The Velvet Rope (Deluxe Edition)

The Velvet Rope (Deluxe Edition)

After the blockbuster trifecta of 1986’s Control, 1989’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and 1993’s janet., Janet Jackson was arguably bigger than both the King of Pop (her older brother Michael) and the Queen of Pop (Madonna). In fact, before the release of 1997’s The Velvet Rope, Jackson had renegotiated her contract with Virgin Records for a then-record-setting $80 million. But rather than caving in under the weight of commercial expectations, Jackson used her newfound cultural clout as inspiration to level up her ambitions on her sixth album. With a bravery both in its adventurous musical spirit and its confessional, soul-baring lyrics, The Velvet Rope was a high-wire act of an artist at her creative peak. The album’s eclectic energy—bridging both genres and generations—can be felt on the album’s first single, “Got ’Til It’s Gone,” which brought together Joni Mitchell (via a “Big Yellow Taxi” sample) and Q-Tip for a head-bopping nod to the neo-soul movement. Elsewhere, Jackson and her longtime producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis turned to the 1970s for inspiration, borrowing from the prog rock of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” on “Velvet Rope,” the Latin funk of War’s “The Cisco Kid” on “You,” and the soul-disco of Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover” on “My Need.” But if the music on The Velvet Rope looked to the past, the lyrics packed a forward-minded fearlessness that captured the pop superstar at her most progressive. Jackson took on LGBTQ issues on the anti-homophobia anthem “Free Xone,” as well as on the chart-topping “Together Again,” which imagines an afterlife party populated by loved ones lost to AIDS (she even flirted with bisexuality in her threesome spin on Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night”). Jackson saw into the future of internet isolation on “Empty,” and raged—and rocked—about the terrors of domestic abuse on “What About.” And on “Rope Burn,” she got tied up and tied down long before the era of Fifty Shades of Grey. But there were no restraints for Jackson as a woman, as an artist, as a provocateur on The Velvet Rope.

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