There are times when I feel your love around me baby
I'll never forget my baby
When I feel that I don't belong, draw my strength
From the words when you said, "Hey, it's about you baby."
Look deeper inside you baby
Dream about us together again
When I want us together again baby
I know we'll be together again
Although not a Concept Album itself, her previous blockbuster album, janet., had a lot of compositional similarity to Rhythm Nation 1814 with the interludes between songs. She decided to give the concept album another try with her sophomore effort at Virgin, but not without a ton of roadblocks along the way.
Production on the album initially began after the end of the janet. World Tour in 1995, dealing in then-husband René Elizondo Jr. as a co-producer along with herself and Flyte Tyme (Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis). However, the growing pressures of the music industry, and increasing self-hate—stemming from years of repressing childhood trauma, which quickly led to her suffering from bulimia, anorexia, self-harm, and body dysmorphia—caused Janet to have a severe emotional breakdown, and production on the album stalled. Janet also began questioning her own sexual orientation during this low period.
In-between her recovery and resuming recording sessions for the album, Janet's deal with Virgin expired, and she briefly re-signed with A&M Records in 1995 to release the compilation Design of a Decade: 1986-1996, which also served as a Milestone Celebration for Control, and recorded the duet "Scream" with her brother Michael for his ninth studio album HIStory. After the album ran its course, she was once again a free agent, and a second bidding war ensued for her services, with Warner (Bros.) Records, DreamWorks Records, her brother's record label Sony Music, and even Disney, all throwing their hats in the ring. Ultimately, she re-signed with Virgin for an unprecedented $80 million, one-upping the record-breaking contracts her brother and Madonna had signed a few years prior.
By late 1996, Janet had recovered from her breakdown, and spent the first six-and-a-half months of 1997 working on the album almost nonstop. She finally stepped away from the New Jack Swing sound, and focused on Hip Hop Soul, and Contemporary R&B. She also began to flirt with Trip Hop, and added in elements of Jazz, G-Funk, and even folk music. Because the album was heavily influenced by her breakdown, the themes were Darker and Edgier, exploring depression, sadomasochism, online relationships, domestic violence, and homosexuality. Doing so got the album banned in Singapore. It also solidified her status as a sex symbol, and earned her the praise of the LGBTQ+ community.
The album only released five singles, and only two charted on the Billboard Hot 100: "Together Again" (#1) and "I Get Lonely" (#3). Both also were Top 10 in the UK (#4 and #5, respectively), while "Go Deep" was also a hit there (#13). With the lesser number of hits, it only went triple-Platinum in the United States, despite debuting at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It only hit #27 on the Year-End Chart for 1998. But it was critically-acclaimed to the highest order. It was listed #256 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2003, #259 on the 2012 list, and #318 on the 2020 list.
The music video for "Got 'til It's Gone" won the Grammy Award for Best Music Video, Short Form in 1999. She also won Top R&B Artist from the Billboard Music Awards in 1998.
Janet conducted another world tour to promote the album from April 1998 through January 1999, with 125 performances over six legs. The October 11, 1998, performance at Madison Square Garden was broadcast live on HBO with 15 million viewers, and later released as a live album and concert DVD, The Velvet Rope Tour: Live in Concert. The concert tour album went Platinum as well.
- "Interlude: Twisted Elegance" (0:41)
- "Velvet Rope" (4:55)
- "You" (4:42)
- "Got 'til It's Gone" (4:01)
- "Interlude: Speaker Phone" (0:54)
- "My Need" (3:44)
- "Interlude: Fasten Your Seatbelts" (0:19)
- "Go Deep" (4:42)
- "Free Xone" (4:57)
- "Interlude: Memory" (0:04)
- "Together Again" (5:01)
- "Interlude: Online" (0:19)
- "Empty" (4:32)
- "Interlude: Full" (0:12)
- "What About" (4:24)
- "Every Time" (4:17)
- "Tonight's the Night" (5:07)
- "I Get Lonely" (5:17)
- "Rope Burn" (4:15)
- "Anything" (4:54)
- "Interlude: Sad" (0:10)
- "Special" (7:55)
= Hidden track "Can't Be Stopped" starts at 3:42
"I'm tropin' now, makin' sure I look fine tonight"
- Cover Version: Mixed in with all the original songs was a cover of Rod Stewart's standard "Tonight's the Night".
- Darker and Edgier: What Rhythm Nation 1814 was to Control, this was to janet.
- Domestic Abuse: "What About" has Janet recalling a past romantic partner (most likely ex-husband James DeBarge), and all of the horrible things he constantly did to her; including, but not limited to: sleeping around, hitting her, shunning her, and belittling her.
- Grief Song: "Together Again" was written in-part to grieve a friend of Janet's who had passed away from AIDS during the recording of the album, and for a young fan who lost his father. Janet invoked this again in a different context years later on her 2011 "Number Ones: Up Close and Personal" tour, where she sang the song as a tribute to Michael, who died two years prior.
- Hidden Track: "Can't Be Stopped" begins roughly half-way through the final listed track, "Special". Being unlisted, it counts as The Stinger even moreso than "Whoops Now" did for janet. The Japanese edition plays "Special" in full, while attaching "Can't Be Stopped" to an exclusive bonus track: "God's Stepchild".
- Lyrical Dissonance: Subverted with "Together Again"; being a peppy, upbeat pop song about the death of a loved one, you'd think it's this at first, but the lyrics indicate that it's supposed to be about accepting death rather than mourning it and remembering the one who has passed.
- New Sound Album: Janet finally catches up to the sounds of mid-90s R&B on this album, and took cues from other popular hip hop/R&B producers of the time, such as The Ummah, and Timbaland (both of whom coincidentally produced remixes for some of the singles on the album), while also dipping into genres not normally associated with R&B, like Hard Rock, Trip Hop and folk.
- No Ending: "Special", the last listed track on The Velvet Rope, ends abruptly after its second verse, with the music cutting out to Janet saying "work in progress", followed by several seconds of silence until the hidden track "Can't Be Stopped". As mentioned above, the Japanese edition averts this by attaching "Can't Be Stopped" to a different track.
- Sampling: "Got It 'til It's Gone" was a infamous example that caused a legal snafu for all involved. British singer Des'ree claimed the song was too similar to her 1992 hit "Feel So High", and won twenty-five percent of the song's publishing royalties, and a co-writing credit in an out-of-court settlement.
- Special Guest: Trevor Horn got writing credits on the Title Track, and James Brown got writing credits for "Free Xone". A total of five tracks (not including the cover) had additional writers besides Janet, Elizondo, and Flyte Tyme.note
- Title Track: "The Velvet Rope".