ST. LOUIS — It looks as if Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction-induced exile from music’s top tier is finally lifting.
It’s about time.
She had a successful run that exploded with her album “Control” in 1986, and “All for You” (2001) — featuring the title track, “Son of a Gun” and “Someone to Call My Lover” — carried her into the 2000s.
But midway through the decade, things went into a tailspin for Michael Jackson’s youngest sister.
Unless you’ve been in Rip Van Winkle mode, you remember her Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 — perhaps the most talked-about halftime show ever.
Jackson performed dance-heavy renditions of her hits “All for You” and “Rhythm Nation” before Justin Timberlake joined her for his song “Rock Your Body.” When the song culminated with, “I bet I’ll have you naked by the end of this song,” Timberlake ripped a piece of fabric away from Jackson’s costume, and a barely covered breast rolled out.
Suddenly, “Nipplegate” and “wardrobe malfunction” were introduced into our collective vocabularies.
The FCC threw a record $550,000 fine at CBS, which aired the game. An apologetic Jackson, who absorbed the blame while Timberlake walked away clean, was the subject of punchlines for years.
And seemingly simultaneously, the big hits stopped coming.
“Damita Jo,” released a few months after the Super Bowl, managed to sell a million copies, but it was her lowest-selling album in years, despite contributions on the album from Kanye West.
Then there were the disappointing sales of follow-up albums “20 Y.O.” (2006) and “Discipline” (2008), which failed to produce the hit singles that previously had streamed from her albums.
Part of her musical decline can be attributed to her songs simply not being as catchy as before. And the albums have been all over the place as she started working with producers and songwriters who didn’t know what to do with her, including former flame Jermaine Dupri.
But there’s also no denying the Super Bowl effect: Folks just weren’t willing to cut her slack.
Meanwhile, Jackson made a smart move by returning to one of her earliest loves, acting. She headlined movies “Why Did I Get Married?” (2007), “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (2010) and “For Colored Girls” (2010).
None were critically acclaimed, but they’ve led to yet another phase of her career: Earlier this month, Lionsgate — which produced the “Why Did I Get Married?” films — announced it was partnering with Jackson to produce films.
She has also ventured into publishing. Her new book, “True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself,” is a New York Times best seller.
Jackson’s music is showing new signs of life, too.
A surprise appearance on “American Idol” last year, where she performed her new ballad “Nothing,” proved there’s still a lot of love out there for her.
And her latest album, a double-disc greatest-hits compilation, “Number Ones,” released five months after brother Michael’s death, paved the way for her new “Up Close and Personal” tour, which skips the arenas and flashy shows in favor of smaller venues.
You can accept, as she says, that she simply wanted to get up close and personal with her fans for the first time, minus the frills. Or you can believe she was forced to perform in smaller venues after the mixed reception her 2008 “Rockwitchu” tour received. But touring smaller is paying off big. She’s been building some great buzz as shows are selling out, leading to multiple dates in some cities.
And reviews have been generally positive.
The Boston Globe said Jackson left fans hungry for more and that it was an evening to remember.
The Chicago Tribune wrote: “There’s no better way for a performer to remind the world that she’s still kicking than a tightly choreographed greatest-hits show, and that’s exactly what Jackson delivered. ... In the more scaled-down setting, Jackson brought a warmth and a passion that wasn’t always evident in stadiums.”
The New York Times said her show is “just about the realest, most clear-minded retrospective she could do.”
It looks as if she’s on her way back — in more ways than one.
Take that, wardrobe malfunction.
WHICH SONGS ARE THERE
Janet Jackson’s tour is tailor-made for fans looking for an endless parade of hits. Here is the set list for one of her shows this month at the Chicago Theatre.
“All for You”
“The Pleasure Principle”
“What Have You Done For Me Lately”
“You Want This”
“Miss You Much”
“Come Back to Me”
“Let’s Wait Awhile”
“Doesn’t Really Matter”
“Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
“When I Think of You”
“All for You”
“All Nite (Don’t Stop)”
“That’s the Way Love Goes”
“I Get So Lonely”
AND WHICH SONGS AREN’T
Jackson’s current tour doesn’t allow for much more than the big hits. But she has a long list of great tunes — rare grooves, B-sides, album tracks and forgotten gems — that would have been treats for diehard fans. These are some of the best among that batch.
“Come Give Your Love to Me”: A slick punk rock-inflected jam from her early album “Janet Jackson.” Jackson herself probably doesn’t even know how good this song was.
“Making Love in the Rain”: Herb Alpert mined ‘80s gold when he borrowed Jackson’s vocals for “Making Love in the Rain,” along with “Diamonds,” from his “Keep Your Eye on Me” album.
“And On and On”: This B-side to “Anytime, Anyplace” provided one of the best uses ever of an old Sly & the Family Stone sample.
“Moist”: This lush album track from “Damita Jo” is one of Jackson’s steamiest ballads ever.
“Special”: For every sexy ballad in Jackson’s catalog there is a sweet ballad, and this quiet triumph from “Velvet Rope” uplifts in all the right places.
“Lonely”: Lost amid a “Rhythm Nation” ballad suite that also included the more popular “Come Back to Me” and “Someday is Tonight,” this may have been the real find among the bunch.
“‘70s Love Groove” / “Twenty Fourplay”: “Twenty Fourplay,” a new track on her first hits compilation “Design of a Decade 1986 / 1996,” and “‘70s Love Groove,” a B-side to “Janet” single “You Want This,” had all the makings of being big on their own. Why weren’t these No. 1s?
“Fast Girls”: Jesse Johnson produced this early song from Jackson’s “Dream Street,” and his touch is all over this bouncy track.
“Skin Game Pt. 1” / “You Need Me”: If there was ever a Jackson song that screamed “Rhythm Nation” outtake, “You Need Me” is it. The same can be said of “Skin Game Pt. 1,” the funky, largely instrumental B-side to “Come Back to Me,” featuring Johnny Gill ad-libbing up a storm.
// Notes from the Road
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