Launched in support of her sixth studio album The Velvet Rope (1997), the tour visited Europe, North America, Japan, New Zealand, Africa, and Australia, starting April 16th, 1998 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands and ending January 30th, 1999 in Tokyo, Japan.
Janet was inspired to create an autobiographical show using elements of Broadway theatre, portraying her struggle with depression and self-esteem. The tour's stage production was developed as a storybook setting, allowing spectators to cross beyond her "velvet rope" and experience her life story through the evolution of her musical career. It consists of twenty-six songs, several band interludes, and intense choreography along with nine costume changes and four sets. Jackson depicts themes such as burlesque and domestic violence among the show's complex production of pyrotechnics and theatrics.
HBO broadcast the show during a special titled The Velvet Rope: Live in Madison Square Garden. It drew over 15 million viewers and was the most watched program among homes subscribed to the network. The special won an Emmy Award, and was also nominated for Image Awards and TMF Awards. It was released on DVD as The Velvet Rope Tour – Live in Concert, certified platinum in several territories. Various aspects of the tour have influenced numerous performers, including Britney Spears, Pink, Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, Panic! At the Disco, Jay-Z, and Arashi. Jackson notably selected N Sync and Usher to open for the tour; introducing both to the public during their early careers. It has also inspired the careers of several performers, dancers, and professional choreographers.