Many interviewers have commented on Mary J Blige’s surprisingly vulnerable demeanour when being interviewed – the shy downward glances and nervous responses that belie her tough on-record persona. However, either Time Out’s interviewer is particularly unintimidating, or Blige has been on an assertiveness training course, because none of these traits are in evidence today.
At the age of 40, Blige is – there’s no other word for it – fierce. There’s certainly no false modesty, or indeed modesty of any other type, in evidence. She puts her new-found confidence down to a series of recent events and epiphanies, from marriage to completing her high-school diploma, which gave her a new perspective.
This trip is documented on her new album, My Life 2: The Journey Continues, a record that references her platinum-selling debut, which detailed the trials and traumas the then 21-year-old Blige suffered, and which spawned the Lambrini girl classic, ‘No More Drama’. Since then, of course, Blige’s life has seen more dramas than most, from alcoholism to a drug-assisted near-death experience, all explicitly explored on her records. As a result, Blige uses ‘we’ as a pronoun, not as a regal affectation, but rather because she’s referring to her fanbase as well as herself.
It seems significant that you’ve arrived at a point in your life where you feel comfortable referencing My Life… I’m not referencing it, but I’m extending it. It’s a place we’ve gotta remember, where we came from and how far we’ve grown since then. I can’t make another My Life, I would never even try, because it’s such a classic and it’s so near and dear to people. The only thing I can do is extend it at a time like this and show people how far we’ve come because it’s such a nurturing thing, even the title alone. When you say the My Life album, people feel warm and loved, y’know… cared about. So on this one, it was time to do that, because of the times – recession, war – my fans need to know that they have that “hug” in music again that they had back then.
You obviously feel a close bond with your fans, and feel almost responsible for them. I feel really good about it, because my goal as a child was to never lead a person astray. Because I’ve seen women hurting when I was a child, and I always wanted to do something about it. I didn’t know as a child I’d be using my own life, and I’d be going through hell and actually becoming what it is I didn’t want women to go through. But I feel good about it. Everything I went through, I don’t like the way it felt, but right now the payoff is the love from the fans.
You’ve also established an outreach organisation, The Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now. How’s that going? It’s going well. We’ve sent 50 women to college on four-year scholarships, and we have a Mary J Blige Centre for Women up in Yonkers that has a childcare system and a GED programme, a computer room and even an open forum to speak about the abuse and stuff that may be happening in their lives, so they have a place to vent and let it out.
How do you feel about the sexualisation of women in music? There has always been sexualisation since the beginning of time, since the black-and-white movie days! People have their own minds and they make their own choices. Whatever they choose to do, if it works and they’re confident with it, I’m not against it. I fight for my identity, so I’m not really worried about anyone else showing too much. I don’t care.
So you think they’re taking advantage of men’s propensity to think with things other than their heads? Like I said, men have their own issues. It’s up to us as women to know the power we have, so that we don’t sell ourselves short to the men. I can’t judge anyone for what they do, even the ones who choose to show whatever they show; as long as they handle themselves proudly and their motive behind it wasn’t something that someone said. As long as they’re comfortable with it, they’re winning, they’re killing the men. Because it was their decision. If you made the decision to do what you do, you’re alright. My Life 2: The Journey Continues is available in stores now.