Sound Advice: Janet Jackson Brings Us Together Again

Jackson is performing in Cincinnati later this month.

Jun 12, 2024 at 2:53 pm
Janet Jackson performs at the Riverbend Music Center later this June.
Janet Jackson performs at the Riverbend Music Center later this June. Photo: Rich Esteban (CC by 4.0)

A quick glance at the setlists from Janet Jackson’s current tour, dubbed “Together Again,” reveals a show in four acts. The theme of each act is not exactly clear, as they feature songs from across her recorded history — hits like “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Miss You Much,” “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” and “Rhythm Nation,” alongside deeper cuts from a catalog rife with personality, glossy production and inventive beats of the day. It seems she is grouping them by vibe and personal relevance, which has long been Jackson’s modus operandi and not-so-secret weapon.

Janet Jackson has been in the public eye since before the original Star Wars infiltrated moviegoers’ minds. For the mathematically challenged or those unaware of George Lucas’ cultural juggernaut (which drags on to this day via myriad and seemingly unending spin-offs), that’s nearly a half-century ago. As the 10th and youngest child in the Jackson family, Janet’s emergence as a performer was inevitable — but success on her own was not. The now 58-year-old transcended her family’s history (both good and bad) to carve out her own distinctive life and career, at one point rivaling the ubiquity of her brother Michael. Village Voice critic Robert Christgau delivered this amusing and typically concise closing to his review of Janet, Jackson’s successful 1993 follow-up to the blockbuster one-two of 1986’s Control and 1989’s Rhythm Nation: “Better nose than Michael, better navel than Madonna, better sex than either.”

The Super Bowl thing was both overblown and a significant misstep, and she’s never been quite the same since. Yet the songs endure because of their depth of feeling and meaning for both her and her audience. In a rare interview with Allure a few years back, Jackson addressed the personal nature of her songs and their lasting impact: “Writing about your life, you never, never — at least I didn’t — think about looking decades ahead. You just write (about) what’s going on with you. At least I did.” 

Janet Jackson plays Riverbend Music Center on June 22 at 8 p.m. More info:

This story was published in CityBeat's June 12 issue.

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