1997, Music

The Velvet Rope (1997) by Janet Jackson

I had a very, very fixed idea of Janet Jackson before listening to that record. It was an idea essentially created by music videos (Janet Jackson is attractive) and the odd accidental radio exposure, but also created by the music industrial complex, which has generally marketed female performers in a particular way for quite a long time. This idea was complete wrong, in addition to being completely unfair. I am glad I listened to this record, because Janet Jackson is so much more than what I thought she was.

This is a ambitious, daring dare I say ‘difficult’ record for an album that I assumed existed for people to dance to. There are a lot of musical ideas here – some of which work, some of which don’t – and some prominent lyrical themes which I didn’t really imagine would be present here. I’m surprise by the diversity of the music and introspection of the lyrics.

The breadth of genres is particularly shocking (jarring even) because Jackson has always been marketed to me (far as I know) as being a performer who does one very specific type of dance pop. Hearing these samples (Tubular Bells!!!) and aggressive nature of some these performances as a real shock to my system.

Jackson also stretches herself as a performer (as far as I can tell), often fulfilling roles that would be handled by guests on lesser albums. (Not that there aren’t guests, but Jackson sings some parts I thought would be out of her range.)

I think her reach slightly exceeds her grasp – not every genre succeeds as well, such as that track that sounds like less interesting Bjork – and when Jackson waxes philosophical, it’s kind of cringe-worthy. But this is so much better than the albums I’ve heard by contemporary “divas.” I was very wrong to assume she was yet another dance pop starlet with no substance. Serves me right.


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