I'll never forget the first concert I ever saw at the Oakland Arena: Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation tour, which played for four consecutive nights in Oakland. The year was 1990, it was a family outing, and I, at age 14 and in possession of not one but two Dead Kennedys tapes, had already started to loudly condemn what I viewed as manufactured, pre-packaged pop music.
So you'd think I'd have joined those ripping apart the tour's biggest scandal. Despite its massive critical and commercial success, the 'Rhythm Nation' tour was dogged by accusations of lip-syncing. Janet Jackson, the critics asserted, couldn't possibly be dancing so furiously -- she was out of breath between each song -- and simultaneously singing so perfectly. Milli Vanilli, remember, were in the midst of a similar scandal, and Janet briefly became a punching bag for the music industry's move, post-Thriller, toward showmanship over talent.
My parents were disappointed about the lip-syncing, but strangely, I wasn't convinced it was such a betrayal. I still loved the show, and distinctly remember walking through the parking lot to our family station wagon in a daze; to this day I think of it as an induction. Into what, I'm not sure. I already knew that I prized authenticity, like all disillusioned 14-year-olds, but in 1990, for perhaps the first time, I found that I didn't mind a little inauthenticity too.
Which brings me to Rihanna and her Anti tour, which came to the Oakland Arena last Saturday -- almost 26 years to the day after Janet Jackson sold out four nights at the same venue. Rihanna's tour has been criticized for being "cold," which misses the allure of her brand of cool detachment, and for being derivative, wardrobe-wise, of Kanye's Yeezy Season 3 line (which, yeah, still looks like burlap sacks). But add to the pile: Rihanna isn't exactly singing through the entire show.
A lot has happened in the past 26 years, not the least of which is the public's growing acceptance for lip-syncing. Put 30,000 fans in a stadium these days, and they won't bat an eye that the star on stage might be using a backing track. When Rihanna blatantly lip-synced approximately one-eighth of "We Found Love" on Saturday night, and spent the other 87 percent of the song meandering around the microphone or simply standing there and letting her pre-recorded vocals play, did anyone run to the box office outside to demand their money back? In 2016? Of course not.