The Velvet Rope

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"Velvet Rope" redirects here. For the velvet-style rope line, see rope line.
The Velvet Rope
Studio album by Janet
Released October 7, 1997
Recorded January – July 1997 [1]
Genre
Length 75:23 (Standard)
78:50 (Bonus edition)
Label Virgin
Producer
Janet 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. Following the release of Design of a Decade, Jackson became subject to a high-profile bidding war amongst parties including Sony Music, The Walt Disney Company, and Time Warner. Jackson renewed her contract with Virgin Records for $80 million, making her the world's highest paid musical act for the second time in her career. She unveiled a new image, flaunting vibrant red hair, multiple tattoos, and acquiring facial and body piercings. Jackson also abandoned her surname, releasing material solely under her first name.

Upon experiencing an emotional breakdown, Jackson began facing a long-term case of depression, struggling with body dysmorphia, anorexia, self-hatred, and physical abuse. She developed the record as a concept album, using introspection as its theme. Its title is an allusion to an individual's need to feel special, as well as a metaphor for emotional boundaries, in comparison to rope lines which prohibit access from spectators. Its composition addresses the politics and restraints of depression, self-worth, social networking, and domestic violence. It also encompasses themes of sadomasochism and same-sex relationships, exploring alternate sexuality and sexual questioning. It incorporates various genres with pop, including trip hop, folk, jazz, and electronic music. The album was produced by Jackson and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. British violinist Vanessa-Mae, singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, and rapper Q-Tip also contributed to the project.

The Velvet Rope debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, her fourth consecutive album to top the chart. Internationally, it peaked within the top five of the majority of its chart entries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, and Switzerland. The album was certified triple platinum, with worldwide sales exceeding ten million. "Together Again" became among the biggest selling global singles in history, selling over six million copies. It also peaked atop the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top five of the majority of the singles charts worldwide. "I Get Lonely" became her eighteenth consecutive top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.[2] The single received a Grammy Award nomination, while "Got 'til It's Gone" won the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video. The album received media controversy for its homosexual lyrics and sexual content, causing it to be banished in Singapore. For promotion, Jackson embarked on The Velvet Rope Tour, receiving praise for her theatricality and showmanship. She was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Music Awards.

Often referred to as her greatest work, The Velvet Rope has been subject to acclaim for its artistry, emotional vulnerability, and sonic innovation. It is included among Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" and received a GLAAD Award for "Outstanding Music." The album has been regarded as a template within pop artists transitioning to a darker or rebellious sound. It has also been considered to predict several trends within contemporary indie pop and a precursor to the PBR&B subgenre. It has been critically cited to influence artists such as Christina Aguilera, Rihanna, Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, and Disclosure. Indie and folk musicians including How to Dress Well, Melissa Ferrick, and Wheat have also called it a primary influence.

Development[edit]

"Singing these songs has meant digging up pain that I buried a long time ago. It's been hard and sometimes confusing, but I've had to do it. I've been burying pain my whole life. It's like kicking dirt under the carpet. At some point there's so much dirt you start to choke. Well, I've been choking. My therapy came in writing these songs. Then I had the find the courage to sing them or else suffer the consequences — a permanent case of the blues."

— Janet explaining the concept of The Velvet Rope.[3]

Upon fulfilling her contract with Virgin Records, Jackson was subject to an industry bidding war between various parties, including Sony Music, Time Warner, and The Walt Disney Company, who attempted to sign her jointly with PolyGram. Jackson renewed her contract with Virgin for $80 million, signing the largest recording contract in history for the second time.[4] The album was produced by Jackson with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, as well as René Elizondo, Jr.. Its initial stages began following her janet. World Tour, recording intermittently over two years.[5] The process stalled due to various issues facing Jackson, including depression, body dysmorphia, anorexia, and self-hatred.[5] As a result, Jackson spontaneously canceled sessions, appearing constantly troubled, as Jam commented, "That was a tough album to make for her. There were times when she would not show up at the studio for five or six days in a row."[1][6] She returned to the studio in January 1997, embarking on a six-and-a-half month recording process.[1] Its production was adjusted towards Jackson's lyrics and vocal suggestions, using an altered technique from prior sessions.[7] Attempting to push pop music in an alternate direction, the record was described as "a triumph of the spirit, a declaration of joy and healing that comes from examining the past while energizing the present, [...] exploring the mysteries of sexuality even as it addresses the problems of prejudice."[8]

Concept and theme[edit]

The Velvet Rope was titled as a metaphor for the emotional barricade preventing others from revealing their innermost thoughts; in comparison to the velvet rope used at film premieres and award shows, prohibiting access from spectators.[9] It also served as a metaphor for the barriers separating different classes of society.[10] It was based on various events throughout her adolescence and early adulthood, resurfacing after attempted escapism.[11] Its composition addressed the "emotional and sexual politics of relationships," restraints of depression, self-esteem, domestic violence, homosexuality, AIDS, and sadomasochism.[12][13] The album fused pop with various genres, including electronic, trip hop, jazz, and folk music.[12] Jackson stated:

