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Dammit Janet!

Review of the week : Miles Keylock

There are several reasons why Janet Jackson’s Cape Town performance on her Velvet Rope Tour was the massive success it was. It’s been close on a decade since she emerged from brother Michael’s shadow and the Nineties has seen her constantly re(de)fining her musical and stage personae. In its staggering professionalism, the Velvet Rope tour bears witness to the success of such artistic endeavour as well as her status as the undoubted queen of R&B.

But far beyond the merely professional – her performance was riveting as entertainment in and of itself. While some in the audience who were expecting a purely R&B vibe might have felt that the more rocking moments in the show were possibly too overpowering musically, for the most part the crowd thrilled to the evening’s predominant sense of entertaining versatility.

Jackson is at the pinnacle of her career at the moment precisely because her music has a universal appeal that defies generic limitations. Her sound is at times both pop and rock, filtered always through a fundamentally R&B sensibility. It is this specific take on R&B that places her without peer in the genre.

The success of Jackson’s performance lies in her ability to playfully imbue the more obvious sexual dimensions of the R&B genre with a stylish sense of fun throughout. Sure, as a genre, R&B is unmistakably about sex. And yes, there was loads of sex on display during the show: from the ultra- dynamic choreography of her dancers to the consistently groove-heavy rhythms of her backing band. Significantly though, the appeal of Janet Jackson as a performer lies in the fact that the Velvet Rope as a show is about more than merely sex.

Refusing to dwell inside any overt fetishisation of the erotic potential of her material and choreography, Jackson comes across as sexy, rather than merely sexed up. A subtle point perhaps, but one that isn’t lost on her audience who go totally gaga when she leads an utterly awed, yet ecstatic young guy on stage, straps him into a chair and proceeds to titillate him with a velvet rope type of lapdance.

When she murmurs into the microphone: “I want you to do something for me that you haven’t done before – use your imagination,” the moment suggests that for Jackson -unlike say, Erotica-era Madonna – sexuality is an unconditional affirmation of fun-filled entertainment rather than any deviant expression of vulgarity.

While last year’s History tour by her brother, Michael was certainly far more of a pyrotechnical spectacle than her own Velvet Rope tour, it was unquestionably far less fascinating to its South African audience.

Without the pretentious trappings of any grandiose sound and light extravaganza, Jackson proved there is still no substitute for a blend of thorough professionalism and good, old fashioned sex appeal.

The sexiest news of the moment though, is that Michael is rumoured to be chilling out at Sun City and may even join Janet on stage for a joint number or two. Now that could be a thriller…

Janet Jackson plays live at Ellis Park Stadium on Saturday, November 21

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