Music

Mary J. Blige: Growing Pains

Michael Arceneaux

The new and improved Queen of Hip Hop Soul concedes the battle for true happiness is an ongoing one.


Mary J. Blige

Growing Pains

Label: Geffen
US Release Date: 2007-12-18
UK Release Date: 2007-12-18
Amazon
iTunes
Life can be only what you make it, when you’re feeling down, you should never fake it/

Say what’s on your mind and you’ll find in time, that all the negative energy, it will all decease

Mary J. Blige has built a career off of channeling her inner demons to create some of contemporary soul music’s finest recordings, leading to her amass a huge fan base that’s used her music as the soundtrack to their own lives. Over the years, Blige has been quite candid about her struggles with love (of self and others), addiction, depression, and overall happiness. Not that we needed her to: My Life, her most celebrated album, is chock full of love songs, though all sounded incredibly melancholy, an obvious sign of the pain lingering in the artist behind them. Many eager listeners shared Blige’s yearning to let go of all that ails her with the hopes of obtaining the happiness each of us deserves.

Since that album she’s told us several times that there was no more drama in her life -- even going as far to spell it out in an album title -- though not many believed her until she finally seemed to breakthrough. “Be Without You", one of the most successful singles of her career is just as honest as those released a decade prior, only this time she wasn’t trying to convince us that she was happy --- we could hear it for ourselves. Because of that, The Breakthrough reignited Mary’s chart muscle after Love & Life (which saw her dip back in time and reconnect with Diddy) largely fell on deaf ears.

But now that Blige has finally let go, she’s alienated a faction of her fan base, who vocally express their displeasure with Blige's new direction, pressing for more down and out Mary over back flipping out of glee Mary we’ve come to see in recent years.

What does Blige think of this? Judging from the line, “No time for moping around, are you kidding?” from the first single off her new album, Growing Pains, the aptly titled, “Just Fine", she could care less. This new Mary wants to stop wallowing in her own self-pity and enjoy her life. On the energetic single, she even boasts, “And I’ma still wear a smile if it’s raining.” That’s quite a contrast from the old Mary, who painted the notion of wearing a smile to guise her pain as quite the burden on “Everyday It Rains,” a gem from 1995’s The Show soundtrack.

No longer second guessing herself at every turn, Blige’s not only happy, she’s content. With her age. With her appearance. With where she is in life. This is evident in tracks like the self-love promoting, “Work That", which features Blige stressing to young women everywhere to be themselves and love who they are. Let’s hope the message resonates with the current crop of new artists male and female alike, who thanks to an image-obsessed music industry, work in an environment where individuality has become an anomaly.

If you haven’t noticed by now, Blige’s in love and finds a way to champion it throughout the album. It sounds great on most songs, like “Stay Down", but falls a bit flat on others like “What Love Is". The latter makes the mistake sometimes committed by Mariah Carey: Singing about love in the same context it’s discussed in a Sweet Valley High book. Still, Growing Pains. shows Blige is in love and through songs like “Talk to Me” and “If You Love Me,” we’re assured she’s dedicated to preserving it.

Despite Blige’s transformation, old habits die hard, and as previously mentioned, not every Blige fan is on the happy train, so the Queen of Hip Hop Soul manages to acknowledge for them and for herself that the fight towards bliss is an ongoing struggle with “Roses” and “Work in Progress (Growing Pains)". Both songs finely articulate that despite Blige being in better place, it took a lot of fighting to get there, and it requires work (and the right attitude) to stay there.

While Growing Pains is a good addition to the Mary J. Blige catalogue, listening to it makes me think those who long for the days when she sang of struggles over triumphs may be a bit misguided. In some respects, while Blige has no doubt evolved both personally and professionally, much of the music released over the years is a tamed version of the hip-hop soul genre Blige is hailed for creating. This is a result of her growing popularity in the mainstream. She now caters to a varied audience that includes fans of the days she sang with K-Ci Hailey and those who are only recently hopping on the Blige bandwagon after seeing her perform with Bono. Pleasing everyone requires quite the balancing act, but Growing Pains confirms that while it’s not yet perfected, it’s doable.

Thirteen years ago Blige sang about happiness almost as if it were almost an unattainable goal. Fortunately she's proved otherwise. Whether or not you can stomach her now cheerful demeanor, you have to applaud someone that’s pulled themselves out of their own nadir. She’s on a new journey, and if Growing Pains is any indication, it looks to make for an interesting ride.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image