Contrary to popular belief, I like Janet. A lot. Of course, my loyalties lie with the thinking man's Jackson (ie. La Toya) but for most of the '90s her less attractive sister ranked as one of my favourite divas - right alongside Kylie, Whitney and Mariah. That admiration began to fade with the release of "All For You" and was pretty much gone by 2004's horrendous "Damita Jo" but time has not wearied the brilliance of albums like "Rhythm Nation 1814" and "Janet". The reason why I'm mentioning this is to communicate the fact that I'm not a rabid hater who went along to a very expensive concert just to trash it. I was looking forward to seeing Jan strut her stuff and enjoyed the show immensely. But there's no denying it was a sub-standard affair that painfully demonstrated just how awkwardly the '90s hitmaker fits into a Lady Gaga run world.
Let me explain. I felt much the same about seeing Whitney Houston in concert last year. While Nippy was a hot mess for very different reasons, they both struck me as legendary relics struggling to find their place in the new world order. That's not to say their fans didn't lap up each and every second or that newcomers can't appreciate their contribution to popular culture but, to be blunt, they just don't cut it anymore. I've seen better shows at RSL clubs than the spectacle (or lack thereof) that Janet put on last night. Before the Janatics bring out their voodoo dolls, I know the show is intended to be "up close and personal" - AKA "cheap and scaled back". And that would have been fine for a powerhouse vocalist but seeing a once legendary entertainer out of shape, failing to pull off simple dance moves and wearing the one outfit for the entire show was just depressing. By the end of the night she even had a triangular patch of vagina sweat on her jeans. Not pretty!
Even if you dismiss Number Ones as a lame, half-arsed tour she brought to Australia to pass the time until launching an all-conquering comeback, I still don't know how she'll fare. Lady Gaga and Beyoncé have upped the live ante by singing (well) and dancing like banshees. Rihanna and Katy Perry hide their vocal shortcomings with pyrotechnics and pomp. But miming along to a backing track, while dancing badly just won't cut it anymore unless you're Britney Spears. Janet is the Commodore 64 of pop but like that outdated and now obsolete computer, she is not without charm and managed to deliver a fun and entertaining show - largely on the strength of her killer back catalogue and general sweetness.
After playing "Runaway" on a big screen as a tribute to Sydney, Janet was greeted by a standing ovation from frenzied fans. She looked a bit dowdy in ill-fitting jeans and a white jacket but her face hasn't changed a bit since her hey day and she did a good job performing "The Pleasure Principle" - even though a large portion of the crowd obviously didn't know the words. The stage was completely bare apart from the band and dancers, which looked odd in a venue like the Opera House. I was hoping for some props or even a smoke machine to make it seem less bleak. They never came. But when you're hearing a childhood hero belt out "What Have You Done For Me Lately?" you soon forget about staging. I was almost as happy to hear "Feedback" live. It was sloppy and the first indication that the choreography wasn't quite up to scratch but I'm glad she didn't ignore "Discipline", which I actually think is quite an underrated album. The hits followed with anthems like "Miss You Much" and "Nasty", before Jan made a hasty exit.
During the first mini-break, the diva treated us to highlights from her acting career including a disturbing clip of her being abused on Good Times and the infamous punanie scene from Poetic Justice. It was odd and quite disconcerting. She returned to the stage, in the same sweat-stained clothes and knocked out a bunch of ballads including the still gorgeous "Again". She might have even sang a few notes over the backing tape on that one. Another break followed, accompanied by the tackiest screen projection I have ever seen at a concert. I'm convinced Janet made it herself using Windows Movie Maker. She returned after what felt like an eternity to sing "Escapade" - one of my all-time faves - followed by what is probably my favourite Miss Jackson tune, "Love Will Never Do (Without You)". It was a potent reminder of how impeccable her early material was. Less impressive was her lazy rendition of "When I Think Of You" but "Runaway" got a great reception as did "That's The Way Love Goes" - Janet's only Australian number one hit.
Seeing the diva perform "If" was a highlight for me (love it) but her version of "Scream" got a better reception from the audience. It was eerie seeing Michael on the big screen and Jan seemed to put in more effort for her murdered brother. La Toya would have been proud! She closed the show with "Rhythm Nation" but returned shortly thereafter to mime another of my favourites, "Together Again", while the screen showed old photos of Michael and Janet. The still amazing "All For You" then ended the pop icon's first Sydney show in almost 13 years. I'm sure Jan would have scoffed if you told her in 1998 that her next Australian tour would have involved one costume and a handful of tiny venues but I really enjoyed myself and her fans seemed happy. And while I left with the impression that she can't quite cut it anymore, I'm hoping she'll prove me wrong. Excuse me now while I go and listen to "Janet" for the third time today.