The Velvet Rope is the sixth studio album by American recording artist Janet Jackson. The album was released on October 7, 1997 through Virgin Records America. Following the release of her first greatest hits compilation Design of a Decade: 1986–1996 (1995), Jackson's recording contract with Virgin was up for renewal, making her the subject of a high-profile bidding war among parties including Sony Music, The Walt Disney Company, and Time Warner. She ultimately renewed her contract with Virgin for an unprecedented US$80 million, the largest recording contract in history at that time.
Upon experiencing an emotional breakdown, Jackson began facing a long-term case of depression, steaming from childhood and adolescent traumas, including body dysmorphia, anorexia and self-harm. She in turn developed her new record as a concept album, using introspection as its theme. Its title is a metaphor for emotional boundaries, as well as an allusion to an individual's need to feel special. Its lyrics address subject matter such as depression, self-worth, social networking, homophobia and domestic violence. It also encompasses themes of sexuality, including BDSM, masturbation, sexual orientation and same-sex relationships. Due to its sexually explicit content, the album reinforced Jackson's public image as a sex symbol and as one of the most erotic vocalists of the 1990s. Its incorporation of social issues regarding sexual orientation and combating homophobia also established her reputation as a gay icon and received a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Music.
The record was co-written and co-produced by Jackson, her then-husband René Elizondo, Jr., Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, with additional contributions by various songwriters. Songs on the album also include British violinist Vanessa-Mae, Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and American rapper Q-Tip as featured artists. Its composition fuses various genres, including pop, R&B, trip hop, folk, jazz, rock and electronic music. Considered to be Jackson's most mature recording, it is regarded as a template for pop artists transitioning to a darker or rebellious sound and as a precursor to the development of alternative R&B. Referred to as her magnum opus, The Velvet Rope has been subject to critical acclaim and is included in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The album peaked within the top five positions of the majority of the global record charts it entered. In the United States, it became Jackson's fourth consecutive album to top the Billboard 200. Certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), it has sold over three million copies in the US according to Nielsen SoundScan and an estimated ten million copies worldwide. Of the six singles released from the project, "Got 'til It's Gone" won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Music Video, "Together Again" became one of the best-selling singles worldwide and "I Get Lonely" became Jackson's 18th consecutive top ten hit, making her the only female artist in the history of the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart to achieve that feat. The Velvet Rope Tour in support of the album drew critical acclaim for its theatricality, as well as controversy for its depictions of domestic violence and bondage.