Highs and Lows At Jordan Knight

In the minds of many Edmontonians, October 16, 2012 will long be remembered as being a “Beiber hangover”. For some people, however, it will be the night one of their childhood crushes became a lot less innocent.

But before I get to that, let’s talk about the highlight of the night. The part that touched my heart, and I assume also the hearts of the predominantly female audience. I’m talking about Jesse Labelle. If you’ve heard of him, it’s probably the single “Heartbreak Coverup” with Alyssa Reid.

Or hopefully, “Straight Line” which I mentioned in my preview of the concert. Jesse Labelle was all I hoped he’d be and a bit more. Walking onto the stage alone and performing an acoustic take on “Easier” from his first album, Jesse was unassuming and humble, taking time to connect with the audience – exactly the way I’d want to experience a musician whose repertoire includes a lot of songs about love.

Jesse really knew how to interact with the crowd. Sitting in the left section, row D, I felt like he was gazing into my eyes, although I know the stage lights make that impossible. But the illusion of doing that is what makes it work when he sings the words “you’re beautiful” to hundreds of women every night. The most surprising song of Jesse’s set though was “Won’t Let You Down”, which closes his latest album, Two, and closed his set. I wasn’t overly impressed with the version on the album, but in the concert, the song slowly swelled to an overwhelming sonic experience, reinforcing the emotion of the lyrics.

Then Jordan Knight came on.

What a difference from Jesse.

I was instantly made uncomfortable the way Knight presented himself. Knight spent the first minute or so of his set standing on the stage putting on various poses, interspersed with the slow, deliberate movements a Greek God or a muscle builder might use to switch between poses. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Here we are, having had conversations about the effects of objectification for decades and Jordan Knight is standing in front of an audience, showcasing himself as a sexual object rather than as a musician.

Then the music started, and I thought, “okay, great. That’s over and I can experience him as an artist and a musician.” Except I couldn’t. His set was so overwhelmingly focused on sex that I couldn’t pay attention to the music. I’m not saying that sexuality doesn’t belong in performance or that sex can’t be art. However, when someone is onstage humping the air, grabbing their crotch, singing songs about love and sex, telling the crowd to say, “I love you, Jor-dan”, and the women of the crowd are cat-calling “take your pants off” I, as an audience member, am no longer at simply a musical performance, and am instead at a performance using sex to convey Something.

However, that Something was never revealed to me – that’s the problem. The only message I received was that this man is a sexual object. Moreover, because the focus on Knight’s virility was only expressed by the performer himself and the other performance elements didn’t support that presentation, it actually fell flat in convincing me to accept Jordan as a sexual object. If sex is to be used as a performance element to convey a message, it needs to work in harmony with the other elements of the performance.

So many other groups and media have gotten it right – Madonna‘s use of sexuality speaks to me about freedom of expression. The scenes using sex in bare and Dog Sees God made me think about the pain that can be hidden behind or covered up with sex. Modern dance is focused on the body, but rather than objectifying themselves through their performance, dancers allow you to experience the beauty of what the human body can do. Burlesque performances through the years have evolved from critiquing and making popular plays more accessible to the public, to questioning mainstream media’s assumptions about what is “beautiful” or “sexy”, to making a stylistic decision to tell a story.

I know it sounds like I’m coming down on someone for doing what “everyone else” in the industry does – objectifying themselves for the audience. But, that’s sort of my point. I don’t need to see your skin to appreciate you as an artist. I don’t need to see it to buy your music, or tickets to your concert, or basically, to allow you to make a living off of the art you make. I just need you to make good music. If you can do that, then great – I will support you and the art you create.

And if you do want to show me your skin, do it in a way that appeals to me as more than someone who wants to be a consumer of your sexuality. If you want to use your sexuality to enhance your art, that’s great – do it in a way that creates meaning for me. Otherwise, I might as well have spent my night at the strip club.

– Jenna Marynowski

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There are 26 comments

  1. troy

    So …is it then the case that your desire for the ‘romantic’ product as put forth by Jesse is somehow superior to the ‘sexual’ product put forth by Jordan? And if so (or if not as well) why is one necessarily better than the other if they both gave their audience what they want?

