bold, brave and beautiful; mary j blige is back and as brilliant as ever.
With her new album, London Sessions, out today, we chat the Queen of Hip Hop about being hurt and getting back up again.
There are many things that make Mary J Blige beautiful: her music, of course, the Miu Miu shoes she's wearing, sure, her carefully applied M.A.C. make-up… But it's more than that. It's Mary's frown, the scar under her left eye, the bow-shaped lips she thinks are funny, the one eye slightly bigger than the other. Her face, in the flesh, is truly breathtaking. You can see the 43-year-old's history - good and bad - etched in those features, in the same way that you can hear it when she sings. Thanks to her willingness to both accept and expose her flaws, Mary has truly made it okay to not be okay. A traumatic childhood and troubled adolescence, fame at a young and impressionable age, and several destructive relationships in the 90s left her self-esteem in tatters and her confidence at an all-time low. But then, in 2001, came No More Drama and shit got real. She embraced the darkness, and she decided no more pain, no more drama, no one was gonna make Mary hurt again. She still struggles with her sense of worth, like we all do, but the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul has finally found inner peace and some serious self-love. We asked the Yonkers-born singer to tell us ten things about herself. Here's what she had to say.
1. She put in a lot of calls to work with Disclosure:
"I discovered Disclosure on Vevo. Me and my husband, who's my manager, were amazed that these two young British kids had created something that sounded like the music from the 80s that we listened to as children: Martha Wash, CeCe Peniston, Inner City. Wow. When I heard Latch, it made me feel so nostalgic. I just had to sing a song like that. My husband called Lucian Grainge [CEO of Universal Music Group] and Lucian called David Joseph [CEO of Universal UK] and David called Darcus [Beese, Island Records president], who called Jack Street, who's their manager and it just kept going. Everybody loved the idea and the next day I was in the studio recording F For You. That's how that idea for my new album, The London Sessions, was born."
2. She's mates with Bono (but we won't hold that against her):
"I don't feel like mine is the greatest voice in the world, but I feel comfortable with exactly what it is, whatever it is. Bono helped me a lot with my vocals. One day we were doing a benefit for Hurricane Katrina and I was concerned about hitting some note on a song. He was like, "It's not about hitting a note, it's about singing the song." And I was never nervous about singing and not hitting a note ever again."
3. She has fond memories of her days with Puffy:
"When I look back, it's almost like looking at a baby. Some of my pictures I think, "Gosh, I was so young there." I remember being around people like Puffy in my younger days and just laughing a lot - he always made me laugh. I think of laughter when I see pictures of me and Puff, or pictures of me and my girlfriends back in the day.
4. She loves a series binge
"I've done a lot of them - The Wire, of course. I did a binge on Suits recently. Right now, I'm stuck on Suits, actually, but I'm about to get to Shameless, Scandal, Nashville… [Laughs] I love them all."
5. She's not very good at keeping pets
"I loved working with Naughty Boy. I didn't get to meet Bob the cat, though. I don't know if Naughty Boy found him yet, but Bob ran away. I've tried to be an animal person several times. I've had two dogs and one cat as an adult, and I had a cat as a little girl too. After a while... well, it didn't work out back then and I think I'm the same way now. I love them when they're not mine - it's like having a child!"
I don't let people dictate who I am or make me judge myself.
6. Her definition of beauty has nothing to do with cosmetics and clothes
"I like all that stuff. I like shoes, I like clothes, but if I don't feel good about myself inside, seriously, then that's not beauty. Beauty is accepting that one of your eyes is bigger than the other or that your lips are the way they are. Like, I blink a lot, but it is what it is. I'm not worried about it anymore. Whatever you truly are, that's beauty to me. And then you're able to carry all the make-up in the world and look like the most beautiful goddess in the world because you're cool and confident with what you have."
7. She thinks that being in your twenties is really rubbish
"Those twenties suck. They're terrible. You're just out there doing anything, but really you don't want to be doing all that stuff. In your thirties though, you're starting to figure it out, settle in. Then your forties, well it is what it is. You begin to stop taking any BS, you're not going to let people take away from you what's yours. I am me."
8. She'd tell a teenage MJB to be easier on herself
"I'd say, "You're beautiful, just as you are. Your hair colour is beautiful. You're a beautiful girl and you have to believe that," because she totally didn't believe that. I couldn't really talk to that Mary, because she was already gone. By the time she got into the music business… that's another illusion. Like, I have to act like I'm confident when I'm really not. Like, I think I'm cute, when I really think I'm ugly. That's a whole other thing, so she can't hear me. There is not much I can say to younger artists now, because when I was younger I did some stupid stuff and I didn't want to hear anything from anyone. When you're young, you're doing young stuff, and you think it's the best thing in the world because everybody's praising you for it. But I let people be people because when I was growing up, I didn't want to hear anything."
9. She hasn't got time for the media's obsession with celebrity - and trolls can bog off too
"I'm confident with who I am. I don't let people dictate who I am or make me judge myself. That's what I mean about being in your forties: you just say, "This is who I am, like it or lump it, accept it or not." I'm not going to rip off all my clothes because this person is ripping off their clothes. That may work for her, but it doesn't work for me. I used to struggle with [the paparazzi], but what I now realise is that for the people of today, the age that we're living in, it's cyber hell. When we're outside and people are taking pictures, I can't start snapping their phones out of their hands. As long as I'm not digging my nose in or looking crazy, take all the pictures you want. You can't stop them."
10. And at the end of the day, it's all just life, really
"I have evolved and I'm evolving. This [my other albums] is the history and that's a big book and it's still open, but now we have to open another book. We're not closing this one, but we have to open another book now. You have people that still want to live there and I love living there too, but if I want to continue to grow, and evolve, then I need to start a new book. That's where we are. Life is life and we accept it."
Text Hattie Collins
Photography Olivia Rose