It's almost 9 PM on a cold fall night in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The energy is palpable as the crowd patiently waits to be reunited with their sister. 90s R&B, classic Michael Jackson, and select hits by Bruno Mars pulsate through Boardwalk Hall's sound system as the audience gyrates to the music with anticipation.
Photo Courtesy of The Fader
Then it happens. A one-minute video montage snatches everyone's attention. Racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, and domestic violence are all highlighted. The names of black men who've lost their lives due to police brutality flash across the screen. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Philando Castille. Oscar Grant. The list goes on. This is our pertinent reminder. Although we're guaranteed a good time, there are serious matters that will be addressed.
The uniform is all black. The message is urgent. The icon is Janet Jackson. Cane in hand, she elegantly erupts onto the stage wearing a black leather trench coat and elbow length black leather gloves to match. Superhero-like, she is our leader for the next two hours. The leader of the Rhythm Nation.
Instead of jumping into “Burn It Up," the Missy assisted dance track off of her critically acclaimed latest album, Unbreakable, Janet starts the show with “The Knowledge" followed by “State Of The World," Both are socially conscious tracks off of her Rhythm Nation 1814 album. Despite these songs being almost three decades old, the issues that a then twenty-three year old Janet Jackson sought out to address are just as prevalent in 2017 as they were then.
To watch the youngest Jackson command the stage as she performs hit after hit is breathtaking. She hasn't lost a step. Alongside her troupe of dancers, who are young enough to be her children, she sings live while performing some of the most famous choreography in pop music history. All of this doesn't come easy though. Despite Jackson being one of the most well-known music artists of all time, she continues to put the work in. She began rehearsing for the State of the World tour in July, only six months after giving birth to her first child. To whip her famous body back into shape she enlisted the help of former sprinter and bodybuilder, Paulette Sybliss, who helped her lose fifty pounds. According to Sybliss, as reported in the Atlantic City Weekly, Jackson followed a strict weight-training program and increased her protein intake, while balancing her diet with carbohydrates and healthy fats to keep her energized.
Photo Courtesy of PEOPLE
But she's not doing too much. Nothing about the State of the World Tour is overstated or tries too hard. The production is not as grand as on previous tours, and the costume changes are minimal, but it all works. Jackson is at a point in her career where she doesn't need all of the theatrics.
Her herd of adoring fans love her without the extras, and she knows it. This tour and Jackson's ascend back into the spotlight is about much more than extravagant costumes and perfectly timed pyro explosions. Similar to the way that she's used her career to advocate for equal rights and the LGBTQ community (she was recently honored with the 2017 Music Icon Award at the OUT100 Gala), Jackson is using the State of the World Tour to send a very clear message – she is not okay with our current state of affairs, and her robust catalog of music will once again be used to create dialog and raise awareness about these issues.
When she performs the emotional anti-domestic violence song “What About," or the female empowerment anthems, “Nasty" and “What Have You Done For Me Lately" the crowd sings along to every word. Women testify and rejoice. This is why Jackson has stood the test of time. The fact that she is no longer the ab-baring chanteuse that she once was doesn't matter. Jackson floats across the stage, fully clothed, just as confident as she's ever been. Her million dollar smile leads the way, followed by an opulent auburn colored high ponytail that bounces to her beat.
As the show winds down you can't help but think about how special and empowering the whole thing really is. The State of the World tour is the culmination of a career that has aged gracefully. With fifty-one years under her belt and a newborn baby boy waiting backstage for her, Ms. Jackson can still outperform your favorite performer, while simultaneously using her voice for good. Now that's Control.
Photo Credit: afewgoodclicks.com
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