A strange phenomenon has taken hold at Janet Jackson's concerts.
It happened throughout her 1998 tour, and it's happening again this summer, as the pop superstar travels the country promoting her spicy "All For You" album.
Early in the show, Jackson pauses from her rigorous dancing to greet the crowd. The audience returns the welcome by standing and applauding. And applauding. And applauding.
The extended cheer can last for minutes. Jackson, meanwhile, stands on stage, lights flashing off her cheeks and sometimes her tears. It's a surreal moment, the sort of colossal praise offering you'd expect to see if, say, John Lennon strolled out during an Oasis concert.
It certainly says something about Jackson's high status in the pop music world. But more than that, it says something about the unique bond she's forged with fans during a long career -- a career that has become increasingly coated in a rich lather of adoration and mystique.
Fans may feel a personal investment in Janet because she's allowed them to accompany her evolution from child to woman -- from cutie-pie Penny on "Good Times" and the sweet girlfriend on "Diff'rent Strokes" to the chubby chick working it out on the "Nasty" video. At the same time, she's maintained an impressive degree of what she has exalted in song as "Control" -- ruthlessly guarding her privacy and even managing to keep her marriage secret for a decade. It's an alluring combo.
Then there's the latest manifestation: her emergence as the scantily clad ringleader of a personal carnal carnival. "All for You" isn't just the sexiest of Jackson's seven albums, it's one of the sexiest albums ever from a mainstream music star. Dripping with lust, steaming with seduction, it's a declaration of wild abandonment from a 35-year-old woman who says she was emotionally lost during "The Velvet Rope" period of the late '90s.
The glossy stage production follows suit, complete with an S&M sequence involving a compliant audience member.
None of it seems to have fazed Jackson's longtime fans (though no doubt alert parents have kept the little 'uns at home this time). Jackson's followers trust her creative instincts -- after all, she's given them utter confidence that her public persona is a genuine reflection of her offstage self.
It doesn't hurt that Janet is viewed -- rightfully so -- as the redeeming star of the talent-rich Jackson family. The youngest of eight siblings, she has largely sidestepped the tabloid minefields that have derailed brother Michael and others. She has managed, without interruption, to deliver on the promise her family offered to black Americans so long ago, the notion of the Jacksons as a kind of untouchable American royalty.
And so hail Janet, queen of pop. If you plan to be at the Palace tonight or Tuesday, you can join the country's concert crowds and offer your appropriately royal salute in person.