Jackson described the release as her most personal work, developed throughout her entire lifetime. She explained, "I never looked deeply at the pain from my past, never tried to understand that pain and work it through. It was a journey I had avoided. But one I now had to face."[8] Robert Hilburn added, "Jackson found a universal symbol to use in exploring issues of insecurity and self-worth. At some point, everyone is on the wrong side of the velvet rope, excluded because of race, social status, age or some other division."[14] Jackson regarded commercial success as a secondary consideration,[7] commenting, "I needed to express who I was and what I'd learned. I found out who I really was... If that can inspire people who hear this album to do the same, I'd rather have that than the biggest selling
album in the world."[15]

Background[edit]

"I had my ways of hiding my pain. Laughing when there was nothing to laugh at. Smiling when there wasn't anything to smile about. That was just my way of getting through life. Pretending like everything was okay. I guess I did it so well that I really began to believe it. I fooled myself. Using my escapism's was my thing to not feel my pain—whatever would numb the pain."

— Janet on the repression of various traumas throughout her adolescence.[16]

During her janet. World Tour, Jackson experienced an emotional breakdown, stemming from self-hatred, childhood humiliation, physical abuse, and distorted body image.[5] She stated, “I was very, very sad. Very down. I couldn't get up sometimes. There were times when I felt very hopeless and helpless, and I felt like walls were kind of closing in on me.. like you can’t escape."[6][17] She questioned her career path, feeling pressured by the demands of the entertainment industry, saying, "People look at you differently, as if you're not human."[18] Abbie Kearse of MTV responded, "You're creating a person who might not really be you, but you've created this fantasy woman, so when it's time to get back to business, it's like 'I've got to go back to that world.'"[16] Jackson expressed concern for how she could portray an object of fantasy, feeling as if she could no longer
fulfill her own desires.[19]

In self-analysis, Jackson uncovered vital details regarding her past, saying, "Certain things may happen, and you just dismiss them instead of stopping and saying, "Why am I feeling this way? Why am I acting out in this way?"[16] She had suppressed various traumas throughout her adolescence and early adulthood, using evasion tactics to prevent thoughts from surfacing.[16] She also recalled feeling unaccepted and ostracized for her skin color.[11] She was persistently haunted by a memory of a school teacher intensely scolding her, causing her classmates to erupt in laughter.[20] "Oh, God, it sounds so stupid," she recalled, "But being a kid you're just so frightened... I never talked about it, so it stayed with me all those years. I felt not deserving, not good enough... that's still the way I feel about myself sometimes."[16][20] As a child, she managed discomfort by speaking to her animals, later turning to overeating as an anesthetic, causing fluctuations in weight.[20] Jackson said, "I began to realize that whenever something really painful was going on, I would eat, and that's how I would run away from it. But I would just be creating another problem in another area instead of just
dealing with that pain."[16]

Photographer Ellen von Unwerth (pictured) attempted to capture Jackson's emotional pain within the album's imagery.[21]

Jackson developed body dysmorphia as a response to ridicule, stating, "I'd look in the mirror and hate myself. I'd sit and cry. It was so hard for me to look at myself and find something that I liked. Not just physically, but something that was good in me."[22] She also inflicted self-harm, banging her head against the wall when feeling unattractive.[23] She traced her fragility to her abusive marriage to recording artist James DeBarge at sixteen years old.[16] Jackson recalled, "It all has to do with very low self esteem. Especially going into a relationship like that very young... someone telling you things like, 'no one is ever going to want you again, you should be happy here with me.'"[11] Attempting to alter his behavior and drug addiction, she explained, "I learned the hard way that you can't change a person."[24] Recalling her divorce, she revealed, "There came a point when I finally said, 'You know what? I just don't care what happens.' I had to do what I wanted to but had been too afraid to. And at that point I didn't care if I got my brains beat out. I just went ahead and did it. And I got my ass kicked for it. But I'm happy that I did it, or I don't think I would be here today."[16]

Her self-hatred accelerated into raging cycles of bulimia and anorexia, repressing the issue until questioned.[22] Jackson said, "people say to me: `Okay, you've got to start eating more. You're too thin.' But when you look in the mirror, you see something totally different."[22] She continued, "I had swung so far in one direction, I never thought I could swing so far in the other. You're losing weight and getting smaller, and I'd still say to myself I could afford to lose a little more."[22] However, she refused professional guidance, reluctant to examination.[22] She briefly saw a psychologist before an encounter with a spiritual guru, who aided her emotional recovery. Jackson recounted, "we went to this very spiritual place in the desert... That's where I met him, this cowboy. He's in his fifties, and he's full of wisdom. He's an older man who has experienced a great deal, and he used to be in the music industry, on a smaller scale. He even understood that side of my life."[5][18][25] She also began using coffee enemas to remove "sad cells", leading to media scrutiny.[20][26] The trauma lead to a brief duration of sexual questioning, saying "Am I curious? I think every girl has wondered."[22] Jackson culminated the experiences into the album's subject matter, recording over two years.[5]

Artwork and visuals[edit]

The album's centerfold pictures feature Jackson in bondage attire (left), generating controversy for its sexuality and partial display of her chest piercing. The image also depicts the Sankofa (right), a tribal image Jackson used to represent healing throughout its campaign.

