Janet Jackson opens her 45-city tour, but ticket sales are sluggish

Janet Jackson sang and danced for more than two hours to a full house at Washington, D.C.’s MCI Center last night, the first stop on her 45-city U.S. tour. Still, many are asking, is Ms. Jackson in control? Few dates on the rest of her schedule are sold out, and her latest album, “The Velvet Rope,” is on the ropes: Although it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts last October, it dropped out of the Top 10 in just three short weeks. (The album has sold 2.1 million copies, about a third of the total for 1993’s “janet.”). EW music writer Tom Sinclair believes Jackson is in a mid-career slump — an affliction that has haunted the likes of Bruce Springsteen and U2. “No matter how solid their new music may be, time marches on,” Sinclair explains. “Old fans lose interest, and younger listeners tune into newer artists.”

John Norman, concert promoter for Jackson’s tour, acknowledges that tickets are still available for many future dates (3,000 tickets, or 25% of the total, remain, at $75 a pop for tomorrow’s Cleveland show). But he estimates that 95% of the concerts will sell out “once the word gets out about what an incredible show it is and that Usher is opening for her.” Jackson finishes her itinerary with two concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden on October 10 and 11, the second of which will be broadcast live on HBO. As for the possibility of Janet’s tour reinvigorating the sales of “Velvet Rope,” Sinclair says “it might juice album sales a bit, but probably not that much.”