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Chatting with Janet: Still setting trends, Ms. Jackson wants to Rock Witchu
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of Concert Livewire

With over 100 million albums sold and appearances in every facet of pop culture (from music to movies to television), Janet Jackson is amongst the most famous female entertainers of all time. Add in the fact that she’s been setting artistic trends since debuting over two decades ago, in turn yielding an extensive influence on younger artists of all affinities, and it’s no wonder why the superstar’s still earning headlines through today. The singer/songwriter/producer/dancer just released the club centered CD Discipline (Island/ Def Jam) featuring production contributions from the red hot likes of Rodney Jerkins, Jermaine Dupri, Ne-Yo, which is the basis for her first concert tour in seven years. Just prior to launching the expansive arena outing, Concert Livewire caught up with Janet (Ms. Jackson if you’re “Nasty”) on the phone during her Rock Witchu Tour teleconference where we scored an early scoop surrounding all aspects of the show, plus observations on several classic and current aspects of her legendary career. 

Give us a sense of what the show is going to be like overall.

Janet: It’s a completely different show. It’s very much so upbeat. It’s a dance show. A lot of the kids- the dancers- say it shouldn’t be called the Rock Witchu Tour but it should be called the History of Dance Tour. There’s a lot of dancing in it!

How are you going to mix up your old favorites with things from Discipline and what’s your sense of how well the audience will know the Discipline songs?

Janet: I don’t know. This show is for the fans. That’s the thing I have to stress. This show is for all my fans. It’s about 39 songs that we do. I think the mix is nice. There are definitely songs from Discipline. There are songs from all the albums, and once again, you know, it’s for the fans. A lot of the kids have told me what they’ve liked to hear. I’ve tried to do it as much as I possibly can and incorporate it into the show.

It’s interesting when you say they’ve told you what they’d like to hear. How do you find out about that?

Janet: I have a number- a call in number for fans- and they can leave a message. A lot of them I call and speak to directly or leave a message on their home phone. I’ve asked them to tell me what they’d like to hear, what they’d like to see, what they want, and being so dedicated and so loyal, they’ve told me what they’ve wanted. This is what I’m trying to give them, so hopefully they’ll be happy. Like I said, this show is for them. It’s for the fans.

What’s a typical day of rehearsals like for the Rock Witchu Tour?

Janet: A typical day- very long! Very, very long and a lot of work. It’s a lot of hard work putting a tour together and I don’t think people realize really how much goes into it and how much it can really take out of you. So you really have to have a passion for it and you have to have such a team of supporters. I’m very family oriented, so there’s that connection that has to be there first and that love and that common goal to get this done and get it right and make it the best you can possibly make it and to do your best and we’ve accomplished that. I have such a wonderful group of people and I’m so fortunate once again. Every tour that I’ve done it’s just gotten better and better- the group, all of us- and we’ve gotten closer and closer. I feel like I repeat myself each time, but this is the closest group I’ve ever had and it’s a lot of hard work. You get there in the morning, you stretch for an hour or workout and we get straight to work. We go over stuff that we need to go over. We’ll run the show, then we’ll get into hair and make-up and wardrobe and run a full show like an audience is there from front to back.

What is the best live show you’ve ever seen and who are your influences in terms of putting together your own stage shows?

Janet: The best live shows I would say have been watching my brothers grow up- The Jacksons- those shows when I was a teenager. Prince, The Time, Jill Scott…She put on such a beautiful show. I truly enjoyed it, so that was very inspirational to me. But the biggest inspiration for what I do when it comes to dance and really up music would have to be my brothers, Prince, The Time- stuff like that has really, really inspired me.

How did you and LL Cool link up to do dates together?

Janet: It was really mutual agreement. It’s something that I wanted and something that Live Nation wanted. He’s an icon in his own right- he’s legendary when it comes to what he does. He’s got a great body of work. He continues to do wonderful work…I wanted to work with someone that could also really entertain the people. I’ve always been very adamant when it comes to that and he’s an entertainer and he’s a sweet guy. That’s really important to me to…He’s a very nice guy, so I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for us for sure, but I think the fans are really going to enjoy the entire show because it’s about dance, it’s about forgetting about your troubles, your worries. It’s a really difficult time for everybody right now, the economy and all, it’s really about just getting out and having a good time.

How has your approach to touring changed since the last time you were planning a tour?

Janet: I don’t think my approach really has changed at all. It’s just about hard work. We know what the goal is and we know what it takes and we push and we push until we get there even if it’s beyond the hours that we would normally [work]. You have a show to put on. There’s a certain level of expectance from you and you have to get that done and be on point, so whatever that takes, that’s what you put into it…I don’t think it’s changed. I’ve always been a hard worker- that’s how I was raised. Everyone in my family’s like that and I don’t think I’ll ever be any different.

Do you have any plans for either a recording, taping or doing a DVD from this tour?

Janet: Yeah, we’ve been talking about it, which I don’t want to say too much, but we’ve been talking about maybe something for TV- also a DVD. There’s a possibility of maybe putting past stuff that I’ve done together and putting it on DVD- stuff that wasn’t previously released- just a nice package for the fans. They’ve been asking for it for so long and they truly deserve it. You know what’s so funny is I just find it so interesting with technology. When I did the Rhythm Nation Tour in Japan, I recorded the show for TV in HD back then [in 1990] and they were all trying to explain to me what HD was…So I’m assuming I was the first person at least for concerts to ever do this and then to see so many years later HD finally hit the market just really tripped me out. But how far ahead of the game they were with it all! But it’s stuff like that that no one’s ever seen. You know, we’re trying to put a nice package together for the fans.

How you hope this tour will open the door to yet another generation of younger audiences?

Janet: I think it will definitely open up a door for younger audiences. I know that it already has just like I told you with the call in number. There have been people that have been with me my entire career and they’ve told me that they now get kids that are 12, 14, 15 saying how big of fans they are, telling me the album that they know of and [that] their parents introduced them to albums before they were even born…[They’ve told me] they’ve never been to a concert, this is their first concert and they’re coming with their parents and how excited they are about it. It’s already opened up a door and I think it will open up an even bigger door because those parents are going to wind up taking their children to see this show.

You’ve always been a trendsetter, but at this point, how obligated do you feel to keep up with current pop trends and balancing that with the kind of music you want to make?

Janet: I don’t think the word keep up is correct. You do your thing. I’ve already been there. I’ve already done all of that. It’s not a matter of keeping up and I hope that doesn’t sound cocky because I don’t mean that to sound cocky by any means. It’s not a matter of trying to keep up with the current trends, it’s about doing what you do, being you, not trying to change because this is going on or that’s going on. And of course, you’re going to evolve just doing what you love and that’s what I’ve always stuck to and that’s what I will always stick to…My music has changed. It will continue to evolve.

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