The album's artwork was photographed by Ellen von Unwerth, with additional photos by Mario Testino.[21] The cover depicts Jackson lowering her head amidst a crimson backdrop, symbolizing remorse.[27] "Janet" is faintly embossed in a pixelated block formation. Jackson stated, "The shot we used on the cover shows me just looking down, and that's what the album was about, looking inward."[21] MTV News regarded the artwork as iconic and an influence to various artists.[28] Its internal artwork depicts Jackson's piercings and tattoos, also displaying her hands tied in bondage and latex attire, exhibiting fetishism.[29] A particular photo of Jackson wearing a latex ensemble with her nipple piercing peering through an opening gained notoriety for its explicit nature.[19] The photo also shows Jackson pricking her body with an ice pick.[19][29]

Upon its release, Jackson unveiled an edgier image, flaunting hennaed red hair and tattoos on her neck, wrist, foot, back, and lower thigh; also acquiring nipple, septum, and labia piercings.[30] The transition was considered to risk alienation, though she was commended as "a master at surprising and shocking her public."[30] Jackson used a variation of Akan symbol the Sankofa throughout its artwork and imagery; representing the motif "You cannot move into the future until you learn from your past."[31] She tattooed the symbol onto her wrist, saying, "[it] appeared on my album The Velvet Rope and it’s very important to me. [...] It’s about going into your past and dealing with it so that you can move forward."[32] Jackson's tattoo artist later stated, "I have a lot of people who fly in from all over the world to get something that has to do with Janet’s sacred tattoos... She’s an inspiration to a lot of people, and when they see something on Janet that helps her be strong, they want that strength as well."[33]

Composition[edit]

The Velvet Rope consists of sixteen songs and seven interludes; experimenting with various genres and darker themes.[8] In "Twisted Elegance," Jackson speaks over piano and white noise. It transitions into the title track, progressing from rapid electronica into a mid-tempo techno structure.[34] It incorporates The Exorcist theme "Tubular Bells" as Jackson explains "a velvet rope we have inside us, keeping others from knowing our feelings," closing with a violin solo by Vanessa-Mae.[9] "You" incorporates "deep-down funk" and trip-hop, as Jackson distorts her voice in a low range during a challenge of self-scrutiny.[35][36]

"Empty" speaks of anonymous relationships via social networking.[37] Jackson said, "I think about people whose only connection to other people is through a computer. I wonder what kind of reality that creates, and what kind of romantic frustrations it produces."[38]

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"Got 'til It's Gone" is an alternative pop and trip-hop song, featuring folk singer Joni Mitchell and rapper Q-Tip.[39] Jackson speaks of vulnerability and regret in a "depressive sobriety."[36] Interlude "Speakerphone" consists of Jackson beginning to masturbate before a phone conversation with Lisa Marie Presley, who jokes "Your coochie gon' swell up and fall apart."[40] "My Need" is a mid-tempo hip-hop song tackling self-obsession and unbridled lust.[41] Interlude "Fasten Your Seatbelts" portrays Jackson and her dancers mimicking Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and All About Eve. "Go Deep" combines dance-pop and G-funk, performed in
a "girlish breathiness."[36][42]

"Free Xone" incorporates "slamming funk" with drum and bass, derived from "scratching, sampling, honey rapping, break beats and electronic accents."[43][44] Jackson described it "about homophobia and the pain it causes."[45] "Together Again" is an uptempo house and dance-pop song; considered a "modern post-disco meditation on the beauty of dance and eternal grace of romantic bonding."[46] Interlude "Online" features Jackson typing as a dial-up internet connection is heard. "Empty" is an electronic ballad incorporating trip-hop, propelled by a "jittery, mellowed-out jungly beat."[43][44] Its lyrics speak of the void felt through social network relationships, empathizing with those searching for acceptance via the internet.[38] "What About" confronts Jackson's experiences with domestic violence.[47] Over flamenco guitars, she recalls a former companion proposing before violently transitioning into hard rock.[44] "Every Time" is a piano ballad documenting Jackson's fear of love, examining an apprehensive side of romance.[48]

"Rope Burn" describes the act of bondage (pictured), as Jackson described, "being blindfolded... Having your hands bound, anticipating your lover's every move, that to me is sexy.".[49]

