Janet Jackson brought two distinct angles to her performance to her State of the World tour at the Grand Sierra Resort on Sunday night.
“There’s a lot of hits,” she told the crowd following a medley of songs such as “Escapade,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” and “Nasty.” This was Janet Jackson, the pop icon, whose voice lived on the radio airwaves, whose actions and personal life continue to garner news coverage, whose lyrics and dance moves are infused with a sexiness and upbeat tone made for dancing, whether that’s in a club or a living room mirror. And her set list touched upon a 30-plus year career of hits.
Aside from Janet the icon is Janet Jackson the social commentator. She doesn’t shy away from infusing her music and work with an awareness of issues that exist at the given moment.
Entering the stage to a solo choreographed routine spotlighted in front of a solid white backdrop, she opened with “The Knowledge” and “State of the World,” an intentional choosing, it turns out, to set the tone for the rest of the night.
Although she controlled the stage from the beginning, she at times showed a tremendous amount of vulnerability – the most powerful being during her song, “What About” where her backup dancers pantomimed physically abusive relationships and a partner being spurned due to the other’s drug-addicted behavior. The rest of the stage musicians and sets were hidden in the dark. At the song’s end, Jackson said solemnly into the microphone, “This is me.”
Jackson, 51, canceled a portion of her last scheduled world tour following her announcement of having a child. If there were any questions as to her current viability as a performer, on this night those questions were put to rest.
She led a stage at times filled with as many as 16 people between musicians and dancers. She also showed herself as a master of audience interaction, singling out concertgoers for a blown kiss or a wink and an expression of gratitude. Her selection of dancers also notably included those across the age, size and appearance spectrums.
The pop icon side of Janet brought a show that took the crowd through the singer’s eras and emotional range of output, with a massive moving light setup and video screens on par with an Ibiza club. She concluded her set with “Rhythm Nation,” at which point the majority of the crowd had been out of their seats and dancing without break for more than 90 minutes.
The socially aware Janet brought mention of issues that affect the world, which even if not a significant confrontation of those issues, is still a bold move by a pop star. It was an appreciated step in pop music’s ability to transcend being a solely commercial environment characterized by its head-in-the-sand absence of the larger concrete environment.
Jackson was able to weave those two angles into a spectacle of a performance, demonstrating that her icon status and relevance are still present, and that even after taking a few hits both personally and professionally over the last couple years, the singer’s most recent album moniker of “Unbreakable” denotes the war and not the battle.
She opened with an impactful three-minute collection of images and video displayed across the stage’s large backdrop, flashing the names some of the black men who died at the hands of police, showing violent actions around the globe, and presenting an audio clip announcing that black and white are equal followed by bold text demanding justice. Jackson herself took a moment to display a raised fist following her first song.
The mass shooting that would take place a later the same evening at a country music festival in Las Vegas unfortunately could have been another clip in her opening video. We are capable of trying to find solutions to this malaise, whether the form be listening rather than simply talking, or by donating blood here in Reno to potentially help the southern Nevada concert shooting victims. Sometimes euphoric, sometimes tragic, the State Of The World is a participatory experience.