The Velvet Rope

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The Velvet Rope
Studio album by Janet Jackson
Released October 7, 1997
Recorded January–July 1997
at Flyte Tyme Studios
(Edina, Minnesota)
Genre
Length 75:23 (Standard edition)
78:50 (Bonus track edition)
Label Virgin
Producer Janet Jackson, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, René Elizondo, Jr.
Janet Jackson chronology
Janet
(1993)
The Velvet Rope
(1997)
All for You
(2001)
Singles from The Velvet Rope
  1. "Got 'til It's Gone"
    Released: September 22, 1997
  2. "Together Again"
    Released: December 2, 1997
  3. "I Get Lonely"
    Released: February 26, 1998
  4. "Go Deep"
    Released: June 15, 1998
  5. "You"
    Released: September 3, 1998
  6. "Every Time"
    Released: November 17, 1998

The Velvet Rope is the sixth studio album by American recording artist Janet Jackson, released October 7, 1997 by Virgin Records. Prior to its debut, Jackson had been at the center of a second high-profile bidding war over her recording contract. Following the release of her first greatest hits compilation Design of a Decade 1986/1996 in 1995, her contract with Virgin allotted her the option to leave the label. The Walt Disney Company attempted to sign her jointly with PolyGram, while Virgin sought to renegotiate her contract in order to retain her. Virgin was able to succeed in their negotiations, with Jackson receiving a historic $80 million contract, making her the world's highest paid musical act for the second time in her career.

Struggling with a long-term case of depression, she developed the record as a concept album, with introspection as its theme. Its title, The Velvet Rope, is an allusion to an individual's need to feel special, as well as a metaphor for emotional boundaries. Lyrically, she offers her audience the opportunity to cross her own velvet rope, exploring her feelings of despondency through the course of the album. Although she introduced sexuality into her music with her 1993 studio album Janet, The Velvet Rope takes the concept a step further, encompassing sadomasochism and same-sex relationships, as well as addressing social issues such as homophobia and domestic violence. Musically, the album is minor example of trip hop, blending hip hop and electronic music, with the artist's conventional use of contemporary R&B and rap. Jackson's compositions were a result of her collaborations with her record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and her then-husband René Elizondo, Jr.; she authored all lyrics with Elizondo, Jr., and co-wrote all vocal and rhythmic arrangements with Jam and Lewis, receiving additional contributions from several other songwriters. Jackson and Elizondo, Jr. served as executive producers. Other artists who contributed to the project include British violinist Vanessa-Mae, rapper Q-Tip, and Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, who personally gave Jackson permission to sample her 1970 single "Big Yellow Taxi".[1] Referred to as a masterpiece, The Velvet Rope has been the subject of critical acclaim for its lyrical depth, emotional vulnerability, and mature sound. It is listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

The Velvet Rope debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, becoming Jackson's fourth consecutive album to top the chart. It also peaked within the top five positions of the majority of the charts it entered, including the UK, Australia, and Canada. Although considered to be a commercial disappointment in the U.S in comparison to the Janet record, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified The Velvet Rope triple platinum, with worldwide sales exceeding ten million copies. Releasing six singles released from the album, "Together Again" became Jackson's most successful, selling an estimated six million copies and becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time worldwide. It topped the Billboard Hot 100, and peaked within the top five of the majority of the singles charts around the globe. Additionally, "I Get Lonely" became her eighteenth consecutive top ten hit on the Hot 100, setting a record for her as the only female artist to achieve that feat, surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.[2] She received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "I Get Lonely" and won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video for "Got 'til It's Gone". To further promote the album, Jackson embarked on The Velvet Rope World Tour, receiving praise for her theatricality and vocal performance.

Development[edit]

A lot of it is about pain. I don't know if it's something we developed as a family, but I developed this way. If I was ever in any kind of pain, I'd find a way to brush it aside. Eventually it caught up to me. Actually, I should say the album took twenty-six and a half years to record, because there's one incident I won't go into that happened to me as a kid.

Janet Jackson, Vibe, 1997

During 1996, Jackson was subject to an industry bidding war after her contract with Virgin Records expired in 1995. Interested parties included The Walt Disney Company, Sony Music and Time Warner, although according to Los Angeles Times, they dropped out to protect profits. Eventually, Jackson renewed a contract with Virgin, which would produce four studio albums and a greatest hits compilation; the deal, worth $80 million, was reportedly the largest sum paid for a recording contract in history.[3]

Janet returned to the studio in January 1997 and embarked on a six and a half month recording process—twice as long as her previous albums.[4] The album was produced by long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and then-husband René Elizondo, Jr.[5] Although when making previous albums Jam and Lewis would make songs which Jackson would write for, the process was reversed, with Jam and Lewis fitting their production to Jackson's lyrics. Jackson explained that commercial success was a secondary consideration and she felt she had to write in order for people to know what had happened in her life.[6] When using a sample of Joni Mitchell's 1970 single "Big Yellow Taxi", Jackson personally telephoned Mitchell explaining she was a fan of Mitchell's work and requested to sample it, to which Mitchell agreed.[7] Recording finished in July and the album was mixed and mastered into September 1997. Janet titled the album The Velvet Rope as a dual metaphor for the desire to feel special and for the way we keep our feelings from others. In an interview for Jet Jackson commented, "We've all driven by premiers and nightclubs and seen the rope separating those who can enter and those who can't...Well there is also a velvet rope we have inside us, keeping others from knowing our feelings. In The Velvet Rope I'm trying to expose and explore those feelings. I'm inviting you inside my velvet rope". When considering this in the context of her life, Jackson felt she had spent different parts of her life on either side of the "rope", particularly during her childhood when she felt most misunderstood.[5]

