It was January 1996 and Janet Jackson had just signed a multi million-dollar contract with Virgin Records. In current values, she was earning more than 120 million dollars to stick to her record label and was, therefore, again, the highest-paid entertainer in the music market. Being at the peak of her career, Janet had everything to be happy. But she wasn’t. “There’s nothing more depressing than having everything, but still feeling sad”. The words of Interlude: Sad from The Velvet Rope defined how Janet felt. Since 1995, she was very sad – for depression was not the term that she liked to use – for reasons that not even she understood well. The album’s recording process involved a lot of pain.
The pain of facing the wounds of the past, of understanding where this sorrow was coming from, of resolving pending issues. Janet also mentioned meeting a mysterious 50-something cowboy whom she met in a desert, who helped in the process cathartic. Also, at this time, Janet tattooed the Ghanaian Sankofa symbol, which would come to be the symbol of the album. The Sankofa represents the legend of a bird that flew looking back, and means that we must learn from the past to move forward.
In her most experimental album, both in sound and themes, Janet approached taboos, such as: internet relationships, depression, domestic abuse, homo and bisexuality, sadomasochism etc. It was also the longest time she took to record an album to that point. The singer eventually said in interviews that it took about six months to complete the recordings and that due to the weight of her emotions and the content of the album, she several times walked away from the studio for up to a week to “cool off”.
As if the risk she was taking with the content of the album was not enough, the first single was ‘Got ‘ Til It’s Gone’, met with hesitation both by the critics and by some fans. This was not the hit that she hoped for and Janet did not dominate the radio as usual. In an atmosphere more and more eccentric, the promotion of the album involved appearances alongside Michael’s ex-wife, Lisa Marie Presley; interviews talking about her relationship with him; and also about her most intimate piercings, which, according to her, gave her pleasure. The Velvet Rope is until today her most praised album among fans and critics. In addition to having released her most successful single of all time worldwide, ‘Together Again’, the album sold more than 10 million copies.