"Tonight's the Night" alludes to sexual anticipation, suggesting a lesbian encounter and potential threesome during its finale.[22] Jackson stated, "The record company tried to talk me out of it because it's directed toward a girl. I love the song the way it is, and it's reality for a lot of people."[50] "I Get Lonely" evokes lush sensuality as Jackson speaks of abandonment over a sparse backing.[51] "Rope Burn" evokes bondage and sadomasochism, as Jackson requests to be tied down and pleasured with candle wax. It was declared "the first R&B trip-hop ballad, retro-fitted with a lazy, jazzy beat and a spare, slap bass-heavy backing track."[44] Jackson regarded it as a "soft instrument of extended pleasure," saying, "The expression of sexual fantasies can be beautiful if there's trust, love and understanding."[22][52] "Anything" is a ballad invoking "feverish dimensions"
of satisfaction.[36]

In piano ballad "Special," Jackson speaks to her inner child, spreading the message that "pain is not permanent," but rather, transformed. Jackson said, "Getting back to that child, and giving the child what the child may have missed—the reassurance of a nourishing and accepting a love, a love that says you're special—is hard work. It can be scary but, like the song says, we have to deal with the past to live completely—and freely—in the present."[53] "Can't Be Stopped" speaks of youth victimization, bigotry, and racial unity, "directed at young people who are discouraged or discriminated against... I want them to know that their inner-strength is stronger than the forces against them."[54]

Promotion and release[edit]

Album listening parties were held in London and New York City at the Chrysler Building's Art Deco Cloud Room, reopened after sixty-five years for the event.[55] Entertainers in attendance included Marilyn Manson, Beck, Billy Corgan, Sheryl Crow, Meredith Brooks, Diddy, Naomi Campbell, and Michael Douglas.[56] The music video for "Got 'til It's Gone" premiered during the opening of the MTV Video Music Awards, where Jackson presented an award to Mark Romanek.[57] While in Europe, a wax statue of Jackson was unveiled at Madame Tussaud's Rock Circus exhibit in London.[58] "Got 'til It's Gone" and "Together Again" were performed on Graines de Star, Des O'Connor, Les Annés Tubes, and Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, as well as in Japan and Australia. She also appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. On October 6, Jackson appeared on a live MTV special in Times Square, interacting with fans via the internet.[59] She later appeared on the network's Ultrasound and Biorhythm series.[60][61]

An album signing was held at the Virgin Megastore in New York. Promotional ads for the album depicted various ethnicities running in unison.[62] An album release party was attended by Tia Carrere, Antonio Sabato Jr., Mike Tyson, Julie McCullough, Mossimo Giannulli, and Swedish singer Robyn, among others.[63][64] In January, Jackson opened the American Music Awards, performing the DJ Premier remix of "Together Again."[65] Following single "I Get Lonely" was performed at the TMF Awards and Soul Train Awards, with an acoustic rendition performed on the Rosie O'Donnell Show. In March, she appeared on Larry King Live. Jackson performed a controversial rendition of "What About" at the VH1 Fashion Awards, displaying vignettes of domestic violence.[66] Jackson starred in a global campaign for Pepsi, filming commercials for the brand and releasing promotional single "Ask for More".[67] The following year, she attended the Oscars After Party and ASCAP Awards, presenting an award to Joni Mitchell.[68] She also attended the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, presenting Best Dance Video, and was declared the ceremony's "Best Dressed" celebrity.[69]

Singles[edit]

"Got 'til It's Gone" peaked at number thirty-six on Hot 100 Airplay, twelve on Rhythmic Top 40 and three on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.[70][71] It was ineligible to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 due to not having a commercial single released. Internationally, it reached the top five in Denmark and New Zealand; top ten in Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, and United Kingdom and top twenty in various countries. "Together Again" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, spending a record of forty-six weeks on the chart.[72] It was certified Gold by the RIAA.[73] It reached the top two within Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, France, Germany, and Switzerland, and top five in Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, and United Kingdom.[74] "Together Again" is among the biggest selling global singles in history and her highest selling single to date, exceeding six million copies.[75]

"I Get Lonely" reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100, number one on Hot Dance Single Sales and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks, five in the United Kingdom, and fourteen on the European Hot 100.[72] It set a record as her eighteenth consecutive top ten hit on the Hot 100, surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.[2][76] "Go Deep" was ineligible to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, though peaked at number twelve on Pop Songs, eight on Rhythmic Top 40, and number one on Hot Dance Club Play.[77][78] Final release "Every Time" reached number fourteen on the ARC Top 40 and the top forty within the Netherlands and New Zealand.[79][80] The success of collaborations "Luv Me, Luv Me" and "What's It Gonna Be?!" each affected the latter two single's performance. "You" was a promotional single in the United Kingdom, being ineligible to chart. "What About" was initially planned for release, while an edit of the title track received limited test airplay.[81] In April 2012, "Rope Burn" charted on Korea's Gaon Digital Chart.[82]

The Velvet Rope Tour[edit]

Main article: The Velvet Rope Tour

"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."