From 1995, Jackson had suffered depression. In an interview for MTV, she discussed how the depression had made her frequently sad and meant she had to take breaks from her music career. She felt this was heightened by her estrangement from the rest of the Jackson family.[4] Jimmy Jam was aware of Jackson's depression during the writing of the album, noticing how she would spontaneously cancel recording sessions, appearing constantly troubled.[6] Jackson described The Velvet Rope as her most personal album:[5] the result of pain and a project that took thirty-one years—her age at the time of recording—to create.[7]

Composition[edit]

"Together Again" is an homage to loved ones Jackson has lost to AIDS as well as AIDS victims and their families worldwide. Jackson was reportedly inspired to write the song from her own personal experience, as well as a piece of fan-mail she received from a young boy in England who had lost his father.[8] According to Jimmy Jam, "it had a deep meaning for her because it was about a friend she lost to AIDS, but as with all her songs, she tries to make them apply in a general sense to anybody. The idea was to make it a joyous song musically".[9] The arrangement of the song was constructed in 30 minutes by Jam, Lewis and Jackson while in the recording studio.[9] Once the melody was in place, Jackson finished writing the lyrics to the song.[9] Jam and Lewis produced two versions of the song; the original dance version, the "Deep Remix" which is a R&B hip hop version and the "Deeper Remix" which is a R&B/soul re-make. The dance version was inspired by Donna Summer's "Last Dance".[9] Despite very sexual and explicit lyrics on a majority of the album's tracks, the album was never issued with a Parental Advisory warning. On iTunes, the album is tagged as Explicit and has a parental advisory warning, however, no clean version is offered.

Release and promotion[edit]

Singles[edit]

"Got 'til It's Gone" was released as an international single and received radio airplay in the United States, but was not released as a commercial single within the country. The single peaked at number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay and at number 3 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.[10][11]

"Together Again" peaked at number one of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and at number eight on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks.[12] The single entered the Hot 100 on December 20, 1997, peaking at number one on January 31, 1998 and topped the chart for two weeks.[8] "Together Again" spent a record 46 weeks on the Hot 100 singles chart.[8] On January 9, 1998, "Together Again" received gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.[13] "Together Again" also became one of the best-selling singles of all time worldwide and is her biggest selling single to date.

"Go Deep", like "Got 'til It's Gone" was released as an international single but was not commercially available in the United States. The song received radio airplay and peaked at number 28 on the Hot 100 Airplay and number 11 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.[14][15]

"I Get Lonely" peaked at number three on the Hot 100 singles chart and at number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks.[12] On June 30, 1998, the single was certified gold by the RIAA.[16] "I Get Lonely" became her eighteenth consecutive top ten hit on the Hot 100, setting a record for her as the only female artist to achieve that feat, surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.[2] It also received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

"You" was released as the album's fifth single in September 1998. Although the single received a promo release in the United Kingdom, it was ineligible to chart.

The ballad "Every Time" was released as the album's sixth and final single in late 1998. The song was relatively a commercial failure in many countries. It failed to enter the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S.

The Velvet Rope Tour[edit]

D'Shawn Tyree Elliott of The Independent described Jackson's concert at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre in Glasgow June 3, 1998 as "enormous theatrical extravaganza".[17] As with all of her live performances, Jackson was accompanied by a dance troupe, elaborate costumes, pyrotechnics and mobile video screens.[17]

Janet's concerts are the pop equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, with all the explosions, special effects, ersatz sentimentality, gratuitous cleavage and emphasis on spectacle over coherence that the term implies. You want thrills and chills? Howabout that creepy routine that went with "You", in which the dancers wore masks on the front and back of their heads? You want titillation? On "Ropeburn", Janet made one fan's fondest dream and worst nightmare come true at the same time. He was plucked from the audience and strapped to a chair so that a semi-clad, pole-dancing Janet could give him a close-up of her Wonderbra. The nightmare? The entire audience was given a close-up of his anguished, ecstatic face on the screens.[17]

—Nicholas Barber, The Independent

Jackson chose "Together Again" for the finale of her tour's concert line up because of the energy it generated with the audience.[9] Jam stated, "[o]pening night... when she hit the very first notes, the whole crowd started singing and practically drowned her out... Everyone can relate to someone in their life passing away or feeling like they want to be together again with somebody."[9]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 2.5/5 stars[18]
Robert Christgau A–[19]
Entertainment Weekly A[20]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars[21]
The New York Times (positive)[22]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[23]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[24]
The Village Voice (positive)[25]
USA Today 4/4 stars[26]

