“Women who listen to Mary make bad decisions with men.” A man once told me this while we listened to my personal 240-song Mary J. Blige folder on shuffle. He went on to describe what he imagined an MJB concert to be like, whether in an actual stadium with the songstress performing live or an at-home party for one with a bottle of alcohol and the volume at max.
He painted a hyperbolic picture of thousands of females, aged young and old, hysterically bawling with drinks in hand all while singing along to an endless catalog of depressing anthems—every lyric recited verbatim so no need for hymn books. At the pulpit, “the Queen of Pain,” (as he referred to Blige) used her songs to sermonize on subjects of personal struggle, toxic relationships, and unrequited love. The ceremony, rooted in perpetual sadness and heartache, served as a perverse covenant between emotionally damaged women, Mary included.
Though slightly annoyed by his mockery, having experienced both of these scenarios myself, I understood his point. In fact, I had a eureka moment and cockily replied, “Yup! Sister Mary and The Congregation.”** I then proceeded to take a sip from my glass of wine.
A quick survey of Blige’s album titles alone (No More Drama, Growing Pains, Stronger with Each Tear, and, of course, her magnum opus, My Life), highlights the overarching themes of her music. Another defining feature of her collection is the lyrics, many of which she penned herself or contributed to, making her music even more relatable. While some songs adopt a more abstract lyrical approach, the words behind tracks like “Father In You” from her chart-topping 2005 album, The Breakthrough, cut right down to the white meat: “When I was a baby / I didn’t get a hug from daddy / That’s why I need a hug from you.”
Dubbed “the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” by longtime friend and collaborator Diddy (or “Puff” as she and us old school folks still affectionately refer to him), Blige was originally nicknamed “the Queen of Ghetto Love” for her brutally honest depiction of romantic woes and uncanny ability to breathe life into these sordid stories with her poignant and vulnerable vocals. But above all, it’s the autobiographical aspect of Mary’s music that resonates most with her fans.
Throughout her 30-year career, the Share My World singer has done just that. Therefore, listening to Mary’s music might seem like wallowing in misery to some men, but for women—Black women in particular—her songs transcend emotional connectivity. Blige’s music is deeply therapeutic and viscerally cathartic. One could even argue it is so powerful, it’s potentially dangerous.
For women—Black women in particular—her songs transcend emotional connectivity. Blige’s music is deeply therapeutic and viscerally cathartic. One could even argue it is so powerful, it’s potentially dangerous.”
Depending on your mental wellbeing, current or past life experiences, and level of inebriation, Mary’s inventory contains a litany of triggering tracks. No matter what trauma you may have endured, skeletons may be hiding in your closet, or demons you may be battling, our girl’s likely got you covered. Surprise baby with another woman? Check! Tired of being the side chick? Check! Daddy issues? Check! Your man not putting it down in the bedroom? Check!
Ladies, if you are reeling from a bad romance, mentally scarred, or consumed with bitterness and anger, in an effort to not fall victim to depression or drunk dialing/texting, please put down the bottle and listen to Mary with caution. Or so you don’t “rip somebody head off” as Sister Mary so eloquently expressed in “Roses,” might I at least advise you to opt for her fast-tempo and feel-good bops like “Just Fine” or “Family Affair” rather than any of the downtrodden, albeit emotionally purgative tracks on this list. And just in case you’re still tempted to press play, each entry also includes lyrical excerpts that prove exactly why you need to tell Alexa or Google, “Play the next song!”
**If “Sister Mary and The Congregation” ever takes off as a name for Mary’s fanbase, remember you heard it here first!