By Daniela Capistrano
Despite canceling nine shows on her Rock Witchu Tour due to vestibular migraines, Janet was present and full of energy for her Saturday performance at Madison Square Garden. She left the packed house standing and cheering for more when she closed with her top-five hit "Runaway," but received mixed reactions throughout the night to tracks from her latest album, Discipline.
Although the LP is Janet's least successful album to date (as of September, record sales stood at 415,000 copies in the U.S.), the turnout at Madison Square Garden probably convinced Midtown onlookers otherwise. Hundreds of Janet fans of all ages and backgrounds spilled onto the streets, clutching merchandise and congregating outside the venue as if unwilling to leave, still glowing and chattering excitedly about the show they had just experienced. "Did you see her dancing the entire time?" shouted a middle-age mother to her group of friends, teenage daughters in tow. "It was flawless!" Other fans expressed similar sentiments. "Oh my God, that was hot," a male teen crowed to his similarly well-coiffed associates. “Janet is timeless, right?" Responses to the new album, however, were decidedly mixed. Words used by the crowd to describe her latest release ranged from "pretty good, but not great" to "disappointing."
Janet may have some work to do if she wants to remain relevant to existing fans and the latest generation of pop aficionados. A mother-and-daughter duo sitting in front of me seemed mixed in their judgment of the night's performance. The daughter was more interested in texting friends than watching Janet perform, rarely looking up as her mother swayed and sang along to old favorites. Even when Janet performed tracks from Discipline, the daughter was busy browsing her MySpace page, asking her mother mid-song, "Can we go yet?"
Even die-hard fans didn't seem committed to the new album. Although they stood through her hits from janet. and The Velvet Rope, most of the crowd sat down and conversed during her new singles, seemingly anxious for her to get back to the older songs.
Speaking with several long-term fans who have seen all of her tours, I realized that there's definitely nostalgia for Janet's past and a desire for her to grow as an artist. Tony,* a thirtysomething New Yorker, began following her tours as a teenager, normally attending five to 10 shows per outing. He admitted that this is the first show he has caught for Rock Witchu — he simply hasn't been that interested.
"It's just not the same any more," he explained. "Janet has always stuck with the same routine for all of her tours, but at least the music was hot. The music lately isn't that great anymore, and she doesn't mix anything up in her shows."
Tony caught a concert on Madonna's Hard Candy tour last month, and, despite acknowledging that Janet is still the better dancer, admitted that "Madonna is still hot because she is always changing — her sound, her look; it's never the same. If Janet wants to keep her fans and get new ones, she is going to have to step out of her box more. Discipline sounds just like her old stuff — but not as good. People are expecting more from artists nowadays, the old way of doing things is over."
*Name has been changed to protect anonymity