The Velvet Rope received acclaim from critics. J. D. Considine of Entertainment Weekly found Jam & Lewis' arrangements as a particular highlight of the album, aiding the emotion core of the songs. He identified the material as far more sexual than 1986's Control, but found the most pervasive theme to be love.[20] Slant Magazine concluded that The Velvet Rope "is a richly dark masterwork that illustrates that, amid the whips and chains, there is nothing sexier than emotional nakedness."[24] Describing her love songs as clichéd, Robert Christgau found the songs that concerned sex the most interesting—seeing these as particularly motivated by pleasure, rather than power.[19] Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote that the music was the most ambitious he had heard from Jackson thus far. He particularly appreciated how Jackson deployed her small voice shrewdly, such as the growls in "You" and breathiness on "Go Deep".[22] Ernest Hardy for Rolling Stone identified the first half of the album as interesting for its music and frank discussion of sexuality, describing the second half as marred by balladry.[23] Los Angeles Times saw the album as a continuation from janet (1993) for its themes, also concurring with Pareles of The New York Times in that her soft voice was a significant asset, adding minimalism to the material.[21] Vince Aletti of The Village Voice saw the album marked by anger from "obsessive, isolating control", praising the songs about sex and the album's orchestration.[25] USA Today praised Jackson's much stronger voice and experimental nature, particularly for using "edgier beats and rawer emotions".[26] Allmusic viewed the album less favorably, describing the interludes and album as too long and as a consequence, the best moments as shrouded.[18]

Commercial reception[edit]

The Velvet Rope debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, and at number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, selling 202,000 copies in its first week.[27][28] In its second week, U.S. sales fell by 39%, and the album fell to number 2, being replaced by LeAnn Rimes' You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs.[29][30] In its third week of release, the album fell to number 5,[31] and in its fourth week of release, the album fell to number 11.[32] Outside of the United States, the album charted within the top five of many countries, including Australia,[33] Canada,[34] France,[33] Germany,[35] Norway,[33] Sweden,[33] and The United Kingdom.[36] In Japan The Velvet Rope debuted at the number ten with 34,910 copies sold at the first week.[37]

The album sold four million copies in 1997.[38] The album was first certified gold by the RIAA on November 11, 1997 denoting 500,000 units shipped within the United States.[39] The same day, the album's certification was raised to platinum, denoting 1,000,000 units shipped.[39] The following year on March 26, 1998, the album was certified double platinum and later triple platinum on January 15, 1999.[39] In Australia, the album was first certified Platinum by the ARIA in 1997[40] and later 2× Platinum in 1998.[41] In Norway, the IFPI certified it Platinum, becoming her highest certified album in that country.[42]

As of March 2009, The Velvet Rope has sold 3,229,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[43] Worldwide, it has sold over 10 million copies.[44][45]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Interlude: Twisted Elegance"       0:41
2. "Velvet Rope" (featuring Vanessa-Mae) Janet Jackson, James Harris III, Terry Lewis, René Elizondo, Jr., Malcolm McLaren, Trevor Horn, Mike Oldfield Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:55
3. "You"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo, Harold Brown, Sylvester Allen, Morris Dickerson, Howard Scott, Leroy Jordan, Lee Oskar, Charles Miller Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:42
4. "Got 'til It's Gone" (featuring Q-Tip and Joni Mitchell) Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo, Joni Mitchell, Kamaal Ibn Fareed Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:01
5. "Interlude: Speaker Phone"       0:54
6. "My Need"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo, Marilyn McLeod, Pam Sawyer, Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson Harris, Lewis, Jackson 3:44
7. "Interlude: Fasten Your Seatbelts"       0:19
8. "Go Deep"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:42
9. "Free Xone"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo, James Brown, Billy Buttier, Archie Bell, Michael Hepburn Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:57
10. "Interlude: Memory"       0:04
11. "Together Again"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 5:01
12. "Interlude: Online"       0:19
13. "Empty"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:32
14. "Interlude: Full"       0:12
15. "What About"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:24
16. "Every Time"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:17
17. "Tonight's the Night"   Rod Stewart Harris, Lewis, Jackson 5:07
18. "I Get Lonely"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 5:17
19. "Rope Burn"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:15
20. "Anything"   Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 4:54
21. "Interlude: Sad"       0:10
22. "Special" (includes the hidden track "Can't Be Stopped", which starts at 3:42) Jackson, Harris, Lewis, Elizondo Harris, Lewis, Jackson 7:55
Sample credits

Personnel[edit]

Credits for The Velvet Rope adapted from Allmusic.[46]

Musicians
Production

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Country Certification
Australia 2× Platinum[41]
Belgium Gold[63]
Canada 3× Platinum[64]
Denmark Gold[61]
Europe Platinum[65]
France Platinum[66]
Germany Gold[67]
Italy Platinum
Japan Platinum[61]
Netherlands Platinum[68]
New Zealand Platinum[69]
Norway Platinum[42]
Switzerland Platinum[70]
Taiwan Gold[61]
United Kingdom Platinum[71]
United States 3× Platinum[72]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]