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Janet Jackson - The Velvet Rope

Album cover art.

The Velvet Rope is the sixth studio album from Janet Jackson, released on 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 pop. 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". 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 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. 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 Tour, receiving praise for her theatricality and vocal performance.

BackgroundEdit

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.

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. Jackson described The Velvet Rope as her most personal album: the result of pain and a project that took thirty-one years—her age at the time of recording—to create.

Janet returned to the studio in January 1997 to begin recording the album over a six-month period. The album was produced by long-time collaborators Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and then-husband René Elizondo, Jr. When using a sample of Joni Mitchell's "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. 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.

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 promotionEdit

SinglesEdit

"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.

"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. 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. "Together Again" spent a record 46 weeks on the Hot 100 singles chart. On January 9, 1998, "Together Again" received gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. "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.

"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. On June 30, 1998, the single was certified gold by the RIAA. "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. 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 promotional 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 TourEdit

The Velvet Rope Tour was launched in support of the album and embarked on an international trek across Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Based on The Velvet Rope being focused on autobiographical themes, Jackson developed the tour's concert setting as storybook, allowing spectators to cross into her "velvet rope" and experience her life story through the evolution of her musical career. As with Jackson's previous tours, the intense choreography and complex production of her concerts drew frequent comparison to Broadway theatre. While a number of reviews reported her stage presence was as exceptional as ever, a number of critics also noted improvement in her vocal capability. data:image/gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAIABAAAAAP///yH5BAEAAAEALAAAAAABAAEAQAICTAEAOw%3D%3D To promote the tour, the live special The Velvet Rope: Live in Madison Square Garden was aired on HBO and drew over 15 million viewers. The special won an Emmy Award and received four nominations. It was later released on DVD and Laserdisc as The Velvet Rope Tour – Live in Concert.

Critical receptionEdit

The Velvet Rope received positive reviews from music critics with many music critics calling it Jackson's masterpiece. Eric Henderson with Slant Magazine was in high praise of the album, calling it Jacksons' best album, saying "If Janet Jackson made much ado of janet. being the Let's Get It On to Rhythm Nation's What's Going On, then 1997's The Velvet Rope is clearly her I Want You, respectively Jackson's and Gaye's best and least-heralded albums". He called it "the most "adult" album of her career" and said "The Velvet Rope is a richly dark masterwork that illustrates that, amid the whips and chains, there is nothing sexier than emotional nakedness". Rolling Stone gave the album 3½ stars out of five, mainly criticizing the interludes included, saying, "Janet Jackson talks too much. Seven of the 22 tracks on The Velvet Rope are so-called interludes -- spoken-word pieces meant to lend extra dramatic gravity to a record already heavy with moral instruction. It's as if Jackson doesn't trust the thrust of her music" but were favorable of the album overall saying "The Velvet Rope feels like a grand exercise in contrived honesty". Los Angeles Times pop music critic Elysa Gardner commented, was in high praise of the album, referring it to its predecessor, Janet, saying "The Velvet Rope picks up where janet. left off, in both its themes and its textures; this new collection of songs and "interludes" addresses the social, emotional and sexual politics of relationships, peppering the wistful, spirited pop melodies and sinuous R&B rhythms that are fundamental elements of the Jackson-Jam-Lewis sound with compelling jazz, folk and techno nuances". She commended Jackson's sound on the album, saying "Certainly, as a musician Jackson has never seemed more confident or ambitious than she does here, veering smoothly from the cool, breezy hip-hop of the single "Got 'til It's Gone", which cannily intertwines a Joni Mitchell sample and a seductive guest rap by Q-Tip, to the slamming funk of "Freexone" to the shimmering electronic pop of "Empty"; Typically, the singer isn't as cerebral or rhetorical in delivering her message as some other artists would be; but with hooks this strong and grooves this delicious, Jackson's authority should be of question to no one".

