Though she may be worried about the state of the world, the state of Janet Jackson is just fine, thanks.
The “Unbreakable” new mother, whose “State of the World” tour arrives at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Nov. 15, has a new attitude toward her life and her music, according to those in the superstar’s inner circle, and it is on display in her new show.
“She is an amazing space right now and killing it every night,” says her musical director Daniel Jones, calling from a tour stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I’ve been with her almost 10 years and I’ve never seen her this open.”
Jones says that after Jackson had to postpone her “Unbreakable” tour due to her pregnancy with son Eissa, now 10 months old, there was no doubt that she would return to the road as soon as she could. However, when it came time for Jackson to discuss her return with Jones and creative director Gil Duldulao, it was clear that she wanted to do something different.
“In the time we were away, so many things had happened in the world and had happened to her personally,” says Duldulao. “We wanted it to pick up on the issues that are happening right now and put it into the art.”
In the past year, Jackson, 51, gave birth to Eissa, separated from her husband of five years, billionaire Qatari businessman Wissam Al Mana, and filed for divorce. In recent weeks, the embarrassment of her “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show has returned to the headlines after the NFL decided to name Justin Timberlake the halftime show headliner for next year’s Super Bowl. Timberlake accidentally ripped off part of Jackson’s bra during their performance of “Rock Your Body,” briefly exposing Jackson’s breast on the broadcast, resulting in hundreds of thousands of complaints and a $550,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission that was eventually voided. Because of the incident, networks now have a five-second delay built into all live broadcasts.
The NFL’s choice of Timberlake touched off a social media campaign of #JusticeForJanet seeking to get her an apology and an invitation to be part of Timberlake’s show. Though the Jackson camp declined to comment on Timberlake and #JusticeForJanet, which sprung up after the tour began, it has never been her style to worry much about herself. “I didn’t break down about it,” Jackson told Oprah Winfrey in 2006. “I realized I was much stronger than I thought I was.”
Today, Jackson uses that strength as a rallying cry for those less fortunate than her throughout the “State of the World” tour — named for the song from her 1989 album “Rhythm Nation 1814” where she tells stories of desperate teen moms and bullied kids, as well as broader issues. The show, which draws on Jackson’s long-standing interest in social issues, opens with a montage of recent events — including images of white supremacist rallies, the Syrian civil war and starving children in Africa — and her song “The Knowledge,” where she declares that education is the primary way to “rid the children of prejudice and ignorance.”
“She was ahead of her time,” Duldulao says. “With ‘Rhythm Nation’ decades ago, she confronted a lot of social issues. . . . We are still confronted with the same issues. But for her, it’s all about love.”
Jones says that it was important to Jackson to offer some optimism, which is why she put her uplifting “New Agenda,” which features Roosevelt’s Chuck D, in the final act of the show. “She’s very aware of what’s going on in the world,” he says. “She was already here in 1986. She is still relevant now in the current climate of the world, but she wants to have an impact on it. She wants to provide some hope. She believes love and unity is the answer.”
With that as the tour’s purpose, Duldulao wanted to re-examine Jackson’s catalog to see how some of her older songs fit with her new ones. He played all of her songs for her and looked to see her reaction. “Janet doesn’t play her own music,” he says, laughing. “But I still play it.”
He saw Jackson smile when “Island Life” from her “Damita Jo” album came on. That made it into the show.
“You get used to songs being in a set list or in a certain section of the set list,” Duldulao says. “Me and Daniel would say, ‘How about this song?’ or ‘How about this flow?’ We would just try different things because Janet said, ‘If there was a time to try it, now is the time.’ ”
WHO Janet Jackson
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, Barclays Center, Brooklyn
INFO $69.50-$299; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com
THE JACKSON AGENDA
Though Janet Jackson isn’t really known for her activism, it stretches back to practically the start of her career — when she used to wear a key in her hoop earring to remind her to care for animals.
Here’s a look at some of Miss Jackson’s best political statements:
RHYTHM NATION (1989, “Rhythm Nation 1814”)
Once Jackson found her artistic voice with “Control,” she decided to use it to forge a more unified world, her rhythm nation. “With music by our side to break the color lines, let’s work together to improve our way of life,” she declares in the hit which reached No. 2 on the singles chart. “Join voices in protest to social injustice, a generation full of courage, come forth with me.”
NEW AGENDA (1993, “janet.”)
With help from Roosevelt’s Chuck D, Jackson both outlines injustice and a path to move forward. “Because of my gender, I’ve heard no too many times,” Jackson sings. “Because of my race, I’ve heard no too many times. But with every no, I grow in strength, that is why, African-American woman, I stand tall with pride.” The song’s sentiments were influential and ahead of their time. “When I did ‘New Agenda’ with Janet Jackson,” Chuck tweeted last year, “it was the ‘Lemonade’ of its day.”
BLACK EAGLE (2015, “Unbreakable”)
Jackson’s response to the string of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police pointed out the issue, but also sought to move beyond it. “I’m singing this love song to show my support to the beautiful people who have been ignored . . . invisible people they won’t let fit in,” she sings. “Let’s open our eyes to the true barriers — stereotypical things are the worst.”
— GLENN GAMBOA