— Nicholas Barber of The Independent [83]

Jackson embarked on "The Velvet Rope Tour," visiting Europe, North America, Japan, New Zealand, Africa, and Australia. It used an autobiographical theme derived from elements of Broadway theater.[84] She stated, "To me, being onstage is about entertaining. I know there are people who just walk onstage and give you a show by just doing their music, but I always wanted something extra."[85] She added, "I knew what I wanted everyone to look like, especially for the opening number. I knew what I wanted everyone to wear. I visualized the whole thing."[86] Among the first tours to use LED technology, Mark Fisher stated, "She wanted to have a book opening and herself come out of it. So I finessed that book into the video screen."[84]

Jackson's showmanship was commended by critics, who also praised the show's theatrics and pyrotechnics.[87] Robert Hilburn regarded it to help Jackson "finally get the credit she deserves as an artist," with the show also called "the must-see concert of the year."[85][88] The tour was controversial for its sexuality and portrayal of domestic violence; most notably within performances of "Rope Burn" and "What About."[86] Its advertisements, depicting Jackson in a transparent outfit with her nipple piercing and bikini partially visible, also drew media attention. Several publications refused to publish the ad, while billboards of the image caused traffic accidents in Europe.[89] The tour's HBO broadcast received over 15 million viewers, surpassing the ratings of all four major networks.[90] It won an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Technical Direction/Camera/Video for a Special." The final date at Hawaii's Aloha Stadium became the most attended concert in the venue's history.[91] The tour was reported to receive a worldwide attendance of ten million in total.[91]

Controversy[edit]

"Free Xone" incoporates funk and electronic music as Jackson protests homophobia, saying, "I contrast sexual prejudice with the freedom of being who you are."[45]

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Jackson confronts domestic violence over a hard rock instrumental, stating "if we're going to get on with our lives, the pain has to [be] faced. And the result can be explosive anger."[92]

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The album gained media attention for its explicit themes and exploration of homosexuality, suggested as a "queer-studies thesis."[93][94][95] Singapore law officials banned the album due to its lyrics supporting homosexuality.[96] "Free Xone" speaks of gay, lesbian and bisexual pairings, as Jackson protests discrimination.[45] "Together Again" recalls a departed friend lost to AIDS.[94] Her cover of "Tonight's the Night" suggests losing her virginity to another woman, also alluding to bisexuality.[95] Media attention lead Rod Stewart to announce "that's an original song by Janet Jackson" when performed in concerts.[97] In response to criticism, Jackson said, "I have a lot of gay friends, men and women, and that's why I did it. I knew people would say I was gay, and I didn't care."[22] She also stated, "I caught a lot of hell for that... religious groups have been upset with me for certain songs on the album, but it’s not going to stop me from writing what I feel inside."[98] Media reports of Jackson involved in intimate relationships with dancers Tina Landon and Shawnette Heard surfaced following its release, although denied.[99]

The album's "most startling" song was considered "What About," in which Jackson violently confronts domestic abuse.[36] Jackson stated, "I think it's important to let others know that certain things that you may have experienced in your life, and that they're not alone, and that you understand what they're going through, and that they can make it through."[47] Joel Lyans included it among "The New Soundtrack of Social Consciousness," writing, "Here, Janet does what she does best: demonstrates a coy and shy demeanor before ripping into a confident and empowered voice for those who are afraid to speak up and speak out about a situation that plagues millions of women."[100] Several media reports related its theme with President Bill Clinton's infidelity to Hillary Clinton with Monica Lewinsky.[97] Jackson clarified it to be about her own experience, saying, "President Clinton? People have said that to me. They say 'this is his song'," comparing the situation with her song "This Time" inaccurately related to O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson due to its subject matter.[97]

Jackson's progression into advanced erotic content was initially criticized, though she defended her material.[101] J.D. Considine praised Jackson's focus on intercourse "as if it were simply a fact of life," noting her concern with "the emotional component of sex, rather than the act itself."[94] Jackson's separation and divorce from husband René Elizondo, Jr. drew immense media scrutiny, in which their secret nine-year marriage was revealed to the public.[102] Peter Castor of CNN recalled, "One of the most incredible entertainment stories that I can remember of the last ten years was the fact that Janet Jackson was married for ten years and no one knew it."[102]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 2.5/5 stars[103]
Robert Christgau A–[104]
Entertainment Weekly A[105]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars[106]
The New York Times (positive)[36]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[107]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[108]
The Village Voice (positive)[109]
USA Today 4/4 stars[110]

Jon Pareles declared it "her most daring, elaborate and accomplished album," observing songs to "transform themselves as they go, leaping from sharply etched cross-rhythms to lush choruses."[36] Greg Kot regarded it a "soundtrack to a therapy session," while the Los Angeles Times commended its content; addressing "the social, emotional and sexual politics of relationships, peppering the wistful, spirited pop melodies and sinuous R&B rhythms with compelling jazz, folk and techno nuances."[12][25] Elysa Gardner added, "provocative gestures ultimately blend in with the album's larger agenda, which is to encourage more open-minded, free-spirited relationships of all kinds... with hooks this strong and grooves this delicious, Jackson's authority should be of question to no one."[43] MTV News declared it an "interesting step in a new direction" and "long, sometimes strange trip into Jackson’s sensual world."[44] Slant Magazine called it "a richly dark masterwork," illustrating "there is nothing sexier than emotional nakedness."[108] Robert Christgau noted Jackson's vocal cadence, retaining "her magical ability to feign delight."[111] Keith Harris stated it "plumbed introspective depths with intriguing results."[112]