J.D. Considine of Entertainment Weekly complimented Jackson's resolve to sing about sex as if "its a fact of life" and asserted "it's a mistake to judge this album on the basis of its lyric sheet". He praised Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis for the quality of their production, which "clearly articulates the emotional core of Jackson's songs" and ended his review saying "In the end, the most daring thing about The Velvet Rope isn't its sex talk but its honesty. Tempting as it may be to compare the album to similarly sultry stuff like Madonna's Erotica, it's much closer in spirit to the unabashed emotionalism of Joni Mitchell's Blue. That's because the most revealing moments here have to do with loneliness and vulnerability, not sexual preference." J.R. Reynolds of Yahoo! Music commented, "This set ranks with the pop superstar's finest efforts, but it's a sleeper. Thoughtful and pertinent, the album's somewhat darkish tone makes the expressive songs slower to digest lyrically". Robert Christgau gave it an "A-" rating saying "Why do I believe that this self-made object's mild kink and coyly matter-of-fact bisexuality are functions of flesh pure and simple? That for her sex really is about pleasure rather than power--or even, except as a side issue, love? Because her sex songs are flavorful where her love songs are all cliché, and because her much-berated fluting little-girl timbre whispers innocence even when she's loosening her new friend's pretty French gown. So in the absence of total personal fulfillment, here's hoping she retains her ability to feign delight, to fool herself as well as everyone else".

Jon Pareles with The New York Times called it "her most daring, elaborate and accomplished album" saying "Ms. Jackson has clearly calculated the titillation factor, as Madonna once did. But her Madonna-like message, that self-realization means ending repression, seems heartfelt, underlined by insipid sound bites of psychobabble. More important, Ms. Jackson backs her prescription with ambitious music. Meticulous as the album is, Ms. Jackson clearly has no intention of playing it safe. Stephen Thomas Erlewine, gave the release 2½ stars, and criticized the album for its "sexually explicit" material and its "offering tales of bondage, body piercing, and bisexuality." He went on to say "Jackson's attempts to broaden her sexual horizons frequently sound forced, whether it's the references to piercing or her recasting of Rod Stewart's "Tonight's the Night" as a lesbian anthem. Furthermore, the album is simply too long, which means the best moments sink into the murk". Martin Johnson with SF Weekly called it a "refreshingly free of psychobabble; The Velvet Rope, is about the inner resources that maintain a healthy level of self-esteem and the risks that such self-confidence can embolden you to take; Instead of gunning for a cheap thrill, Jackson portrays her sexuality and desire as essential parts of her being; in the process she's reshaping the stereotype of the sexually confident black woman".

Craig S. Semon of the Telegram & Gazette remarked, "Jackson shows once again that she can compete against any of the lightweight, mega-selling pop divas and hang them out to dry". He regarded the album's depictions of cyber-sex, lesbian love affairs, and outcry against domestic abuse and homophobia a work of "unbridled passion". According to Semon, the title-track "Velvet Rope" "gives the listener an invitation to [Jackson's] innermost passions". Jackson's struggle with disillusionment on the single "You" is said to be "reminiscent of Diana Ross before unleashing an angry Michael Jackson-like growl and refrain", while the Prince-like "Go Deep" is described as a "funky bump and grind about dressing sexily, dancing sexily and seducing someone to bring home for sex" and the examination of sexual orientation on "Free Xone" is said to "not [be] preachy or political - just passionate and to the point". Semon assessed the album's greatest accomplishment was "What About," with Jackson "[r]oaring over a snarling rock beat and rivaling her brother Michael's angriest vocal belts, [and] shows her strength as she rips into an unflinching attack against her abusive lover and unleashing all the hell he has put her through on this R-rated roarfest".

Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph condemned Jackson's attempt at expressing the pains of depression, as he stated "Janet mistakes platitudes for wisdom, [as] the suffering artist informs us there is nothing more depressing than "having everything and still feeling sad". She should try getting out more. A couple of weeks on a crack-addled Bradford housing estate trying to support eight children on state benefits would doubtless send her scurrying back to the cordon sanitaire of Beverly Hills, where she can take out her woes on an expensive analyst". However, McCormick complimented the album's "solid song construction and arrangements" and described The Velvet Rope as "varied and appealing exercise in R&B pop".

"'Janet-goes-Prince is still not an entirely convincing direction," noted Arena, "but a professional Jam and Lewis production makes this album tuneful and tight and (vocally at least) she does her brother better than he does nowadays."

Commercial performanceEdit

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. 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. In its third week of release, the album fell to number 5, and in its fourth week of release, the album fell to number 11. Outside of the United States, the album charted within the top five of many countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and The United Kingdom. In Japan, The Velvet Rope debuted at the number ten with 34,910 copies sold at the first week.