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    1. jennamarynowski

      Hi Troy,

      Thanks for the comment – interesting perspective. I think in this case, it was more about how effectively each was presented. To me, Jesse’s music is about intimacy and romance – and I think that the production elements conveyed that. A simpler stage, more authentic interaction with the crowd, and an attitude that appeared more like a confession than a spectacle made the message that Jesse’s performance was sending much more effective in demonstrating what his music is about. That wasn’t the case with Jordan Knight’s performance because, at the end of the night, he didn’t end up being desirable to me – which, I assume, is the point of presenting yourself as a sexual object. So, to answer your question – it’s not about what’s being presented (romantic vs. sexual, as you say) so much as it’s about how well that presentation was made.

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      1. troy

        Right …but by saying Jordan wasn’t desirable to you, then obviously Jesse was …which, in effect, boils it down to a certain desirability of products: Jesse over Jordan. Your argument for the ‘effectiveness of presentation’, in my opinion, falls into a choice preference as well.

        I think, many years down the road, you’re going to eventually see Jesse’s performance for being as ineffective as Jordan’s. The routine/generic rhyming, predictable song forms, cliched and Disney-esq presentation will annoy you as much as Jordan’s sex-display annoys you now. My point though, is that NOW is what matters – and Jesse is now. Just as Jordan is now for many others. I won’t start in on the less obvious ‘sexuality’ presented by Jesse. Perhaps next time 🙂

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      2. jennamarynowski

        Hey Troy,

        A review, by its nature, is going to include some preference, for sure. The interesting part of reviewing any performance though, is you can’t go home, sit down and write “I liked/didn’t like that” and call it a night. You have to examine the reasons why you did or didn’t like it. I’ve actually written reviews of other performances that made me realize that while emotionally I didn’t like it, the way everything worked together gave me a positive impression of the show overall. That’s always a pleasant surprise, and definitely makes you question your own artistic preferences.

        After thinking about the effectiveness of each performance, and saying one was more effective than the other, I’m not concluding that Jesse was desirable to me. His presentation? Yes. Him as a person? To be honest, I’m not sure, that wasn’t the focus of that section of the article.

        To me, the performance elements were meant to create a more intimate atmosphere. That’s what I think Jesse’s performance was successful at. Was there an element of desirability there? Sure, but that wasn’t the main message those elements were sending to me.

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  2. Claudia

    First, of all, you obviously didn’t enjoy Jordan Knight’s set and yet you are entitled to your opinion. Though the fact remains, that clearly you were already anticipating Jesse’s performance, which you clearly state in the opening of the article. So, with that said, you were already blocked on the performance that in actuality was the whole reason of the show. Jordan is a great performer and although, yes, there was a lot of sexuality in his performance, THAT was NOT all there was. He also has a portion where he plays old melodies from his previous albums, on his key board. Obviously, you have never heard any of his other albums, cause if you had, your outlook would’ve been much different. You would have plainly seen and known that his music has evolved into this particular stage. He, like your precious Jesse, has always been the one known for the slow, romantic ballads, whether it is in his solo or NK’s career… And now he is at a place where he is trying to have that and the dance/club music that everyone likes. So, maybe you should have researched Jordan a bit more and then maybe you would have enjoyed his show more.

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    1. jennamarynowski

      Hey Claudia, Thanks for the response. You’re right in that I didn’t grow up listening to NKOTB or Jordan Knight’s solo music. While I did “do my homework” and listen to his music in the days leading up to the concert, I don’t think that one should be required to do that in order to enjoy a performance. How many people read the screenplay before attending a movie? Or read the stage play before attending a theatre performance? If a performance isn’t able to stand on it’s own, how can it be truly effective?

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  3. sherri

    Biggest thing here is this Jesse guy is building himself, younger ect. Jordan is there for is hard core fans, he knows them, they know him, its something that is hard to understand, when he is standing there”, if you stopped for a moment ui would have felt it…..

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    1. jennamarynowski

      Hey Sherri, great perspective on the performer’s different stages of their careers. Could you explain your comment about it being hard to understand when he is standing there a bit more?

