Janet Jackson is not a trooper. The big double-page ad for her album-release publicity-blitz festivities that ran in last week’s Voice listed three events: a Good Morning America performance at the Nokia Theatre at 7 a.m., a signing at Best Buy at 6 p.m., and sandwiched in between the two an “‘Outdoor’ live performance” for TRL. I guess those quotation marks gave her some leeway. If you stood outside the MTV studios in the rain for an hour this afternoon, all you saw of Janet was a quick grin-and-wave at her huddled masses, in between the heavily choreographed indoor performances that you couldn’t hear at all. Maybe if it hadn’t rained today, Janet would’ve actually stepped outside as advertised. But foot-traffic is pretty thick on the ground outside those studios, and I can’t imagine where the station would’ve set up a stage even if weather had permitted; Times Square, after all, only shuts down when it’s New Years Eve or when Cameron Crowe has a megabudget mindfuck sci-fi movie to film. So maybe that was the plan all along: a quick screwjob wave to whatever fans actually showed up while Janet stayed safely insulated from her public. Of course, that screwjob would’ve been a lot more objectionable if at least half of Janet’s public wasn’t made up of Def Jam promotional interns.
Outside the MTV building, a police fence penned in everyone who had showed up to wave and scream for the cameras while a pair of interns ran around and enthusiastically asked passersby if they wanted free Janet posters. Once inside the pen, though, it became quickly clear that the interns weren’t just the ones handing out signs; they were the ones holding the signs. Most obvious: two kids in promotional Sum 41 backpacks hoisting a giant banner: We Heart Janet, painted across a bedspread. When I talked to those kids, they freely admitted to being Def Jam interns: “We get free pizza afterwards, so I guess it’s OK.” They also stood around making fun of the absurdity of their chore until the show actually got going. One kid: “Watch this be the one day my dad decides to watch TRL.” The other kid: “We should have a sign that says ‘The Super Bowl wasn’t your fault!'” I liked these kids. They looked miserable, but they had company. There were at least forty interns out there, all of them either handing out signs to actual fans or posing as fans themselves and holding up signs. And a whole lot of them had apparently put in some serious work making their homemade Janet signs. One of them, handing a poserboard-and-magic-marker sign to someone, asked if he could please not drop it because a lot of people had spent a lot of time making them. As for the actual fans who showed up, they were largely male and overwhelmingly gay. We also got the obligatory foreign tourists, and hearing them babble about Janet Jackson on their cell phones was almost as fun as hearing the cops supervising the pens hoot sarcastically.
When you’re a huge but fast-fading pop star whose career will probably never recover from a Super Bowl halftime boob slip a couple of years back, these are apparently your people: interns, gay dudes, and tourists. That grim little turnout didn’t say too many good things about the commercial prospects of Janet’s third straight attempted comeback, but it’s not like Janet did too much to earn her adulation. The giant LED screen across the street from the studios played her performance once it started, but nobody thought to pump any sound down to the people huddled on the sidewalk outside; the only music we heard came from the harmonica-tooting busker on the corner. And when the rain got heavier, a lot of those promotional placards became makeshift umbrellas, but the only people who left early were the interns. (Some of them, anyway. The banner guys kept the faith, at least until I left.) And so this afternoon’s pseudo-event became a testament to the unflagging dedication of gay dudes and tourists to sexed-up pop divas. Janet at least has that going for her: two slivers of her public will even put up with bullshit like that.
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