This Is Why Janet Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope’ Is Her Most Controversial Album

When you are the youngest sister of the legendary Motown group, The Jackson 5, you have to be pretty iconic in order to become a global phenomenon in your own right. That’s exactly who Janet Jackson is. The visionary singer, dancer, and actress has been in the entertainment industry for her entire life, and as someone who has been transformative in music across the decades, she still doesn’t get enough credit.

With 11 studio albums under her belt, having sold over 100 million records with numerous awards, and accolades, Jackson has been able to evolve with the times, something pop stars often struggle with. Though Jackson’s first and second albums were given lukewarm reception in the early ’80s, that did not deter her.

Her third album 1986’s Control, defined her sound. However, her sixth studio album, 1997’s The Velvet Rope would paint the “Rythm Nation” artist in an entirely different light, becoming her most controversial album to date.

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Janet Jackson had to reshape her career

In the 1970s most people knew Jackson as the baby sister to the Jackson 5. She had her own acting career on sitcoms like Good Times. However, in order to break out of that girl-next-door persona and really stand on her own, Jackson had to redefine herself for herself.

After lukewarm sales of her albums, Janet Jackson and Dream Street, Jackson linked with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Together, the trip created Control, a platinum selling album that chronicled Jackson’s life from a girl from Gary, Indiana struggling under the pressure of her parents, her expectations of herself, and what the world thought of her.

Just over a decade later, Jackson would redefine herself once again with The Velvet Rope.

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Inside Janet Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope’

Following Control, Jackson would remain with Jam and Lewis, dropping Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 and Janet, making her one of the most famous women on the planet. However, The Velvet Rope was a different, and very grown version of Jackson.

“I always write about what’s going on in my life,” Jackson reflected in 2001. “It’s like cutting yourself open and exposing all of your insides, and at that point you’re very vulnerable. People were so eager to take potshots at me with The Velvet Rope album, but I was really being completely honest with everything that I was saying.”

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Janet Jackson’s ‘The Velvet Rope’ is still her most controversial album

Jackson had a ton of pressure on her when The Velvet Rope debuted, she had renegotiated her contract with Virgin Records which included an $80 million advance, the largest recording contract in history at that time.

Still, critics and fans were taken aback when they heard the album. The Velvet Rope explored sexuality, the complexity of human relationships, and emotional trauma. Conservative religious groups attacked Jackson for speaking about same-sex relationships, sex, the HIV/AIDS crisis, BDSM, and domestic violence. “That wasn’t a bad space to be in because it taught me a great deal,” Jackson said in 2002. “It was very cathartic and therapeutic. Writing music and melodies is a sure way of finding release.”

Despite the initial pushback, Jackson did not let the naysayers deter her. “I think it’s important to be true to yourself in your music,” she said. “I think that’s the only way I can actually write music.” Jackson’s candor paid off, the album became  Jackson’s fourth consecutive album to top the Billboard 200 and it went triple platinum.