Vince Aletti praised its "unusu-ally busy, electronica- spiked soundscape," revealing "the process of psychic reconstruction.".[109] Aletti added, "she combines a pure pop sensibility with ambition, vulnerability, freakishness, and extraordinary savvy. She's--in her inadequate word--special." However, Jackson's "isolating control" was regarded as its "more bracing" material.[109] Entertainment Weekly observed its subject matter of "computer liaisons to bondage and bisexuality," finding the most pervasive theme to be love.[94] Roger Catlin of The Courant noted its aura "washes away her sometimes strident political messages or her attempt to shock with sexuality," adding, "the album shimmers with sensuality, openness and thirst for new adventures, musically and otherwise."[113][114] Len Righi of The Morning Call called it "compelling, as she tackled almost every imaginable social ill and personal problem while still leaving room for freakiness and fun."[115] Jane Dark of City Pages stated it "eludes genre-fication," leaving Janet "in a genre of her own." Alluded to "an eroticon of cybersex, queer positivity, and mild bondage," Dark regarded its production "a sexy motherfucker... abstractly electro tones come and go with sharp attack and sharper decay, appearing out of--and vanishing into--aggressively blank spaces." Jackson's "flawed sweetness" was also acclaimed; concluding, "She's the principle that organizes the noise, and the particle around which songs become pearlescent."[116] USA Today praised her usage of "edgier beats and rawer emotions."[110] AllMusic observed a "hardened, sexually experimental Janet," though disapproved its number of interludes.[103]

Commercial reception[edit]

The Velvet Rope debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 202,000 copies in its first week.[117][118] It fell to number two in its second week.[119][120] Internationally, the album charted within the top five of numerous countries, including Australia,[121] France,[121] Germany,[122] Norway,[121] Sweden,[121] and the United Kingdom.[123] In Japan, it debuted within the top ten, selling 34,910 copies in its first week.[124]

It sold four million copies within its first several months of release.[125] On November 11, the album was certified gold and platinum by the RIAA, denoting 1,000,000 units sold.[126] It was certified double platinum the following year, and triple platinum on January 15, 1999.[126] It sold an additional 420,000 copies through BMG Music Club.[127] In Australia, the album was certified double platinum by the ARIA.[128] It was certified triple platinum in Canada and platinum in Japan, Europe, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and United Kingdom; also receiving a gold certification in Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Taiwan.[129] The Velvet Rope has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.[130][131] According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album has sold 3,229,000 copies domestically
as of March 2009.[132]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Jackson was awarded at the American Music Awards and nominated for "Top Pop Artist" at the Billboard Awards, with "I Get Lonely" receiving a Grammy Award nomination and "Together Again" nominated at the MTV Video Music Awards. Internationally, Jackson was nominated for "Best International Female" at the BRIT Awards, winning "Best Foreign Artist" and "Best Foreign Album" at the Danish Music Awards, "Best International Female" at the Norwegian Hit-Awards, "Best Female" at the MTV Europe Music Awards, and "Best International Female" for three consecutive years at the TMF Awards. Jackson was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions to Pop Music by Prince Albert at the World Music Awards.[133] She was also was presented the Lena Horne Lifetime Achievement Award by Maya Angelou at the Lady Soul Train Awards. APLA awarded Jackson for her involvement in AIDS organizations, also receiving a GLAAD Award for "Outstanding Music." VH1 ranked her among "Hollywood's 16 Hottest Celesbians" due to the album's homoerotic content.[134] The Velvet Rope was later included among Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

Legacy[edit]

"Janet's ability to effortlessly present necessary, meaningful messages via classic dance music is legendary. She proved that artists don't have to scream to get a message across. There is a middle ground. Here, she had perfected her mix of provocative, personal, and pertinent."

