Dance pop queen Janet Jackson topical, vulnerable and relatable in flawlessly choreographed comeback

Photos by Andy Argyrakis

Without uttering a word, Janet Jackson said exactly what was on her mind when the words “we will not be silent, LGBTQ rights, peace not war, black lives matter, immigrants are welcome, equality and justice for all” scrolled across a silhouetted screen prior to her sudden entrance waving a walking stick and singing “The Knowledge” into a headset microphone. After all, this was the “State Of The World” Tour and Janet (“Miss Jackson if you’re nasty”) wasn’t going to let the opportunity go by without giving her take on current affairs.

And with the exception of possibly catching her brother Michael do the “Moonwalk,” the reaction to the “Rhythm Nation” choreography formation surely broke some sort of decibel record with a massive portion of the praise being directed at a flawless and unbelievably agile Janet Jackson.

Ironically, this post-baby and divorce comeback journey took its title from a deep cut on 1989’s monumental “Rhythm Nation” collection, though lines such as “drugs and crime spreadin’ on the streets/ people can’t find enough to eat/ now our kids can’t go out and play/ that’s the state of the world today” unfortunately rang just as true today. Yet even with so much to discuss since Jackson last came to the Allstate Arena (nine years to be exact), the 51-year-old singer, songwriter, dancer, actress and all-around entertainer never lost sight of the 160 million record-selling sounds that resulted in a sold out concert (including her immaculately-dressed 89-year-old father Joe Jackson proudly looking on from the soundboard).

At breakneck speed, she breezed through bits of at least a dozen major leaguers (“Miss You Much,” “Alright,” “Control,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “The Pleasure Principle,” “Escapade”), and while many would’ve probably preferred to hear them each in their entirety, no one could argue when the headliner remarked “so many hits you guys. We’re just getting started.” And believe it or not, that was the total truth as Jackson, her five-piece band, pair of background singers and fleet of dancers kept charging away “All For You” and “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” then simmered through “Twenty Foreplay” and another stretch of ballads (where her sweet vocals felt much more present than they did during speedier numbers).

Following a vibrant and celebratory take on “Together Again,” the mood turned serious when she went backstage to change and a video montage portrayed a rarely seen wounded side of the superstar, who at the end of the clip insisted “don’t ever let anyone try to control you, manipulate you or abuse you.” From there, she appeared in person to deliver the haunting “What About” as dancers coupled up and simulated physical assault in one of the most striking scenes to ever emerge in a pop performance, enhanced all the more by a simple but shocking admission from Jackson of “this is me.”

Nonetheless, that weight was quickly lifted as the rock n’ roll guitars kicked in for “If” and the entire cast traded cutting-edge steps to send a spine-chilling adrenaline rush throughout the wide-ranging audience. And with the exception of possibly catching her brother Michael do the “Moonwalk,” the reaction to the “Rhythm Nation” choreography formation surely broke some sort of decibel record with a massive portion of the praise being directed at a flawless and unbelievably agile Janet.

For her encore, Jackson fast-forwarded to her newest project “Unbreakable,” bookending the subdued by comparison segment with “Black Eagle” and “Well Traveled.” It served as a touching and intimate end to an otherwise Super Bowl-level spectacle, and given how much light she shined on social equality alongside sheer showmanship, perhaps now more than ever is the right time to shatter the double standard that has no problem handing her wardrobe malfunction partner Justin Timberlake the halftime slot and demand #JusticeForJanet.


Click here for more Janet Jackson photos from the Allstate Arena.

For additional information on Janet Jackson, visit JanetJackson.com.

Upcoming concert highlights at the Allstate Arena include Halsey (Nov. 19); Marc Anthony (Dec. 3); Barry Manilow: “A Very Barry Christmas” (Dec. 5); B96 Jingle Bash starring Taylor Swift, Backstreet Boys and more (Dec. 7); 103.5 KISS FM Chicago Jingle Ball starring The Chainsmokers, Demi Lovato and more (Dec. 13) and Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Dec. 28). For additional details, visit Rosemont.com/Allstate/, LiveNation.com and Ticketmaster.com.