."
"I don't know where this journey will end," she sang. "Cause the world keeps calling me / At home people embrace me as a friend / And I'm loving all the energy / I've come a long way / Got a long way to go / And I'm so well traveled / The only place in my life that I'll miss / It's on my bucket list It's a place I don't know."
Janet let Newark know she loved them and exited to more applause.