Janet Jackson belted out the last bars of “Rhythm Nation” in the wee hours of Monday morning (July 9), bringing both her breathtaking concert and Essence Festival 2018 to a triumphant close. The Clinton-era pop icon had packed the Superdome from the floor to the ceiling, leaving little doubt that this year’s Essence would challenge all past attendance records.
In her characteristically breathy whisper, Jackson sang classics from “Skin Game” to “Nasty” to “That’s the Way Love Goes” to “Scream.” Dressed in a kicky black costume that combined elements of a Victorian gown with a football uniform, the 52-year-old proved that she’s still in command of the angular, athletic dance moves that inspired a generation of stars from Beyonce to Taylor Swift.
Whether sensually tossing her mane of bronzy hair, seductively straddling a chair, or Apache dancing with a male member of her troupe, Jackson demonstrated her well-known allure as if it were Super Bowl XXXVIII again, minus the wardrobe malfunction.
Through most of the show Jackson and her band poured out songs like an avalanche with hardly a breather in between. But somewhere near the center of the set, she brought things to a halt in order to pay tribute to her father Joe Jackson who had died just 12 days before. She said that grief had left her momentarily confused.
“I didn’t know how to move forward,” she said, “if I should cancel this festival or the entire tour?”
But, after consulting with one of her brothers, she concluded that her father, who was the hard-driving patriarch of a family that produced The Jackson 5 and superstar Michael Jackson as well as Janet, would have wanted the show to go on.
“My father was a great man, she said. “I think my father would have said, ‘Janet, please finish what you’ve started, and I will be there with you every step of the way in your heart.’ So here I am.”
If Jackson had decided otherwise, Essence certainly wouldn’t have been as successful. In fact, after the show a gentleman in the crowd exiting the Dome asked how the festival could ever find someone to match or top Jackson’s appeal.