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      1. sherri

        Basically put Jordan Knight is there to perform for his hard core fans, him standing there and doing his delibrate movements and how the hard core fans eat up is all part of it. no worries if your not a fan and if you were there and stopped being so judgmental if the performance you would have “felt” that feeling and really seen what Jordan Knight is all about….his fans. I would skip seeing Jordan Knight next time hes in town or rather maybe pick up his cd called “UNFINISHED” you might be surprised how soothing and great his voice is. With Jordan Knight fans and himself included out has always been

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      2. sherri

        With fans of Jordan Knight himself included (and nkotb as a whole) it has always gone beyond the music. You atre not a fan of Jordan Knight and that is all good but his success is undeniable.

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      3. Nicole

        I’m a long time fan and I find his standing there posing incredibly stupid. His stage show has evolved in a way I don’t like so I just don’t bother to see him live any more.

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    2. jennamarynowski

      Hey Sherri, thanks for the explanation. One of my core beliefs about performance – whether that’s theatre, dance, music, or anything else – is that everyone should be able to take something from it. As I responded to Claudia, I don’t think attending a performance requires that one should do their homework before attending in order to enjoy it. Would it help? Sure, but it can’t be a requirement (for the reasons I state in that comment). If Jordan Knight wants to limit his performance to only appealing to his hardcore fans (and assuming that the way he uses sexuality in his performance actually does appeal to them), that’s just a bad business move, as that ensures he’s selling his product to a shrinking (due to death, changing tastes, etc) – or at least stable – market (ie. how would one become a hardcore fan, if his performance only appeals to hardcore fans, not those just discovering him).

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      1. Nicole

        He’s spent his career only appealing to hardcore fans. I think that’s why he never crossed over into mainstream success.

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  4. jfkjdefkldsa

    Why did you come to the show for you should of went to church that night! you are the only one complaining i have loved jk for 25yrs and NKOTB they are the best and no one else had complaints but u!

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    1. Ana M. Osorio

      It is not that he isn’t sexy, sexual, or that he should not portray himself as a sexual object–that is his choice. But as an artist, that sexuality needs to add to his musical performance, not replace it. I wasn’t there, but after reading the review I can see what Jenna means when she says the show was more about sex than music. I do not think she meant music shouldn’t be sexual. If anyone went there to see him as a sexual object, then his performance was effective. But it is supposed to be a music concert right? So why not complain if he is not effective as an artist?
      I think you are confused between “I don’t like sexual shows” and “the show was too sexual.” I have to agree that when you go to a concert, you expect a music show, just as if you went to a strip club you probably wouldn’t care about the particular artistic talents of the performers.
      If I go to a strip club to see a sexual performance, and suddenly realize the performer has an amazing voice and I enjoy the act beyond the purpose of it (which is sexual in nature) then that is a nice surprise-that talent complements the show. But if I don’t get to see a sexual show because the performer is too concentrated on singing, dancing, or whatever else, then I would complain–after all, I am there expecting a sexual performance, not a musical performance. In that same way, if I go to a concert and I see little more than a sexual show that seems to undermine the musical aspect of the performance, then I will be disappointed and I would complain.

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  5. jen

    You close the article with a lot of mention of showing skin. Did I miss when Jordan shed his clothing? Assuming his Edmonton performance was the same show as the one I attended in Toronto and I’m pretty sure I’d have remembered if he showed a lot of skin as you state.

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    1. jennamarynowski

      Hey Jen, thanks for commenting. In the last two paragraphs I’m talking about the artistic industries as a whole and using my experience at the October 16 concert to reflect on those industries.

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  6. Brandy

    Basically it could all be summed up to…you’re just not a Jordan Knight fan. All those things you say you got out of Jesse’s performance, Jordan’s fans get the same out of his. He connects with his audience. These fans grew up with Jordan in a sense. He was their first “crush” and a lot of his songs helped them get through some tough times in their lives. Yes, his performance is sexual…and to 99.9% of the population, it sells. Jordan’s not a teeny bopper anymore, he’s a grown, well-established man. He puts on a show, that’s what he’s supposed to do…afterall, it is a performance. It’s like anything else, some people will like it, love it, or hate it. Afterall, this is your review and you’re stating your opinion. Just so sad that yours is much different than the rest of the female population. Sorry you had a bad experience, for whatever the reason may be. As I would have said 15 years ago, Jordan is “DA BOMB!” I AM a Jordan Knight fan.

