n conversation, Mary J. Blige is warm, polite, and considered. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul is no less obliging to her fans, with whom she’s shared a 21-year-long musical discussion. Fittingly, then, just in time for the holiday season, she has released a gift of sorts with her first yuletide LP, A Mary Christmas, produced by Celine Dion hitmaker David Foster. And while Blige acknowledged during our chat that the title’s play on words was too good to pass up, the seasonally themed LP also invited a certain amount of year-’round introspection.
Mary J., 42, spoke with us about what it takes to wear the crown. Here she is, in her own words.
I was conscious about not hurting myself to save the lives of my fans.
When I took control of my life and I said, “No more drama,” it was during that time of the No More Drama album, when I was done with drugs, I was done with alcohol, I was done with living a life where I hated myself. I chose not only my life, but my fans, I chose them, too. People love Mary J. Blige, and if I hurt myself or commit suicide — because I was very suicidal then, before I said no more drama —my fans, that can hurt them. That can even kill some of them. So I made the shift thinking about not just my life, but four million people that came with me in this music business and said, “Mary, you saved our lives. We love you.”
Whatever rehab, whatever prayer you gotta do, if it means that much to you, you gotta make a change.
I loved Amy Winehouse, and [her death] just really hurt me, because that could have been me. It just reinforces, “OK, Mary, stay strong in this and continue to inspire the people to want to live another day.” Because I know how that feels. I know how Amy felt. I know how it feels when you wanna die. But there’s so much responsibility when you’re an artist or a mom or a dad. You have other people to think about. You have 15 million fans out there to think about, people that really love you. So you gotta get selfless, hard as it is.
Music is therapy.
It’s like working out. If you go for a three-mile run and you were feeling grumpy before you went, you come back and you just feel like, “Aah.” You write a great song, and you’re in the studio with someone, and they’re bouncing off of you, and the energy is great, and you listen back to what you did and it’s amazing — it’s exhilarating. It heals from the lyrical content to even just the color of the music and the way it feels.