Mary J. Blige laughs as she contemplates what she wants the world to see during Sunday’s Super Bowl halftime show.
“Me! Me, me, me! Me with my team. Me with my friends. They’re going to see us all shine,” she says, not with ego, but confidence.
It’s fitting that Blige is the only woman – and the artist bringing the heaviest dose of R&B to the hip-hop heavy lineup – in this year’s halftime extravaganza, which will also highlight Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and the godfather of them all, Dr. Dre.
She’s “always hanging out with the guys,” the “Family Affair” hitmaker reminds as she chats with USA TODAY from a Los Angeles rehearsal site. And while squeezing in performances from five legends in the 12- to 14-minute span of a typical Super Bowl entertainment break will force efficiency, Blige, a ferocious live performer who simultaneously oozes glamour and toughness, will likely be a spotlight thief.
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Anyone who questions that possibility need only view the elaborate Super Bowl trailer hyping the halftime show. The cinematic call to arms by Dr. Dre is an accurate – if glossier and more dramatic – depiction of how the performers were summoned.
“Dre is the one who called us all to be part of this moment and it’s an honor because we love and respect him so much,” she says. “Everyone (in the lineup) is an artist that Dre produced or wrote for or has a connection. You get that call and you’re like, ‘What do you want me to do and I’m there.’ And if he gives you two or three minutes of Super Bowl time … wow. I appreciate the offer and I’ve earned the right to be anywhere that amazing. I’m going to be a team player and let them know, thank you for recognizing my talent.”
Blige, 51, will also be seen in a Super Bowl commercial for Hologic, a medical technology company focused on women’s health. Encouraging women, especially Black women, to maintain regular health screenings, particularly mammograms, is a paramount mission for the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.
“Without my health, I can’t be Mary J. the artist, the entrepreneur. You have to know that your health is your wealth and make it your priority,” she says. “As women, we do so much. We take care of the world – our friends, our family, husbands – and we’re always on the move. If I have a health appointment, I don’t leave that out (of my schedule). I make my health my priority in my life.”
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Blige’s Super Bowl blowout arrives two days after “Good Morning Gorgeous” drops. The release marks her 15th album, first in five years, the debut of her imprint, Mary Jane Productions (in partnership with 300 Entertainment), and the extension of a remarkable 30-year-career: 16 Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100; nine Grammy Awards; two Academy Award nominations for “Mudbound” in 2018 (best supporting actress and best original song for “Mighty River”); and a continued starring role on the Starz series “Power Book II: Ghost.”
The album – which includes a parade of guests from Usher to Anderson .Paak – opens with a wallop, the brash “No Idea” that wonders “What’s love these days?” in between a sticky chorus of “I can’t tell you what to do.” But it’s the double punch of “Amazing” (“Every day like my birthday, bring the cake/every day celebrate, not just on occasion”) and the interlude leading into the title track that encapsulate Blige’s continued quest to help women feel empowered.
“No matter what I was going through, I’d look in the mirror, hung over, not hung over. Mad, not mad. Always going through something … I just (woke up) in the morning and said, ‘Good morning, gorgeous,’” Blige says in conversation with someone on the record.
It’s a realization, she says now, of getting older, but also, more importantly, wiser.
“You learn that if you don’t love yourself or encourage yourself or grow in a positive direction, you’ll be stuck – and that hurts more than anything,” she says. “To get older and not get wiser would be more painful that anything. I still have a lot to go and I’m growing still, but I’m enjoying moving forward.”
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Her orbit of collaborators on “Good Morning Gorgeous” represent a smorgasbord of hip-hop and R&B. Blige says she discovered .Paak while on tour with Maxwell, who played the soulful rapper’s music “loudly” in his dressing room.
“I went over one day to hang with (Maxwell) and was like, who is that? He told me and I downloaded ‘Malibu’ and played it everywhere – running it in the gym, in the car – and I decided, I want to work with this cat,” Blige says.
She’s equally as effusive about featuring Dave East on the song “Rent Money” (“Like Nas, he always has socially conscious things to say and make you think”); Fivio Foreign, who shares “On Top” (“These are my friends and I appreciate and respect them”); and Usher, whose vocals are an ideal complement on the album closer, “Need Love” (“He’s always been on the list of people I want to work with, and here we are”).
Blige utilizes her public platform to promote strength, and has publicly discussed past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction as well as depression. But, she says that if she looks back at the Mary J. of “My Life,” her career-defining album in 1994 that also prompted a documentary of the same name last summer (on Prime Video), she’d have one comment.
“She’s come a loooooooong way, with a lot of o’s in there,” Blige says with a laugh. “What’s crazy is she still has more to go. This Mary has made a lot of progress, and I look back and say I love you and I embrace you. But this is where we’re going now.”