With 160 million record sales under her belt, Jackson closing out the national RnBFridaysLive festival — following energetic sets from the likes of Jason DeRulo, 50 Cent and the Black Eyed Peas — seemed a no-brainer.
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And yet, since the festival’s first stop in Perth last week, punters have been fiercely divided.
The hardcore Janet fans have sung her praises — but others slammed her “low energy” performance, calling out blatant lip-synching and dubbing her set a “massive flop.”
There were even reports of mass audience walkouts, with disappointed ticketholders apparently bailing on Janet’s headlining set.
From the moment she stepped on stage at Sydney’s Giants Stadium on Saturday night, Janet was on fire. Perhaps she got wind of the bad reviews — or maybe she’s just been playing to a tough crowd.
The issue may be that Janet Jackson is something of an uncomfortable fit for RNBFridays, a festival focused squarely on R&B hits of the early noughties. So many punters came to hear radio staples like In Da Club, Thong Song and I Gotta Feeling — many of Janet’s most iconic songs are at least 20 years older.
Most of the twenty-something crowd weren’t even born by the time her chart fortunes started to dwindle in the late 90s.
So while she may have been a somewhat mismatched booking, Janet soon had the Sydney crowd on-side, cramming a mammoth 19 hit singles into her hour-long set (one album track, the 2004 gem R&B Junkie, also made the cut).
While her Australian visit had been billed as a 30th anniversary celebration of her groundbreaking 1989 album Rhythm Nation 1814, this was in fact a career-spanning set, encompassing crowd-pleasing classics (Together Again, Escapade), collaborations (What’s It Gonna Be, The Best Things In Life Are Free), and even her most recent single, the infectious Made For Now.
So, the big question: Does she lip synch? Yes, she does. But at 53 years old, she also dances her arse off, bringing to life the iconic Miss You Much video choreography, 30 years on. Energetic dance breaks in All For You and R hythm Nation also earned huge cheers.
She also sang noticably live throughout her set, and sounded in fine voice. Like most top-tier pop performers, she alternated between showcasing her dance and vocal skills, knowing fans will forgive occasional miming in the pursuit of a perfectly executed dance routine.
By the time she finished with the one-two punch of Scream (duetting with brother Michael on screen) and Rhythm Nation, the crowd had dwindled slightly — but those who stayed were cheering for more.
So there was no mass audience exodus — not from where this reviewer stood, at least. But perhaps if Janet returns to our shores, she’d be better off playing more intimate shows aimed directly to her fans, rather than to a massive crowd primed for the slick R&B hits of the mid-noughties.
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