I’ve often thought Minneapolis has been oddly reticent to publicly claim its important place in the seminal career of Janet Jackson. Any oversight along those lines was certainly remedied on Sunday night at Target Center, as Jackson’s longtime collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis joined her onstage to welcome Mayor Betsy Hodges, who officially declared it Janet Jackson Day in the City of Minneapolis.
“It was 30 years ago this young lady got off a plane,” said Jimmy Jam, “and the rest, as they say, is history.” He was referring to Jackson’s arrival at Flyte Tyme Studios in Edina, where she made four albums—Control (1986), Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), janet (1993), and The Velvet Rope (1997)—that helped define the era’s pop R&B aesthetics with itchy beats and irresistible hooks. Her brother, Michael Jackson, was so impressed with the banging Rhythm Nation that he told his producers to use it as inspiration for his own Dangerous (1991).
Though Jackson’s not yet 50, her three-decade career has earned her reverence as an elder stateswoman of pop, and she appeared onstage Sunday night in a majestic black outfit that seemed to implicitly acknowledge her oft-tweeted status as “queen.” She wore a glistening, high-shouldered alligator-skin texture top adorned with a gold necklace; drop-crotch stretch pants that recalled her chart dominance during the M.C. Hammer era; white-soled sneakers; a below-the-waist cape; and of course her signature long curls, a hairstyle so epic it has its own Twitter account.
If there was a Janet Jackson hit you wanted to hear Sunday night, you probably heard it—even if just a single verse and chorus of it. The first act of her show was essentially a giant dance medley that encompassed a dozen-plus songs including opener “Burn It Up” (a duet with Missy Elliot, whose avatar towered onscreen to perform her rap), “Miss You Much,” “Control,” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” Except for a few small fireworks and three silky screens (displaying graphics of circling black birds, slightly ominous for neighborhood residents used to Minneapolis’s seasonal flocks of crows), Jackson’s stage setup was relatively simple: no catwalk, no flying, no silly props. That kept the focus on Jackson and her nine female dancers, whose choreography included a lot of room for rambunctious play—Jackson sometimes stepping aside to cheer them on.
The show’s several ballads – ranging from Control‘s “Let’s Wait Awhile” to the new “After You Fall” – were largely collected in a long central section, which demonstrated why performers don’t usually do it that way—some of the crowd disengaged, and took the opportunity to go get a hot dog—but also served the function of building nicely to the simmering midtempo “No Sleeep.” The leadoff single from Jackson’s current album, Unbreakable, it crackled and it popped. The album is another collaboration with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (their studio is now based in L.A.), who once again show that they know how to help Jackson hit all the right notes with a jaunty, confident sound.
For the final segment of Jackson’s set, the energy and volume climbed (it was one of the loudest arena shows I’ve attended in a while, with the mix set to thunderous) with a furious “Black Cat” – a song that topped the pop charts exactly 25 years ago this week – and a culminating one-two punch of “Scream” and “Rhythm Nation.” Jackson pointed to the sky during “Scream,” a 1995 single from Michael Jackson’s HIStory release on which the siblings traded vocals. (Yet another Jam/Lewis production, “Scream” was partly recorded at Flyte Tyme.)
A two-song encore included “Shoulda Known Better” (with images of neglected children to underscore the song’s socially-conscious lyrics) and Unbreakable‘s title song, which paused for an instrumental break that became almost comically extended, the band vamping on and on as Jackson paused to say, “It’s so good to be home.” She was enthusiastically welcomed by Jimmy Jam and Lewis, who sauntered onstage in matching black suits, Jimmy Jam taking the mic to allude to a previous onstage appearance the duo had made on Jackson’s current tour. “You might have heard we did something like this in L.A.,” he said. “But that was different. That wasn’t the hometown. Hometown!”
The crowd roared as Hodges came onstage to read a long proclamation outlining Jackson’s achievements—particularly those involving Flyte Tyme—and declaring Nov. 1 to be Janet Jackson Day. The star stood beaming demurely, visibly touched. “Thank you so much,” she said to everyone. “I love you.” She then signaled for her band to bring it back up so she could sing just one more chorus.