x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The many guises of Janet Jackson

Ahead of Janet Jackson's Abu Dhabi concert tomorrow, we look at the highlights of the superstar's lengthy career.

Janet Jackson plays at Yas Arena, Yas Island, tomorrow at 7pm. Tickets start at Dh265 from www.thinkflash.ae.
Janet Jackson plays at Yas Arena, Yas Island, tomorrow at 7pm. Tickets start at Dh265 from www.thinkflash.ae.

Musicians often dedicate tours “to all the fans”, but the pop megastar Janet Jackson actually means it. She even involved devotees in planning her latest touring schedule. Before announcing dates of her latest global trek, fans were encouraged to visit her website and suggest (or rather implore) the singer to set foot in their respective countries.

It turns out, she was in high demand in the UAE.

“I asked the fans to help me plan my tour,” she said. “They made their suggestions on my website and Abu Dhabi was one of the places they wanted me to perform.”

Since the first show in the Philippines in February, the tour has passed through Asia, crossed Europe, Canada and America before landing on Yas Island tomorrow night.

Jackson says she was personally thrilled by the reception so far, as the show arrives minus the big-budget sets and special effects, a hallmark of previous tours.

“It’s completely different,” she says. “This tour isn’t about special effects. It’s about the fans and me having a great time together. I have a few dancers as well... I think everyone knows I love to dance!”

In an email to The National, Jackson did not address the ongoing manslaughter trial of her late brother Michael’s doctor, Conrad Murray, that has been going on in California.

Due to the trial, Jackson’s family was divided on whether to attend a tribute concert for him in Cardiff, Wales on Saturday. Brothers Marlon, Tito and Jackie – three of the original Jackson 5 – and their sister La Toya went, as did Jackson’s mother Katherine and Michael’s children Prince Michael, 14, Paris, 13, and nine-year-old Prince Michael II, known as Blanket. Janet, along with her brothers Jermaine and Randy, did not.

As for Janet, the intimate theme of her current tour stems from the 2009 release of her latest compilation Number Ones. The double album contains a staggering 33 songs topping all manner of charts from pop, dance and R&B in countries from the US to Australia.

As with her other shows, tomorrow night’s performance tour will focus on those hits, ensuring both die-hard fans and casual music lovers will have a night to remember.

She says the idea for the low-key performance came from a charity gig in a small New York venue years ago.

“All I could think about when doing the show was that this was how I wanted to do my next tour,” she says. “It has been so much fun to perform for the fans in this way. I can see everyone’s face during the show... for the first time.” With more than 30 songs to choose from, we take a look at some of Jackson’s biggest hits throughout her career, showcasing an artist that has been at the musical forefront for more than two decades.

What Have You Done For Me Lately – Control (1986)

It took Jackson three albums before she finally cracked her first number one. The dance-driven lead single from her masterpieceControl washed away her plastic-pop friendly image of earlier albums with an authoritative performance. The song title also found a place in pop-culture as a question posed by indignant women to their lazy partners.

Control – Control (1986)

Not only did it cement Jackson as a bona fide star, it is also known for its brilliant cutting-edge production by the long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. You can understand why the song was buried as the fourth single, as its relentlessly uncommercial. The progressive production, the darting synths, thumping bass-line and the absence of chorus may have had studio bosses scratching their heads, but it received a huge response from the public and remains a club favourite.

Escapade – Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1990)

A case of one classic inspiring the other. Jackson’s original plan was to do a remake of Martha and the Vandellas’ Motown hitNowhere to Run. Instead she chose to perform a new song that retained Nowhere to Run’s summer vibe. Escapade topped the pop, R&B and dance charts in the US and remains one of Jackson’s favourite songs to play live. Since its release it has been performed in every tour and should delight UAE fans tomorrow night.

Black Cat – Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1990)

Perhaps she took her cues from the stadium rock that was successful in the early 1990s, but Jackson shows she can add some grit to her performance with this killer track. Those used to Jackson’s velvety tones on previous recordings were positively surprised by this rocker. Black Cat’s appeal also lies in the guitar riffs and solo supplied by Dave Barry, who went on to become the singer’s long-time touring guitarist.

The Best Things in Life Are Free – Mo’Money soundtrack (1992)

Why is it that mediocre films spawn great songs? Jackson’s much-loved collaboration with the R&B legend Luther Vandross from the forgettable comedy Mo’Money had its live circuit debut with this latest tour. Both singers are at the top of their game as they trade vocals over lush strings. The song topped the American R&B charts before being re-released again with a dance remix.

That’s The Way Love Goes – Janet (1993)

Always fond of mixing things up, Jackson jettisoned the up-tempo sounds of her previous album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, by releasing the more sensual follow-up Janet. The slow-burning lead single That’s the Way Love Goes remains her biggest hit, spending eight weeks at the top of the pop charts and earned her a second Grammy Award for Best R&B Song.

Scream – History by Michael Jackson (1995)

While not technically her release, something has to be said about Jackson’s superstar collaboration with her elder brother Michael. The duo teamed up to lambast the nitpicking tabloid press with this powerfully dense track mixing funk, rock and pop. The spacey black-and-white video clip also rose to the grand occasion: its US$7 million (Dh25.7m) budget making it one of the most expensive of all time.

Got Till It’s Gone – The Velvet Rope (1997)

Jackson may be known as a pop artist but she approaches many of her best tracks with a hip-hop attitude through her great use of samples. This time, she builds this neo-soul track on the back of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, only here it sounds more haunting among the washed-out keyboards and ebbing bass. The song also boasts a fine guest verse by rapper Q-Tip.

Doesn’t Really Matter – Nutty Professor II Soundtrack (2000)

This minor gem appeared at the same time Jackson started losing her sway on the charts. While it topped the charts, it signified the end of Jackson’s reign where she was calling the shots. While it’s a neat tune, Doesn’t Really Matter finds Janet vocally copying the likes of Destiny’s Child instead of the other way around.

Feedback– Discipline (2007)

A track for the clubs, which understandably reached number one in the American dance charts. Jackson fully embraces studio technology with robot-like vocals delivering sassy lyrics, showing the young ones that this diva wasn’t going to be left -behind.

Janet Jackson plays at Yas Arena, Yas Island, tomorrow at 7pm. Tickets start at Dh265 from www.thinkflash.ae.

* With files from AP