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

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

Track listingEdit

  1. "Interlude: Twisted Elegance"
  2. "Velvet Rope" (featuring Vanessa-Mae)
  3. "You"
  4. "Got 'til It's Gone" (featuring Joni Mithcell and Q-Tip)
  5. "Interlude: Speaker Phone"
  6. "My Need"
  7. "Interlude: Fasten Your Seatbelts"
  8. "Go Deep"
  9. "Free Xone"
  10. "Interlude: Memory"
  11. "Together Again"
  12. "Interlude: Online"
  13. "Empty"
  14. "Interlude: Full"
  15. "What About"
  16. "Tonight's the Night"
  17. "I Get Lonely"
  18. "Rope Burn"
  19. "Anything"
  20. "Interlude: Sad"
  21. "Special" (includes the hidden track "Can't Be Stopped" which starts at 3:42)

PersonnelEdit

Musicians
  • David Barry – guitar
  • Lee Blaske – string arrangements
  • Jan Chong – violin
  • Carolyn Daws – violin
  • Hanley Daws – violin
  • Glen Donnellen – viola
  • Lynne Erickson – trumpet
  • Charles Gray – viola
  • Alyssa Hanson – vocals
  • Rayvaline Harrell – choir director
  • Shawnette Heard – vocals
  • Camilla Heller – cello
  • Joshua Koestenbaum – cello
  • Kelly Konno – vocals
  • Tina Landon – vocals
  • Brenda Mickens – violin
  • Joni Mitchell – performer
  • Debbie Morrison – vocals
  • Dale Newton – cello
  • Willie R. Norwood – choir director
  • Alice Preves – viola
  • Prof. T. – vocals
  • Q-Tip – rap, performer
  • Myrna Rain – viola
  • Nicholas Raths – guitar
  • Gary Raynor – bass
  • Alexander Richbourg – vocals, drum programming, rhythm arrangements
  • Miko Salone – vocals
  • Mike Scott – guitar
  • Leslie Shank – violin
  • Daryl Skobba – cello
  • Liz Sobieski – violin
  • Mike Sobieski – violin
  • Daria Tedeschi – violin
  • United Children's Choir – choir, chorus
  • Vanessa-Mae – violin, performer
  • James "Big Jim" Wright – organ, keyboards, vocals, rhythm arrangements
Production
  • Flavia Cureteu – design
  • Steve Durkee – assistant engineer
  • Rene Elizondo, Jr. – executive producer
  • Brian Gardner – mastering
  • Steve Gerdes – design
  • Steve Hodge – engineer, mixing
  • Ken Holmen – clarinet, flute, saxophone
  • Janet Jackson – vocals, background vocals, producer, executive producer, vocal arrangement, rhythm arrangements
  • Jimmy Jam – producer, vocal arrangement, rhythm arrangements
  • Tim Lauber – engineer, assistant engineer
  • Terry Lewis – producer, vocal arrangement, rhythm arrangements
  • Michael McCoy – assistant engineer
  • Mike Ozdozzi – mastering assistant
  • Len Peltier – art direction
  • Xavier Smith – assistant engineer
  • Mario Testino – photography
  • Ellen von Unwerth – photography
  • Bradley Yost – assistant engineer

ChartsEdit

Weekly chartsEdit

Chart (1997/1998) Peak
position
Australian Albums Chart 4
Austrian Albums Chart 9
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders) 11
Belgian Albums Chart (Wallonia) 14
Canadian Albums Chart 2
Danish Albums Chart 3
Dutch Albums Chart 3
European Albums Chart 4
Finnish Albums Chart 19
French Albums Chart 5
German Albums Chart 5
Hungarian Albums Chart 40
Italian Albums Chart 11
Japanese Albums Chart
New Zealand Albums Chart 8
Norwegian Albums Chart 4
Swedish Albums Chart 4
Swiss Albums Chart 5
UK Albums Chart 6
U.S. Billboard 200 1
U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums 2
U.S. Billboard Catalog Albums 30

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Year-end chartsEdit

Year-end chart (1997/98) Position
Australian Albums Chart 1997 42
Australian Albums Chart 1998 82
Belgian Flanders Albums Chart 1998 43
Belgian Wallonia Albums Chart 1997 85
Belgian Wallonia Albums Chart 1998 39
Canadian Albums Chart 1998 34
Dutch Albums Chart 1998 20
French Albums Chart 1998 17
Italy End-Year Chart 50 1998 42
Swiss Albums Chart 1998 43
U.S. Billboard 200 1997 115
U.S. Billboard 200 1998 27

CertificationsEdit

Country Certification
Australia 2× Platinum
Belgium Gold
Canada 3× Platinum
Denmark Gold
Europe Platinum
France Platinum
Germany Gold
Italy Platinum
Japan Platinum
Netherlands Platinum
New Zealand Platinum
Norway Platinum
Switzerland Platinum
Taiwan Gold
United Kingdom Platinum
United States 3× Platinum
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