Mary J. Blige purportedly loves the woman she sees in the mirror these days. She's newly svelte and outfitted in designer gear from head to toe. She's strong with a bulletproof heart, reinvented - but still, she rarely smiles.
Growing Pains, the title of Blige's new album, suggests that the hip-hop soul queen is still trying to find herself. But while chronicling her struggles in song, the artist is unshakably serious. She seemingly bulldozes through life's struggles, a little scarred but unbreakable. She recounts the tough lessons learned with hardly a trace of irony or humor. Still - after 15 years of lyrical candor about her personal evolution, the ups, the downs, the transcendence - Blige's eyes in promo shots reveal an iron will but no trace of joy.
If you go Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z perform at 7:30 tonight at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. Tickets are $49.75-$124.75. Call 410-547-7328 or ticketmaster.com.
The evolution of Mary J. Blige
Over the years, she's gone from a streetwise singer with attitude to an enlightened pop diva belting out "love-yourself" lyrics.
1992: The cover shot of Blige's debut, What's the 411?, helped cement her early reputation as a woman of dark moods. Clad in combat boots and dark shades, during this time she was dubbed the "queen of hip-hop soul."
1999: Collaborating with rock stars such as Elton John and Eric Clapton, Blige adopted a more pop-friendly sound with her album, Mary.
2002: With the release of No More Drama, Blige declared herself a work in progress. The title track, built on a sample from the theme song of The Young and the Restless, became an anthem of personal healing.
2008: On Growing Pains, the singer has gone from "ghetto-fabulous" to smart, uptown chic. Though the look is much softer, Blige's image is still that of the soul singer you don't want to mess with.
[Rashod D. Ollison]