“It’s a lot of hits, right?” said Janet Jackson after back-to-back melodies on the main stage of the Panorama Music Festival Saturday (July 28). As the first headliner for the down-on-its-luck festival (the first day was cut short due to disastrous thunder and lightning), Ms. Jackson beamed through the clouds as she taught festival performers how to really put on a show. Her hits span four decades with tunes from her classic albums Control, Rhythm Nation 1814, All For You, the underappreciated Damita Jo and many more.
We hadn’t hit the middle ground of Jackson’s set and I was already drowning in chart-topping singles. Mirroring her State of the World tour, Ms. Jackson pushed through her extensive catalog with songs that are just as old as those with their hands in the air. Before we dipped it low to funky jams like “Miss You Much,” “Control” and “Escapade,” the icon highlighted the ways of the world in the form of news snippets about race and political relations in the country.
As the names of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland and many more flashed over the stage screens, fans who donned vintage Janet tees had their fists raised in the air while aunties snapped photos of the stage. Between her proclamation were the painful facts about the rise of hate groups and school shootings in 2018. The state of the world is just as divisive as Janet’s early days, which was why she opened the show with “The Skin Game (Part 1),” a deep cut that explores the plights of the oppressed.
“We stan a legend who stars on time!” a friend of mine quipped as Janet jumped into “The Pleasure Principle.” The notion isn’t lost on me but my mind goes back to the 2001 HBO-televised All For You Tour where as a kid I assumed I would never see the singer in concert. Reality was enforced in the form of the love-soaked tune “Love Will Never Do (Without You),” as Janet joined her dancers in effortless choreography and pitch-perfect falsettos. The visual fest continued when the futuristic video to “Doesn’t Really Matter” played on the screen, as Jackson nailed the 18-year-old choreography on stage. As we floated to the second half of the show, fans were still grooving to Jackson’s masterful offering. There were awkward bits in between where some festival goers were unfamiliar with the lyrics to “All For You” and “Let’s Wait Awhile,” but the energy was high, allowing everyone to keep moving their feet.
As we toyed with sensual singles like “Anytime, Anyplace,” her collaborative Busta Rhymes tune “What’s It Gonna Be” and the J. Cole-assisted “No Sleeep,” we were met with a sleek outfit change by Jackson. Things got sentimental towards the end of the show as she performed “Scream” with the video playing behind the band. “I miss you– both of you,” she said after singing “Together Again” in honor of MJ and her father Joe Jackson.
“Yo, we’re watching Michael Jackson’s sister perform right now,” another friend of mine said earlier in the evening. As fate would have it, Janet stopped the show and looked off into the crowd with a queen-like gaze. It’s something only she and her brother can pull off–waves of applause and cheers for a matter of minutes. The blood moon was in our peripheral vision making the moment more meaningful by the second.
Festival performers have changed over the years (Arcade Fire was the Panorama headliner in 2016, Nine Inch Nails in 2017 along with Solange and Frank Ocean) but the thought of a legacy R&B-pop act like Jackson ruling the stage might’ve seemed too niche for some. Her set proved to be the opposite as the power of soul and R&B music commanded everyone’s hearts and vocal chords.
We were not only mystified by her presence, but also her dedication to her craft. In between the festival fumbles (like the delayed cancellation notice of Lil Wayne’s set) this moment seemed to be destined. The living legend did more than put on a show; she continued to inspire the next generation of what’s come in R&B, pop and beyond. Jackson, as always, was well worth the wait.