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  7. Jennifer

    Being part of a group of fans who live (entertainment-wise) in the Jordan Knight World, I can say that we know enough about where he’s coming from and where he’s going to be able to blend the sexuality and the musicality of his performance. I can also understand that if you live outside the JK stratosphere, you might be taken aback by the combination of the two and how it’s presented ….. but only on certain songs. Did you happen to catch “Inside” or “One More Night” or his entire piano set? The whole show morphs back and forth between the overtly sexual and the subtly sensual and the beautifully emotional. It almost tells a story. This is my interpretation, but I invite you to look back at the show and consider it.

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  8. Kay

    I totally agree with your assessment of Jordan Knight. He’s a 40 year old still acting like a 17 year old. There is something very SAD about his need for approval.

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  9. Nicole

    I’m quite late but as I just found this article…I’m going to weigh in anyway.

    Jordan has always had a certain “kink” to his live shows starting in the first New Kids era, and he showed that kink again in his solo debut. However, in the new NKTOB era, and in his recent solo performances, I do agree that he is focusing more on being a sex object than as a performer. Jordan clearly enjoys presenting himself as a sex object, and he clearly gets a lot of gratification from the fans’ response. This has increased as he has gotten older. It’s part of the reason I have not bothered seen him live solo these past few years. I would be incredibly pissed to attend a show like described above. I last seen him in 1999, and he put on a real show, he didn’t play sex God like he does now. He also was a hell of a lot more mature than he is now.

    It’s always been irritating to me that Jordan squandered a lot of his talent by focusing so much on his image and feeding off the fan response. He’s clearly driven by the fans response to him, rather than being driven to be the best musician he can be. I’ve been very disappointed with him these past few years. All of the posturing and posing cloaks his own personality, I’m far more interested in the “real” Jordan, not the sex God, party boy image he puts out there. He’s 43 now, it’s time to grow up. Frankly, I’ll be glad when he’s too old to pull off his antics and has to cool it.

    I understand (to a degree) that when he’s on stage or in public, he plays the game and the fans play along; they fuel each other. I have always felt his fans see him more as a sex object and treat him as one. And he loves every minute of it. It’s disappointing on both ends.

    He has one of the most underrated voices in Pop music, and most certainly was one of the best dancers. (He does not get enough credit for his dancing ability!) He deserved to be a solo superstar but he squandered his opportunities. And he simply is not self-driven enough to lead his own career. Its why he never escaped from under he NKOTB shadow.

    Still, I like his music and I will support him. However, as the cliche goes, I do NOT ever want to get stuck in a elevator with him! Jordan Knight is my favorite New Kid – has been for 25 years – and I’d probably hate him if I ever met him. I’m not a squealing, fawning “take your shirt off!” kind of fan so he most likely wouldn’t like me anyway! xD

    I’d like to think I’m reading him wrong but he doesn’t give me anything else to go on!

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    1. jennamarynowski

      Hi Nicole,

      Thanks for your comment! It’s interesting to see your perspective on him, given both your history of him and knowledge of him as both a solo artist and with NKOTB.

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  10. megan

    Hi, I’m sorry to be so late in commenting but I am a fan of Jordan’s and would like to offer my perspective on your review.

    Aside from being an avid music fan I’m also a published writer of erotic romance as well as a women’s sex writer and activist; and as a proudly sensual woman I for one appreciate a male vocalist unafraid to incorporate blatant, seductive songs and dance moves into his act. Women, in comparison to men, have very little access to erotic entertainment; we don’t have a strip club on every corner and tons of erotic movies and magazines at our fingertips, and ever since the days of Elvis with his swiveling hips, Tom Jones, etc., many ladies have turned to music and musicians to entertain them in this manner–it doesn’t take away from the music, which is sexy and romantic to begin with, and is a healthy expression of female sexuality. It’s playful, teasing, nonviolent and nondegrading. Of course it’s a matter of personal taste–but personally I see nothing different between what Jordan offers his audience and what Madonna offers hers.

    Your review was well written and thought provoking–just wanted to offer a different view!

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