Rhythm And The Blues

JANET JACKSON GLIDES INTO HER oversize trailer on a lot in Culver City, Calif., ready for a moment of relaxation and some hot tea after a long video shoot. Her 15-year-old Labrador retriever, Puffy, stretches out on the floor. A bouquet of white tulips sits on a table, the only decoration in this home away from home. Unlike her previous releases, Jackson's latest album, a daringly eclectic outing titled ""The Velvet Rope,'' is struggling on the charts. It spent only a week at No. 1 and has dropped gradually ever since, now sitting at No. 5. CD sales, however, aren't what's on Jackson's mind. The 31-year-old singer spoke to NEWSWEEK'S Allison Samuels about a two-year cloud of depression that has only recently begun to lift. Jackson is once again in contact with her older sister, LaToya--LaToya became estranged from the family years ago when she claimed to have been abused as a child--but she has yet to meet Michael's infant son. Excerpts:

Mm-hmm. Because of what I was going through. I was very, very sad. Very down. Couldn't get up sometimes. There were times when I felt very hopeless and helpless, and I felt like walls were kind of closing in on me. It started two years ago. But I didn't know what it was and it would come, like, here and there. I thought I was just having a funky day. And it just got progressively worse until it was every day.

Yeah. I mean, there were times when I would cry in the studio trying to sing a song. I'd have to stop and come back another day. It took six months to do the album, which is long for me. ""Control'' took 2i. ""Rhythm Nation'' took three. But this time I had to take a lot of breaks, because it was too overwhelming at times.

It stemmed from my childhood, my teenage years, my adulthood. I was always the kind of person that could suppress my pain somehow, through escapism. One way was eating--I would feel bad and food would comfort me--and one was just shopping. But [the depression] stemmed from my childhood. Some of my teachers weren't nice to me. I remember when I got my first black teacher. I was in fourth grade. Mrs. Womack. And I thought she was the most beautiful thing. And she was such a sweet lady and so kind to me. Not all my Caucasian teachers were mean, but I had a couple that weren't nice to me at all. One of them embarrassed me in front of the entire class, and I just never got over that.

Well . . . Oh, God, it sounds so stupid. But being a kid you're just so frightened . . . I was supposed to do some equation on the board, and I couldn't figure it out. And she was like, ""Think, Jackson! Use your head! Oh, God, this is so simple!'' It made me feel very stupid, and it hurt me so much. I never talked about it, so it stayed with me all those years. I felt not deserving, not good enough. Like, Why do I deserve to have success? I'm not a smart person. You know what I mean? And the thing is, that's still the way I feel about myself sometimes.

Yes, I can . . . I was very independent growing up, but there were things that were bothering me that I never told anybody. I would talk to our animals at home. We had fawns that Michael and I raised until we weaned them and we'd feed them every morning. And I would talk to them. I would talk to the giraffe, Jafar. I would talk to the different animals we had--to the llama, Lola. And I felt they understood me. We had four dogs, and I would climb in the bushes and sit down and speak with them. And they were wonderful listeners, and I really felt they understood what I was feeling. And that's how I dealt with it in the very, very beginning, when I was a kid. And then I would eat as I got older.

Yeah. Because you didn't know who was your friend for you. I had friends coming to my house for the first time and bringing a present for my brothers. They're my friend, and they've never given me a present.

I was never close to my father. It hasn't gotten any better.

Because he wouldn't allow me to be--and still won't. It's as simple as that. That's just the way he is.

Have I spoken to her? Yes. I'm really proud of her. A lot of painful things have gone on, a lot of things have been said--a lot of lies. But family is family--that's the most important thing to me, and they come first. She's apologized, and we've had long talks on the phone. I actually hadn't spoken to her in five years because of all of this stuff that had gone on. And it feels good to have your sister back. We've talked on the phone and we've cried together on the phone, and it's been painful and it's been really good.

Well, that was the truth. I haven't seen him or spoken to him in two years, and it is very embarrassing when I think about it, because people are always asking, ""How is your nephew?'' I know that he's fine through my mother. He's fine. But people ask what he's like, and I can't say because I haven't met him. But it has nothing to do with bad blood between us. We're not enemies in any way. We haven't fallen out. It's just strictly due to business, due to our careers. But now his tour is over. So I'm hoping to see him and get to meet the baby, if he's not off someplace else.

Oh, I feel a lot better. I still have my days, though. I'm still going through it. You know, there are good and bad days. Like last week I had a not-so-good day, and I was doing a cleanse. I was doing a coffee enema and cleaning the liver. And they say that certain times when you're feeling something bad, your body cells hold emotions. And with the enema you can bring out the sad cells or--whatever it is--even stronger. So I became really depressed just this one day. And the person that I was doing the cleanse with said, ""Well, it's up to you whether you want to do another [cleanse] tomorrow because it might come out even more.'' But if it was there I wanted to get it out, so I did the enema again.

Actually, it hit me at 28, 29. Turning 30 was no big deal for me. I think guys trip a little harder than girls do about that. So it wasn't that. I don't know. I don't know if it has to do with being in the industry and being around a lot of adults so you tend to grow up a lot faster. So maybe something that should have come later on in my life came now. I honestly don't know. It just happened. My escapism didn't work anymore. The pain was there and staying.