Last night, American Airlines Arena was a dangerous place to be. Explosions, fireballs, and the very real possibility of getting an enthusiastic elbow in the face were only some of the hazards present. Thankfully, they were all part of the grand musical pageant known as Janet Jackson’s Unbreakable World Tour.
On a rainy evening, the massive tour, which extends all the way through next summer, swept through Miami like a hurricane. The extensive set list, with a whopping 32 tracks, touched upon every major milestone of Jackson’s impressive career. Considering the show was conceived as a sort of appetizer to get us salivating for her upcoming record, Unbreakable, it was a happy surprise to hear every one of her chart-topping hits.
Perhaps more striking was the overall production quality of the entire affair. Jackson is one of pop’s original divas, in the most positive sense of the word. The atmospheric opening saw a film depicting a swarm of birds against a stormy background, projected onto three translucent hanging banners that stretched from ceiling to stage. These giant screens rose or dropped depending on the occasion and produced some very cool moments, including “duets” with Missy Elliott and J. Cole. Both rappers appear on the forthcoming record. The Missy track, “Burn It Up,” is a song Jackson’s been saving for live shows, and the sultry J. Cole number, “No Sleep,” is her current single.
The crowd was deafening from the start, outdone only by the fireworks and the thunderous music saturating the arena. Dressed in all white, Jackson stepped out alone but was soon joined by an army of dancers that hardly left her side the rest of the show. In fact, from the opening medley of hit songs, which she later performed each in full, to the final minutes of the concert,
Jackson time-traveled through her own career, comfortably reliving each era a few spectacular songs at a time. During her visit to the '80s, Jackson slipped into her Control and Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 groove, performing “Nasty," “When I Think of You,” “Miss You Much,” "Escapade,” and more. She segued effortlessly from hit to hit like a best-of collection made flesh. “Love Will Never Do Without You” found her on rotating stairs, the lights from the spacecraft overhead shifting with the mood. On “Again,” Jackson came out with a stool, a single spotlight, and a digital orchestra on either side of her, fictional musicians performing on imaginary stone ledges for a scene that could’ve been pulled straight from a Harry Potter film. She allowed the audience to sing the opening verse for what was a truly beautiful crowd-sourced sing-along.
For the second half of the concert, Jackson made a costume change, exchanging her white suit for a black doppelgänger. With the lights down low and her outfit suggesting something sexier, she brought out her slow jams, including the suggestive (but not very subtle) “Anytime, Anyplace,” with a guest appearance by Kendrick Lamar’s voice. It was a knowing nod to the Compton MC, who sampled the Jackson song for his own 2012 track, “Poetic Justice” (also the name of a 1993 film starring Jackson and Tupac Shakur).
Probably the most anticipated guest appearance was that of Jackson’s brother, the one and only Michael Jackson. And she didn’t disappoint.
It was a sequence that began with “Throb,” her dancers performing flips and spins throughout the sexually overt track, Jackson cracking the whip from atop the stairs. “Black Cat” and its harsh reds and blues were coupled with the stark ideas of what people in 1989 thought the future would look like. This led directly into “If,” punctuated by its volatile guitar riff and accentuated by billowing smoke machines. Miss Janet and her troop executed some classic Jackson dance moves before finally summoning the spirit of "The King of Pop" on “Scream.” It was only a vocal track, no hologram, but still — cue the goosebumps.
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Jackson didn’t directly address the crowd until the encore, wherein she introduced and thanked each member of her crew. It gave way to the sweetest moment of the night, when one of the last dancers named was revealed to be a hometown Miami girl. The crowd’s jubilant applause brought her to tears and brought the show to a touching end.
A Janet Jackson show is less about her singing, which of course was great, than it is about everything else. It’s more about the pomp and circumstance, the grandeur, the carefully choreographed dances, the spiraling lights, and Jackson’s hair blowing theatrically as she sashays like the badass she is, back and forth across the stage. At no time did Miss Janet ever allow even a second of boredom to creep in. She will entertain you, whether you like it or not (and undoubtedly, you will.)