With over 40 years in the music industry (and 50 overall in the world of entertainment), how can one write a Janet Jackson concert review that hasn’t overstated her musical and cultural impact, universal appeal, and constant artistic evolution that brings out legions of old and new fans? It’s nearly impossible. But it speaks to an undeniable fact that was put on full display during her Together Again tour stop in Allentown, PA, Thursday night: Janet has made her own legacy outside the famous Jackson surname, and has absolutely nothing left to prove to anyone — including herself.
With Lil Kim filling in as the surprise guest opener in Ludacris’ place (who was in LA accepting his star placement on the Hollywood Walk of Fame), there was an air of Black feminism throughout the PPL Center where the show took place. As Kim ran through iconic hits like “Crush on You” and “No Time,” as well as an oddly-placed Jacksons tribute that found her performing to “Smooth Criminal,” mini Janet’s filled the arena dressed as different eras of the legendary artist. Whether they were in Velvet Rope era fits with ginger-red hair to match, or Black Rhythm Nation-esque fits, the fans were ready to experience Janet in all her forms.
Over the course of the two-hour, four-part show, Janet made a concentrated effort to touch on all of her albums (excluding her debut and sophomore albums), especially her fifth album, the ‘90s R&B magnum opus Janet, which turned 30 the same day as the show. But even with a setlist as diverse and ambitious as the one offered last night, it’s hard to accurately please both die-hard fans and the casual Janet listener. But it was clear from the very beginning that Janet wanted to tell a story about her legacy through the songs selected. Starting with the title track from her eighth studio album Damita Jo, she emerged on the stage wearing a purple cape and bedazzled gold bodysuit topped off with a royal purple bow.
From there, Janet continued to perform album deep cuts and lesser-known singles from 20 Y.O. and Damita Jo: “So Much Betta,” “Enjoy,” “Like You Don’t Love Me,” and “So Excited.” But there were the definitive classics, too: “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Doesn’t Really Matter,” and an epic Rhythm Nation 1814 set toward the end that included “Miss You Much,” “Alright,” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You).”
As a Gen Z Black woman, I’m fortunate enough to have witnessed many examples of Black women in music who have been the standard of what feminism (and womanism) means for this generation and generations before. And last night’s performance during the Together Again tour was a testament to how Janet has contributed to that standard. Throughout her career, Janet has been a blueprint for succeeding acts, as well as a reflection of Black womanhood and its complexities and versatility. The socially conscious standpoints of “The Knowledge,” “New Agenda,” and “Black Cat”; the sensual liberation and unabashed sexuality of “Nasty,” “I Get Lonely,” and “Let’s Wait Awhile”; and the carefree joy of “When I Think of You” or “Feedback.” All of these Janet Jackson songs articulate the multitudes Black women embody, and last night we were able to freely, safely, and unapologetically rejoice in those shared experiences together.
This Janet Jackson tour is an observance of her musical and cultural heritage that fans have been able to inherit and share with each other for 50 years. To offer most of your life and creative lineage with the world can be exhausting, but Janet and her fans have found a mutual safe haven in each other that’s so powerful. Last night showed that Janet has still got it, serving as our beloved sex symbol, superstar, and Queen of Pop that no one has come close to emulating.