Saint Heron on the album's legacy.[37]

The Velvet Rope has been praised for its artistry and sonic evolution, as well as its innovation and display of multiple genres. Billboard commended it as "her most personal and intimate work to date," confronting "domestic abuse, AIDS, and homophobia with her most sexually explicit songs ever."[26] Jackson stated, "That was a crossroads for me: sharing what I'd been going through personally and how I felt about what was happening in the world."[164] She added, "It was about leaving behind the side of me that didn’t like myself very much... learning to accept myself, and it is still work in progress."[32] Kyra Phillips of CNN declared it "difficult and very intimate," exploring "Jackson's darker side, her emotional break down and the secret that shocked the world."[102] Regarding its content, Jackson said, "I’m sure it did alienate a lot of people, but that’s what I was feeling, and I wanted to write about it, so I did."[6] Jackson later stated:

Ryam Dombal of Pichfork considered it a pioneer of "the "dark" and/or "mature"" pop album, saying, "the rebel record is now a de rigueur coming-of-age manoeuvre."[165] The album has also been regarded as a precursor to the development of modern indie pop and the PBR&B subgenre.[166][167] City Pages called it a "gem" which foresaw "damn near every rhythmic trend of the decade: Timbaland's drum 'n' stutter, quick-stepping house, and walloping slabs of techno."[168] Its innovation was cited as fusing "compelling jazz, folk and techno nuances" with trip-hop and contemporary pop.[43] MTV News also noted its "number of stylistic twists you might never associate with such a mainstream diva."[44] In particular, "Empty" was commended for its theme of relationships via social networking, considered a prediction of subsequent technology.[37]

Eve Barlow of NME included it among seven albums considered "Perfect from Start to Finish", stating, "Jackson had already begun pushing the boundaries of sexually explicit pop but it’s ‘The Velvet Rope’ that cemented her as a free, liberal voice for experimentation." Its blend of "new electro" and trip-hop was thought to "meld seamlessly"; its lyrical content also thought to push society's "judgment calls," breaking free from "the American sweetheart of past LPs."[169] Jessica Skolnik of Vice stated, "I am of the Madonna generation, the Janet generation... The Velvet Rope was an absolute milestone and, in my mid-thirties, is increasingly meaningful to me."[170] Telegram & Gazette stated, "Jackson shows once again that she can compete against any of the lightweight, mega-selling pop divas and hang them out to dry."[171] According to the Los Angeles Times, the album became "more eagerly anticipated" than Michael Jackson's output; taking her "once and for all out of the shadow."[172][173] Sal Cinquemani declared it "Janet's richest work to date", while Brannon Smith heralded it to reveal "her battle with depression, and saw her continue to empower through her pain."[66][174]

Influence[edit]

Critics have observed artists such as Kelly Clarkson and Rihanna to draw influence from the record.

Pitchfork considered the album a pioneer in pop artists attempting the "rebel record," citing Christina Aguilera's Stripped, Kelly Clarkson's My December, and Rihanna's Rated R to follow its "coming-of-age maneuver."[165] Nicole Scherzinger cited it as the inspiration for her sophomore album.[175] Rolling Stone regarded it the template for Beyoncé's self-titled fifth album, particularly in the "melancholy" and "chilly neo-disco" aura of "Blow" and "Mine."[176] Britney Spears' "Lonely" was likened to a "teenage version" of "What About" for its theme, vocals, and chorus.[177] Spears' "Til It's Gone" was cited to contain similar lyrics to "Got 'til It's Gone," while her single "Everytime" was thought to evoke Jackson's "Every Time."[178][179] Rihanna's Rated R drew comparisons for its production and "nakedly autobiographical vibe"; the theme of single "Te Amo" also likened to Jackson's "Tonight's the Night."[180] Rihanna's image throughout its campaign, consisting of red hair and facial peircings, was also compared to Jackson's Velvet Rope imagery.[181] The "burbly electro hooks" and "curled-lip sass" of Rihanna's Talk that Talk was also regarded as "warmed-over Velvet Rope-era Janet Jackson."[182] About.com noted Patrick Stump's Soul Punk to incorporate the album's "musical stylings."[183] MTV News observed its artwork to influence Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Rihanna, while the packaging of Usher's 8701 was also thought to recall its imagery.[28][184] Aubrey O'Day and Irish singer Stephen Gately praised the record,[185][186] with Swedish singer Sara Lumholdt and Rebecca Onslow calling it their favorite album.[187][188] French singer Piu Piu also called it a primary influence.[189]

Singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick was inspired by the record for her song "Drive."[190]

Drew Millard of Vice stated the album "inadvertently predicts most of the cooler trends in contemporary indie music," saying, "Dam-Funk's bedroom-keyb attack? "Go Deep" did it. "Together Again" is basically the song Disclosure has been shooting for this entire time, and Tom Krell would wrestle an alligator with his bare hands to create a song as chillingly beautiful as "Empty."[166] How to Dress Well cites its "schizophrenic diversity" as the inspiration for the album Total Loss, saying, "She set such an example for trusting yourself, and following that intuition wherever it takes you... she made a fucking sprawling masterpiece with a song from every genre, and it works."[191][192] Merchandise sold at Well's shows feature a quote from interlude "Memory."[193] Indie rock band Wheat used the album as a reference for their sophomore album Hope and Adams, also emulating its production techniques within lead single "Don't I Hold You."[194] Folk rock singer Melissa Ferrick called it "a huge record" which inspired her song "Drive," saying, "Janet Jackson was making these sexual noises on that record and I cannot even describe. [...] I was like “This is unbelievable. Janet Jackson is so ballsy to do this. This is amazing."[190] Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls and folk singer Seth Glier regarded the album as an important life memoir.[195][196] Swedish singer Beatrice Eli stated it "defined her teenage years."[197] Art Nouvea considered Fiona Apple's When the Pawn... to draw influence from the record.[198] FKA Twigs' single "Water Me" and Laura Welsh's "Unravel" were likened to the album, considered to evoke Jackson's "mellower work" at her "most delicate."[199][200] Kingdom's "Bank Head," featuring Kelela, was thought to be influenced by "Empty,"[201] while Kelela and Tink's "Want It" was likened to the album's "most tuneful deep cuts."[202] British singer Jai Paul's "Str8 Outta Mumbai" was regarded to fuse "vintage Bollywood pop"
with "Velvet Rope-era Janet."[201]

