Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope is one of the most underrated, but influential, albums of the 1990s. The album shows one of the most famous woman in music of the time unravelling and revealing herself unlike ever before. In the midst of a break up with her second husband and a period of depression, Jackson created an album that could be considered her most personal to date, and also her most effective use of sexuality and S&M. The album is a journal of sorts, with any issue open, like the album title suggests, you’re being welcomed behind the velvet rope, you’re seeing the woman behind the press, the awards, the image, the true Janet Jackson. Like a journal, topics vary throughout the course of the 60 minute plus album, domestic abuse, aids, sex, S&M, lesbian fantasies, partying with friends, self-confidence, etc. Interludes throughout The Velvet Rope push that idea of a journal further by having conversations with friends, implying masturbation and other personal snippets. Lyrically it is the most inventive and personal of Janet’s career so far. The album is written and produced primarily by Janet with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The team that has produced with her since Control and knows Jackson well, only aiding the the journal-like revelations on the album. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis also incorporate some adventurous production for The Velvet Rope. Electronic, pop, hip-hop, funk, rock, and folk are just some elements heard sonically in the masterpiece. The creative use of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” sample in “Got Till It’s Gone,” which reinvents the folk classic with Q-Tip rapping, and a soulful hip-hop vibe. Rock can be witnessed in the aggressive, guitar solo filled, domestic abuse themed, “What About,” which features strong and loud vocals, that at times could compare with Michael Jackson, from the petite voiced singer. Elsewhere, Jackson’s on the dancefloor with “Go Deep” and “Together Again.” She’ll switch it up again for slow and smooth r&b, like in “I Get Lonely”. One of the highlights that can clearly be seen in modern pop acts is the one-two-punch of the opening tracks “Velvet Rope” and “You,” which features heavy beats, bass, hints of electronica, that can be compared to the elements found in many popular songs today as dance and electronic music gains more popularity. “Velvet Rope” also contains the use of a violin during the breakdown that could be compared to the only other famous pop song to contain a violin breakdown, “With Every Heartbeat” by Robyn. Critics have also compared pop star Rihanna’s album Rated R to The Velvet Rope, due to the dark imagery, discussions of sex, domestic abuse, critical acclaim and revealing of personality, (although Rihanna had much more writers and less input). Jackson’s The Velvet Rope will remain a classic album of the nineties full of personal depth, textured and eclectic production, and timeless songs feeling fresh still today.
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Rihanna may have taken elements similar to The Velvet Rope for her Rated R album, but for the image and promotion, Rihanna had a dark image full of leather, sexual outfits, and gothic, futuristic, elements. Jackson could arguably be seen as less sexual for the promotion of The Velvet Rope compared to her previous album janet. which saw the singer exploring her sensual and loving sexuality. Jackson was still a sexual figure with explicit songs and images of her in catsuits with her nipple ring and bondage featured in the album booklet. The music videos and interviews do not show such a provocative woman, instead the videos feature an organic and warm sense with an embrace of African American culture. The embrace can be seen in the hairstyles worn by the star in videos for “Together Again” and “Got Till It’s Gone” with her hair in a more natural but unique style. The videos are full of reds, sepias, and other warm and real colors. The African American of the 1960s and 70s is celebrated in “Got Till It’s Gone” in a hip and liberated bar setting. “Together Again” shows an African paradise, full of warm colors and elements of nature. “Go Deep” also contains elements of African-American culture and a warm, but modern American setting. The videos only elaborated and improved the hit songs.