On the title track of her new album, Unbreakable, Janet Jackson sings, “Truth is, I couldn’t be here without the love that I stand on.” On Sunday at Target Center, an evening that found the singer surprised and humbled by Mayor Betsy Hodges and sneak-attack guests Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis officially declaring November 1 Janet Jackson Day in Minneapolis, it was a sentiment that ended up being far more literal than originally intended.
“It’s so good to be home,” Janet said during one of the few moments she took a break from her relentless onslaught of hits to speak to her adoring crowd directly. After all, it was right here in Minneapolis that the baby of the Jackson clan found the strength and tools in her partnership with Jam and Lewis to create 1986's Control, the sweeping declarative statement of an album that birthed a stunning string of singles. It also laid the brickwork for a career every bit as formidable and influential as her older brother’s.
The wide-eyed Rhythm Nation followed, then greeted by the budding sensuality of Janet and the complex existentialism of The Velvet Rope. All four albums were produced right here. Minneapolis, why don’t we brag about this more?
Even if others don’t, Janet knows the importance of her geography, making sure that cry of “Minneapolis!” in “Escapade” carried to the nosebleeds. In fact, Janet’s clearly present sense of nostalgia was what informed the whole evening, especially with a set list that essentially took the form of “Ms. Jackson, This is Your Life!”
The amount of ground covered in less than two hours was, in a word, breathless. Nearly every single got its just due (with 1995’s “Runaway,” so fondly remembered with that globe-trotting music video, being the one glaring omission), creating an embarrassment of riches that was practically weaponized in its own efficiency.
“Nasty” bleeds into “Feedback,” quickly morphing into “Miss You Much” before combusting with the new jack swing ferocity of “Alright.” You’d be forgiven for complaining of whiplash, but Janet weaves these career touchstones together seamlessly, always keeping the audience on their toes with the promise of more hits and iconic dance routines to come. There’s time to reminisce, but you better not get stuck.
The second portion of the evening allowed Janet — dressed in a demure, skin-covering black leather and chiffon outfit that she rather disappointingly never changes out of — to slow things down. She chose a few choice ballads (“Again,” “Let’s Wait Awhile,” “Come Back to Me,” among others) before ratcheting up the tension with the night’s dizzying climax of “If,” “Scream,” and “Rhythm Nation,” the latter of which still inspires audience chants that rival the song’s famously militaristic choreography in their precision.
It would have been a perfect, triumphant moment to end on, but Unbreakable finds Janet returning to her socially conscious setting after more than a decade spent toiling in increasingly icky sex jams. The encore is new track, “Shoulda Known Better” which directly references the naiveté of her early work, ending on the line “I had this great epiphany / And Rhythm Nation was the dream / I guess I shoulda known better.”
While images of refugees and victims of war fill the screens, dancers are dressed in black hoodies, bringing to mind images of Trayvon Martin and recent victims of police brutality. It’s a tough lyric to hear; declaring itself in its quiet acceptance that the idealized vision of societal change of her youth actually bore no fruit. But it also contextualizes the entire nature of the night’s homecoming vibe — Janet finally has something to say again.
Unbreakable marks a return to form for the singer, and while most of the tour focuses on triumphs of the past, there’s the unspoken sense that the Janet we’re seeing on stage has gained some form of relaxed older sister wisdom and clarity in her seven-year absence. It’s great to have her back in Minneapolis, sure. But it’s even better to have the Janet who makes the kind of albums she did at the original Flyte Tyme Studios back, too.
Critic's bias: I'm a lifelong Janet fan who'd go as far to call 1998's The Velvet Rope an identity-shaping moment in my life. That said, I'd be the first to admit that minus a few stand out singles, 2000s Janet has been a shallow shell of her former self. When I say she's back, I mean it.
Random notebook dump: As it has in previous tours, the acid-house bacchanalia of "Throb" served as a showcase for solo freestyles from Janet's dancers, including two teenagers who thankfully weren't on board for her "Sexhibition" days.
Notes on an opener: Like Madonna last month, no official opener dared step up to the plate. Instead, we got a DJ limited to playing the handful of singles Janet didn't get to in her set. Warm reactions to Jackson 5 and Michael songs. An audible surge of noise was heard when slinky new track "Dammn Baby" came on. If it wasn't the next single choice already...
Miss You Much
You Want This
What Have You Done For Me Lately
The Pleasure Principle
When I Think of You
All For You
All Nite (Don't Stop)
Love Will Never Do (Without You)
After You Fall
Come Back to Me
Let's Wait Awhile
I Get Lonely
Any Time, Any Place (mixed with Kendrick Lamar's Poetic Justice)
Got Til It's Gone
That's The Way Love Goes
The Best Things in Life are Free
Shoulda Known Better