Mary J Blige (MJB) released her album “Strength of a Woman” this past May. Like any good groupie, I got the album. To be honest, I only listened to it here and there. These are busy times. What I heard was decent. Generally, MJB tends to put out good albums. However, the other day I had a little down time and really listened to “Strength…” The album is actually pretty solid. It’s a reflective collection of music backed with heartfelt singing and killer production. It’s an amazing adult contemporary album for Black women in my age group (the Gen-Xers).
When it was announced that Mary was divorcing her husband of 12 years, folks said “uh, oh. Mary is going to be crying again on her next album.” Mary is known for singing about her relationships. As a die-hard fan of Mary of the 25+ years she’s been in the music industry, I’ve come to the realization Mary is just a sensitive person. She wears her heart on her sleeve. I find her willingness to be vulnerable a rarity. The truth is, love is some complicated mess. We all want it, whether we admit it or not. We want that deep love, that Love Jones love, that real love. I think Mary wants it more than anyone and it makes sense knowing her history. She has talked about being molested as a child, an on and off again relationship with her father, drug addiction, and relationship with guys who just didn’t know what to do with a girl/woman like Mary J Blige.
I remember in an interview, Mary talked about when she was a kid, other kids would fight to see who could sit by her or be her friend. She also recalled a time a teacher asked her to sing to help settle down the class, and it worked. There is something about Mary. I think because she’s an old/tender soul, that she has had to camouflage with street swag. The survival story of most Black women.
In the early years, a young Mary covered her eyes/was hiding. By mid-career (No More Drama, The Breakthrough) she was growing more confident. Now, with her 13th album, she is boldly proclaiming “f*ck it, I’m Mary J Blige!” by sitting on her throne.
Listening to the new album, yes Mary J is brokenhearted again. But unlike the other times she’s shared about failed love/the rhetoric of loving one’s self…she seems to have had a true epiphany of “oh well, shit happens. but i’m gonna be alright.” The thing I love about Mary, is that she is constantly evolving. Mary has maintained she is a work in progress. Even when she got married and thought she found the love of her life, she warned folks that there is never really any happy endings. You always have to put in the work to be a better person.
While Mary has made some faux pas over the years (still cringing over that Burger King commercial and singing for Clinton), overall she’s been an inspiring person. She has been an iconic image for Black women like me who grew up in the 70’s/80’s. The 40-something Black women who know a little bit more about life than we did in our 20’s, but still learning and growing. Rock on MJB.
My current favorite song from “Strength…”