The pop legend brings her exclusive city tour to St. Louis, and this time, its personal.
Decades after taking control of her career (defined by firing her manager-slash-father at age 19) and establishing a name for herself—free of family associations—the triple-threat with the soft, sexy, message-driven voice is still going strong.
A star who has long since been known for utilizing her celebrity as a platform for addressing big issues, her words have consistently packed punch. Early on, “Nasty” touched on sexual harassment; soon after, equality-charged “Rhythm Nation” stressed “pushing toward a world void of color lines.” She pledged her allegiance to brother Michael by singing on 1994’s “Scream” (his answer to sexual abuse allegations) and several tracks on her sixth album, “Velvet Rope,” were clearly written in support of the LGBT community. More recently, she spoke to those with low self-esteem in her first book. “True You: A Guide to Finding and Loving Yourself,” released early this year, chronicles her struggles with confidence and offers advice for those dealing with the same.
Today, on top of enjoying the success of her new book (which debuted at No. 1 on “The New York Times” bestseller list), she is basking in the afterglow of an eventful 2010, which included acting roles in “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (for which she wrote and sang the theme song) and “For Colored Girls,” as well as the release of her second greatest hits album, 35-track “Number Ones.” The corresponding tour, “Number Ones: Up Close and Personal,” is her largest to date.
One of pop music’s most celebrated and respected artists, she’s the still-evolving icon you likely know simply as Janet—Ms. Jackson, if you’re nasty. ALIVE got up close—and personal—with her just before her stop in St. Louis at the Fox Theatre on March 31.
ALIVE: Local fans felt so lucky that St. Louis was chosen as one of the 35 stops on your “Number Ones: Up Close and Personal Tour.” How did you select the cities for the tour?
Janet Jackson: This tour is a love affair between me and my fans. When I was in Europe last year, there were fans staying outside my hotel, and I would run into others when in the city. They would always ask me when I would be performing in certain cities. That gave me the idea to let the fans suggest cities I should visit. People voted on my website, they posted YouTube videos, they organized flash mobs; the response was incredible. That is why I chose to go to St. Louis, because of the fans. I want my fans there to know that I appreciate their submissions … I’m answering their call, which is why I chose “Call On Me” as the song that I am dedicating to St. Louis.
ALIVE: Why did you decide to keep the tour intimate with fewer cities and smaller venues?
JJ: The idea to do the tour so “up close and personal” came to me when I was performing a private date in New York. It was at Radio City Music Hall, and I had such a great time. I could see everyone in the audience, and I thought, “This is what I want to do for my next tour.” I just got back from the Asia leg of the tour, and it has been so much fun. So it’s really a thank-you to the fans who have supported me all these years.
ALIVE: Outside of many of your No. 1 songs, what can fans expect from this show?
JJ: This is going to be more low-key. This is about the fans—so there will be no pyrotechnics; just me and the fans having a good time. I’m singing as many of my number ones as I can, though if I sang them all, we would be there all night—not that I
ALIVE: I love that you are recognizing 20 young people under 20 in each of the cities you’re touring. How did this idea come about?
JJ: Everywhere you look, you see negative images. I wanted to recognize kids who are doing something positive in their communities. I will be picking them closer to the show so more kids have a chance to be nominated. I hope that parents, teachers, neighbors, anyone, will go to my website (janetjackson.com) and nominate kids they know. The kids who are selected, and the person that nominated them first, will be my guests at the show. I have been meeting some amazing kids—kids that are working to get the word out about HIV/AIDS, kids that are bringing dance and music to their communities, everything. They are so inspiring to me, and I look forward to meeting each of them backstage after the shows.
ALIVE: I pass a Blackglama billboard with your picture on it almost every day. Past faces of the company have included Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Bacall and Elizabeth Taylor. How did the campaign come to be, and why was it a fit for you?
JJ: I was so excited to be a part of this campaign. The designs are beautiful, and the team at Blackglama is incredible. And just look at what those women have accomplished—not just in their acting careers, but in the world. Elizabeth is a leader in the world of HIV/AIDS, she founded amFar; Audrey and what she was able to accomplish with UNICEF; Lena Horne and others like her made it possible for me to do what I do today. I am so happy to be among such amazing people.
ALIVE: Tell me about your own involvement with amFar.
JJ: I am really enjoying my work with amFar right now. It is making such a positive impact in the world of HIV/AIDS. I will be hosting their biggest fundraiser later this year in Cannes. It is important that we continue working toward a cure, and to let people know that there is no shame in having HIV/AIDS. The stigma that is associated with this disease is so damaging.
ALIVE: In addition to Blackglama fur, what do you like to wear?
JJ: I love so many designers. I am going to really miss Alexander McQueen, as he was such an amazing person and so talented. Haider Ackermann, Lanvin, I love Rick Owens, and of course, I can’t go anywhere without my Louboutins and Levis.
ALIVE: I know you started out as an actress. How would you compare music and acting in terms of where your passions currently lie?
JJ: Acting has always been my first love, and I’m excited I was able to get back to it (with roles in “Why Did I Get Married Too?” and “For Colored Girls”). I have never been good at multitasking, but I’m working on that now. I want to do more acting but don’t plan on putting my music on hold, either.
ALIVE: Why do you think that “Nothing,” the theme song you co-wrote for “Why Did I Get Married Too?,” resonated with so many fans?
JJ: “Nothing” is about the characters in the movie; I tried to write at least one verse for each couple. I think the fans can relate because, if you look at the characters, there is something in one—or, as in my case, many of them, that you can relate to. For me, [my character] Patricia always held things in; she helped other people with their problems while ignoring hers. In that way, music and movies are very similar; you relate to the story when you experience them, and that is what makes it powerful.
ALIVE: Tell me about your new book that released in February, “True You.” Why did you write it?
JJ: I wrote it especially for young kids. I hope they read “True You” and realize they are not alone and that they are perfect just the way they are. “True You” isn’t an autobiography, but there are anecdotes from my life. I thought it was important for me to share these memories so people see my journey and how I got to where I am today. It has been a long journey, but I am happy where I am.
Photo credit: Photography by Rocco Laspata