The controversial and enigmatic chanteuse lets us in
on the secrets behind her recent appearance (in fully functioning wardrobe)
at Heritage of Pride’s 18th Annual Pier Dance
by Matt Kalkhoff

Madonna   Britney   Cher   Whitney

Our favorite superstar divas sure have been pretty good to the gay community of late, haven’t they? Maybe even spoiled us. These days it’s not uncommon for any of the world’s biggest starlets to show up and give props to their queer fans wit ha surprise show at NYC venues as varied as Roxy, SBNY ? or even Tower Records (which becomes a gay venue when Madonna pops by). And it was, after all, the surprise performance by Mrs. Bobby Brown on Pier 54 during Gay Pride weekend in 1999 that raised the bar ? and expectations ? here in New York City when it came to special guest appearances at our annual Pride events. Ever since, rumors begin flying each year about who might perform at the Heritage of Pride’s annual Pier Dance long before Mother Nature permits the boys to frolic shirtless along Hudson River Park.

Speculation surged into overdrive this year, prompting many to believe Madonna might actually perform. She was ? coincidentally? ? in town that week in the midst of her Reinvention Tour. Or perhaps Britney would grace us with her presence? But that knee injury put a damper on that idea. Rounding out the short wish list of prospective contenders was Janet Jackson, the elusive artist whose name was often heard whispered the past two years as well. But this time, much to the delight of homos along the Hudson, one of those rumors became a reality.

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 27, Janet Damita Jo Jackson appeared on stage backed by a troupe of 10 dancers to perform two songs, her latest single “All Nite (Don’t Stop)” and the consummate elegy, “Together Again.” But, as Janet revealed during our phone interview last week, it almost didn’t happen.

“We were actually in rehearsals for [the BET] Awards show, and some thought that we shouldn’t do [the Pier Dance] because they thought we’d be too exhausted,” she said. “We flew in the night before, then jumped right on the plane [after the performance] and went back home. We had an 8:00 rehearsal for the show the next morning in L.A.”

But Janet was determined to finally make her long-awaited appearance at this year’s event. “It’s something that I wanted to do before, but unfortunately never got around to because of my schedule,” she explained, sounding truly sincere. “The gay community has been so incredibly supportive, and this was just my way of saying thank you. I’m so happy I finally got around to doing it.”

Ubiquitous DJ and producer Tony Moran ? who shared turntable duties with Saint legend Robbie Leslie at the event ? composed a special remix of “Together Again” from Jackson’s The Velvet Rope for the party. “That song’s very special to me,” Janet revealed. “I’ve lost a lot of friends to AIDS, and that song was written for them. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it. So many people ? gay, straight, whatever, it doesn’t matter ? come up to me, and they mention that song and how it has moved them and touched their lives. That’s what music is all about. If it doesn’t move you in some sort of way, to me, it doesn’t need to be played. It’s all about emotion.”

The conscientious songstress even got a little sentimental herself on stage during the song, apparently overwhelmed by the audience’s collective reaction. “What really moved me was to hear everybody singing it,” she expressed. “That’s what gives me chills. That’s love, and it shows how happy everyone was at that moment. Regardless of the troubles that might be in their lives ? if there are any worries in the world with them ? at that moment, it’s all forgotten and you’re just having a great time. Just to see the sea of faces ? [approximately 8,500 of them, no less] ? and everyone singing along was so fun for us.”

Of course, Janet knows a little something about fun, especially when velvet ropes and late night escapades are involved. Perhaps that explains why she enjoys the dance remixes of her songs so much. While some artists may prefer not to have their work altered, Janet fully embraces the revamping of her music, a process in which she takes great pride and is always personally involved.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of wonderful remixers,” she said. “I love hearing the remixes. The thing is, [the songs] don’t just get remixed and thrown out there. It’s something that, first of all, the artist is asked if they will permit it to happen. And then once that happens, I have to approve the actual mix. So you go to different DJs or producers and see what becomes of it. But yeah, I love that.”

And what better place to hear those fierce remixes in New York City than at SBNY, one of Janet’s favorite local hangouts? Unfortunately, she missed out on an opportunity to stop by the Chelsea hotspot on Saturday night when she cut her barhopping tour short to get some rest. “I took all the kids with me ? the dancers ? to Rocking Horse,” she recounted. “And then ? I can’t remember the name ? but we went to a hip-hop club I’d never been to. Then I went to bed because I had to get up at 8:00 the morning of the Pier Dance. But the kids went to Splash. I was bummed out because I didn’t know that they were going there.”

While record sales haven’t reached the astronomical levels (yet) of her previous efforts, Janet claimed she is quite pleased with the response she’s gotten from her latest album, Damita Jo. [The Virgin release was certified Platinum with more than a million units shipped as of June, 2004, according to] Concert plans have been pushed back for now, but Janet promises her fans that she will tour in support of the album early next year.

Any parting thoughts for her gay fans in New York City? “I feel like I’m being repetitive, but I truly do mean it ? thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys have always been so supportive through my career and it means so much to me.”

You can read more about Janet Jackson, including Super Bowl dish, politics, her love life and more in Matt Kalkhoff’s forthcoming interview in Genre magazine this fall.

© 2004 Matt Kalkhoff
This article in appeared in Next magazine, July 16, 2004