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Janet Jackson Finally Learns to Say 'I'

April 15, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN

BOSTON — The soft-spoken young woman responded quickly when asked what kind of person Janet Jackson was based solely on what she's read and heard about her.

"I'd think she was a girl who got where she was because she was a Jackson and that she had enough money to bring in all these hired guns to shape her music and image for her. I'd probably think, 'I could be doing the same thing if I had her money.' "

Janet Jackson then paused and stared across the hotel suite, reflecting on her own tough assessment of herself. Clearly, she is troubled by what she considers the perception of her as some sort of pop puppet.

Known for years as simply "Michael's little sister," Jackson, 23, was supposed to have graduated to a stronger identity in 1986 when her "Control" album sold 6 million copies worldwide and established her as one of the queens of dance pop.

But it didn't work out that way. Because her two earlier solo albums had been so forgettable, it was easy for outsiders to assume that the success of "Control" was due solely to Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the former Prince allies who produced the album and co-wrote most of its songs.

Jackson's image suffered another blow last year when Paula Abdul, who had choreographed some of the promotional videos for "Control," emerged as a star herself. The tempting assumption was that Abdul was the real talent--and that Jackson merely benefited in the videos from Abdul's extraordinary dance sense.

In a separate interview, Rene Elizondo, Jackson's boyfriend, gave his analysis of her image problem. "Anybody who has been around Janet for any period of time will tell you the same thing . . . that she is humble to the point of fault," he said.

"She will not take credit for the things she is responsible for. . . . She will always say, 'We did it' instead of 'I did it.' That's what we've been trying to point out to her. It's the way she was brought up. I've told her, 'Part of the perception people have is your fault because you won't tell them what you did.' "

Confronted with this in the interview, Jackson said, "It sounds so selfish to say I, I, I. But it bothers me that some people think someone gave me an image or told me what songs to sing or what clothes to wear. I'm not a robot. I want people to know that I'm real."

When I was 17, I did what people told me

Did what my father said

And let my mother mold me

But that was long ago . . .

Now, I'm in control.

--"Control," by James Harris III

Terry Lewis, Janet Jackson

The more than 15,000 fans in the sold-out Centrum arena in nearby Worcester, Mass., were on their feet cheering as Jackson opened the 17th show on her first-ever concert tour with "Control." The enthusiasm of the young audience continued through the nearly 90 minutes Jackson was on stage.

Tickets sold so well for the first Worcester date that a second was added. It too sold out. Additional dates had also been added in other cities, making the Jackson swing one of the hottest tours of the new year.

Her five Southern California dates--Friday and Saturday at the Forum in Inglewood, April 23 at the San Diego Sports Arena then back to the Forum on April 25, 26--have been sold out for weeks.

"To be honest, no one really knew how the tour would do because Janet had never toured," said Roger Davies, who has been managing the young singer since last fall. "She never toured during the 'Control' days despite the demand, so that built anticipation for this tour.

"But you never know exactly who's going to buy tickets on someone's first time out until you put them on sale. We're probably going to be on the road most of the year . . . Europe, Japan, more U.S. dates, maybe even Australia." The additional U.S. dates will include a return to Southern California in June.

If the box-office demand was hot from the beginning, reviews were initially cool. Writing about the tour opener in Miami, Rolling Stone magazine's Sheila Rogers said the singer "has a long way to go in making the leap from tape to live." The Boston Globe's Steve Morse was even harsher.

But the show has gained considerable strength since Miami. The tough-minded Village Voice praised Jackson's Madison Square Garden performance, and the Globe's Morse, reviewing the show again in Worcester, was impressed.

"Janet Jackson is getting her wings in a hurry. She floundered . . . a month ago in Miami where she seemed scared, defensive and downright lost. But she was a different person last night. . . . She loosened up, took control early and whipped the capacity crowd into a frenzy."

If Morse was surprised by Jackson's improvement, those who have worked with her since the "Control" period aren't.

"She's probably one of the hardest-working and most determined artists I've ever been around," said Diana Baron, executive director of publicity for A&M Records. "She has incredible strength and focus. She's willing to put in all the work to achieve her desired end. All this talk about her being a 'pop creation' couldn't be further from the truth."

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