The Velvet Rope

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 dollar 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". 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 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 World Tour, receiving praise for her theatricality and vocal performance.

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