Essence magazine is celebrating two very special anniversaries this weekend in New Orleans. It’s been 40 years since the publication started and 16 years since they began what has become their Fourth of July holiday weekend staple: the Essence Music Festival.
This year, three of the biggest names in music — iconic figures, especially for the black community and women — are the headliners. Alicia Keys highlights the bill on Saturday, Mary J. Blige closes out the weekend on Sunday, and on Friday night, the 2010 Essence Fest was honored with pop-culture royalty. Janet Jackson brought the crowd in the New Orleans Superdome to their feet with an onslaught of timeless music from her globally cherished catalog.
With the lights out in the stadium, Janet’s voice was heard saying, “I hope you enjoy this as much as I do. … Are we ready? It’s all about control.”
With so many hits, Jackson chose to start off with “Pleasure Principle,” wearing a one-piece outfit with leotards underneath. “You might think I’m crazy, but I’m serious,” she began singing. Jackson’s set reminded you of how Mike Tyson used to pound his opponents back in the ’80s: graceful but extremely forceful with, of course, a first-round knockout.
Jackson started with everything you would imagine: more backup dancers than MC Hammer, seamless choreography, great lighting and the chart toppers. She exploded with “Control” and then “What Have You Done for Me Lately.”
“New Orleans, do you want more?” She asked. “Do you want this?”
“You Want This” followed. Then came “Alright,” with Jackson poppin’ and lockin’ with youthful ease. During “Miss You Much,” Jackson said, “I know you remember this one … New Orleans, I miss you.”
Jackson left the stage temporarily and the audience was taken for a stroll down memory lane through acting highlights. It started with a clip of “Good Times” in which J.J. Evans brought Penny home after she ran away. There was Janet in that memorable shot, a preteen with a bandage on her head.
“I’m sorry, Momma. I promise I won’t do it again,” the abused Penny said. Everyone knew what was coming next: that wretched iron.
From there, a clip from “Different Strokes” was shown, with Charlene, Arnold and Willis. Next up was the scene in “Poetic Justice” where her character meets Tupac’s Lucky and sexual tension ensues. The highlights ended with “Nutty Professor II” and the Tyler Perry “Why Did I Get Married?” movies.
Janet came back on the stage and sat down, wearing a gown … with spikes on the shoulders. She sang “Let It Go” and then thrilled the audience with sing-alongs “Come Back to Me” and “Let’s Wait a While.”
“This was my first number one, thanks to all of you,” she said during “When I Think of You.” And during “Got ‘Til It’s Gone,” Q-Tip appeared on the video screen, rapping his part.
Later in the show, Janet switched into a dominatrix outfit and led her leather-clad male dancers to the stage. The men crawled on their knees like dogs as Jackson donned a fur coat. Later she went into “Any Time, Any Place.”
During a breakdown, Janet took off her coat to reveal a flesh-colored catsuit. She brought up a male fan from the audience and he was promptly put in a harness that constrained his hands and feet. Jackson lay on the floor and the man was suspended, practically laying on top of her. She took his head and placed it in her bosom. Later, the positions were reversed, with the man laying on the floor and Jackson bouncing over him. She also grabbed his crotch at one point.
Jackson’s show ended with “Nasty Boys,” “Rhythm Nation” and, after another costume change, this one all white, “Together Again.”