The Weeknd's Thursday was likened to an attempted "male equivalent" of the record.[203] Kelly Rowland's Talk a Good Game drew comparisons for its revealing theme and production.[204] Rowland's single "Dirty Laundry" drew influence from "What About," while single "Gone", featuring Wiz Khalifa, was inspired by "Got 'til It's Gone."[205][206] TLC's "I'm Good at Being Bad" was inspired by the production and content of Jackson's "What About."[207] Solange's True EP was compared within its production from Dev Hynes.[208] The composition of single "Losing You" was also likened to "Together Again" for its melancholy theme within an "uplifting" dance song.[209] Illangelo's "Clockwork" was also thought to recall the album.[210] In hip-hop, Odd Future collective The Internet were compared to "'‘Velvet Rope'’-era Janet" for their single "Cocaine."[211] Diddy-Dirty Money's Last Train to Paris was thought to incorporate similar production within several songs.[212] Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak was also likened to the album.[213] Jay-Z compared his song "December 4th" to "Got 'til It's Gone" in his memoir, Decoded.[214] Joe Budden sampled the title track in the song "Velvet Rope".[215] In jazz, its singles have been covered by Boney James and Gene Dunlap, with the title track covered by Paul Taylor
and "Anything" by Will Downing.[216][217]

In popular culture[edit]

Psychologist Alan Downs' book The Velvet Rage was titled after the album and its homosexual content; demonstrating "how to heal the trauma of being a gay man in an uncompromisingly straight world."[218] Transgender activist Janet Mock named herself after Jackson and the album's themes of sexual orientation,[219] stating, "she was so open and raw. She was talking about her sexual fluidity. She was talking about access and elitism with the velvet rope, who gets to come in, who doesn’t. She was talking about domestic violence. All of these things within this album... my mind was blown. I couldn’t believe someone was talking about all of these issues that were paralleling my own life."[220] "Speaker Phone" was referenced by comedian Sandra Bernhard during a monologue in "I'm Still Here... Damn It!".[221] The album was also mentioned in the Family Guy episode, And the Wiener Is...[222]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Interlude: Twisted Elegance"       0:41
2. "Velvet Rope" (featuring Vanessa-Mae)
4:55
3. "You"  
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:42
4. "Got 'til It's Gone" (featuring Joni Mitchell and Q-Tip)
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:01
5. "Interlude: Speaker Phone"       0:54
6. "My Need"  
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
3:44
7. "Interlude: Fasten Your Seatbelts"       0:19
8. "Go Deep"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:42
9. "Free Xone"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • James Brown
  • Billy Buttier
  • Archie Bell
  • Michael Hepburn
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:57
10. "Interlude: Memory"       0:04
11. "Together Again"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
5:01
12. "Interlude: Online"       0:19
13. "Empty"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:32
14. "Interlude: Full"    
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
0:12
15. "What About"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  4:24
16. "Every Time"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:17
17. "Tonight's the Night"   Rod Stewart
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
5:07
18. "I Get Lonely"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
5:17
19. "Rope Burn"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:15
20. "Anything"  
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
4:54
21. "Interlude: Sad"       0:10
22. "Special" (Hidden track "Can't Be Stopped" starts at 3:42)
  • Jackson
  • Harris
  • Lewis
  • Elizondo
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jam & Lewis
7:55
Samples

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from AllMusic.[223]

Musicians
Production

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[242] 2× Platinum 140,000^
Belgium (BEA)[243] Gold 25,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[244] 3× Platinum 300,000^
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[232] Gold 25,000^
France (SNEP)[245] Platinum 300,000*
Germany (BVMI)[246] Gold 250,000^
Italy (FIMI)[247] Platinum 100,000*
Japan (RIAJ)[248] Platinum 200,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[249] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[250] Platinum 15,000^
Norway (IFPI Norway)[251] Platinum 50,000*
Sweden (GLF)[252] Gold 40,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[253] Platinum 50,000x
Taiwan (RIT)[232] Gold 25,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[254] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[255] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^
Summaries
Europe (IFPI)[256] Platinum 1,000,000*

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone

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External links[edit]