After pulling off a Breakthrough in 2005 — one that helped earn her three Grammy Awards and a heap of other honors — you'd think everything would finally be A-OK with Mary J. Blige nowadays.
Well, it is ... sort of.
Sure, she's been honored as an icon, she's enjoying her marriage to music-industry-exec husband Kendu Isaacs, and she's as beloved as ever by her peers. But Mary just wouldn't be Mary if she didn't have a battle on her hands. On her eighth studio album, Growing Pains, due December 11, Blige puts up a different kind of fight — to keep her breakthrough going.
As for the album's lead single, "Just Fine," the up-tempo track displays Blige's newfound spirit. The song was produced by Tricky Stewart and the Dream, the duo behind Rihanna's "Umbrella." And Blige said that the rainy-day hit was almost hers.
"They did the song for me," Blige revealed of "Umbrella." "And it was during the Grammy time and I was really, really busy, and I heard it, and I was like, 'Oh my goodness, that's a smash. I love this song.' And it was like, 'It's yours.' So in the midst of it being mine, they were probably telling [Rihanna] it was hers."
But there are no hard feelings between the R&B veteran and the fast-rising newcomer.
"She's such a beautiful lady, and I love her to death," Mary J. said of Rihanna. "I was so glad that she caught it and knocked it out of the park, and it's still one of my favorite songs to date."
On the Tricky track Blige did snag, "Just Fine," she zestfully sings: "Feels so good/ When you're doing all the things that you want to do/ Get the best out of life, treat yourself to something new/ Keep your head."
"[That song] was written based on me having a good day," Blige explained. "You know, I can have 30 or 40 [bad days]. I can have as many bad days as anyone. But I choose to say, 'I'm just fine.' Right now. You know those days when your hair looks good, you're not sitting in traffic, your man's not acting like an idiot. You're just fine. So it's OK to have those days. So instead of coming with something ungrateful to the universe, how about I come with something first that's says, 'You know what? It's OK. Enjoy this day if you're having a great day.' "
For Growing Pains, Blige also worked with Ne-Yo, Stargate, Dre & Vidal, and Timbaland.
The Ne-Yo-penned "Work in Progress" is a favorite of Blige's, she said. But she's not sure if the song will be her second single just yet. Other tracks set to be included on the album include "Roses," "Talk to Me" and "Feel Like a Woman." The latter, she said, is based on the idea that it's OK for women to receive gifts from men and that they shouldn't be called gold diggers for it. "Sometimes you got to enjoy him splurging on you," she said.
The dark days are long gone for Blige, but she's still drawing from her trials and tribulations in hopes to never revisit the pitfalls. Even if it hurts, she wants to put pleasure over pain.
"I got all the stuff where, in my relationship, when I'm having a hard time with myself, or I'm even having a hard time with [my husband], because we're not perfect. We love each other, but we're people! We're not robots or machines! We're just striving to do the right thing, those are the people that have it the hardest. Because it's easy to just always do the wrong thing and be comfortable. But to break the comfort zone of just falling back to, 'Well, it's comfortable here being pissed off all the time.' It hurts when you have to smile and you don't want to smile, but the best thing to do is to smile."
[This story was originally published at 7:34 p.m. ET on 10.10.2007]