Stick around the entertainment business as long as Janet Jackson has — America first met her in 1976 on “The Jacksons” variety TV show — and a question inevitably comes: Does she still have it?
Time and time again, and in utter convincing fashion, Jackson answered with an emphatic “duh” at her twice-delayed-but-worth-the-wait “State of the World Tour” concert at Royal Farms Arena on Saturday night. This was no legacy act going through the motions; it was a living legend reminding thousands why her influence on today’s R&B stars can’t be overstated.
At 51, she remains a dexterous and versatile performer in near-constant motion, hitting dance moves on beat with a noticeable physicality. Throughout the night, Jackson deftly switched tempos, moods and eras — including a run of slow jams where she sat on a stool, donning an oversized denim jacket — while remaining a transfixing presence on stage.
It could be seen during the opening number, “The Knowledge,” the still-timely album cut from her 1989 album, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.” The crowd — filled with Gen Xers who much preferred Kriss Kross’ “Jump” to Drake during a warmup DJ set — shouted down bigotry and illiteracy at Jackson’s direction.
She was just as effective during exuberant dance numbers like “The Pleasure Principle” and “When I Think of You,” two songs from Jackson’s 1986 landmark pop record, “Control.” If the night served as a reminder of Jackson’s star power, it also reinforced the timelessness of her frequent collaborators, producers and songwriters Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The trio’s creativity has aged very well.
“B-more! Do you want more?” Jackson asked halfway through, a rare instance where she caught her breath. She pointed out the obvious: “So many hits, you guys, and we’re just getting started.”
And so, they kept coming: the breezy “All for You,” the funkafied “All Nite (Don’t Stop)” and “What About,” a still-visceral rebuke of domestic abuse that featured Jackson’s dancers dramatically acting out the lyrics.
While her voice isn’t thin, it’s not a theatrical powerhouse either. Jackson’s smooth delivery, especially in falsetto, blended with the music rather seamlessly, rendering it more of an instrument than a focal point.
That’s why understated, sensual jams like “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “No Sleeep” sounded best — their thick basslines, cracking drums and Jackson’s breathy vocals melding together with unbothered ease. She’s the queen of the slow-burner, songs that ooze warmth and sexuality at their own measured pace.
Before wrapping the nearly two-hour performance, Jackson worked in a snippet of “Scream,” her 1995 duet with her older brother, Michael. As the memorable, futuristic video played on screens, Jackson leaned into the hook while encouraging the song’s other icon.
“Come on, Mike!” she sang. It felt like a nod to her family’s seismic, pop culture lineage, and a testament to Jackson’s perseverance throughout the very public ups and downs. She’s still here, still thriving, or as she sang during the finale “Well Traveled” — “I’ve come a long way / got a long way to go.”