Mary J. Blige?s episode of Storytellers airs tonight at 8/7 c, but we were treated to a preview and an exclusive chat with the people?s diva last month when she taped the show at New York?s Hammerstein Ballroom. (Check out the clip above — we even got you a preview of tonight’s show, too.) Touching on major tracks from throughout her career, and paying special attention to her latest album, Growing Pains, Mary chronicled her life in song with personal anecdotes, tales of inspiration and emotional rallying cries. What follows is a list of 10 things we learned from a performance in which Mary seemed intent in proving that a story is only as good as its lesson.
1. Telling her story is as important to Mary as ever ? ?I think Storytellers right now is very important, because we?re at a point where we have to sustain our breakthrough, sustain every good thing that has happened to us,? she told us. ?What better way to show people where you are, than by showing where you been? And that?s what Storytellers is all about.?
2. There?s nothing unplugged about Storytellers ? With an almost seizure-inducing light display behind her, as well as a band, that included guitar, bass, keyboards, drummer, a drum programmer, a horns section and copious strings, the production was as massive as Mary?s range of emotion. ?Mary J. Blige has never experienced a string section,? she told the crowd, adding that strings ?bring drama.? That’s practically a match made in heaven.
3. In Mary?s world, ?It?s negativity 24/7? ? Or so she told us. Not that you could tell by her sunny disposition and the even sunnier disposition of recent single ?Just Fine,? which opened the show.
4. She likes us, she really likes us ? ?I love y?all. That?s why I do what I do,? Mary told the audience. The rapture was reciprocated tenfold, which is evident in the fact that…
5. When Mary says, ?Clap,? the audience says, ?How rhythmic?? ? At the top of her performance of Growing Pains? ?Come to Me (Peace),? Mary told the audience to clap and missing not a single beat, a hand-spun percussion from the audience broke out to accompany her already beefy rhythm section. It was virtually overwhelming.
6. Mary hearts Anita ? I?ve long suspected that Anita Baker provided influence for the jazzy, almost scatted adlibs at the end of 1993’s What?s the 411??s ?Love No Limit,? and onstage, Mary confirmed it. And speaking of ?Love No Limit?…
7. Mary loves the songs she didn?t write as much as the ones that she did ? ?If I picked the songs, that means it was able to relate to me,? she told us. ?I don?t choose songs that don?t relate to me because then it?s not going to be believable.?
8. Even her bangers are confessional ? The highlight story for me was the one that preceded the show closer ?Family Affair? (from 2001?s No More Drama). Though some may write the song off as a non-serious club track, Mary accurately portrays what she was going through at that time ? going from club to club, in search of the ultimate crunk. Far be it from her not to feel everything she sings deeply.
9. Everywhere that Mary went, her hair was sure to go ? No matter how much she wound herself up, stomped around the stage or shook, Mary?s hair stayed perfectly in place. Considering the amount she moves, this is an impressive feat. It?s as though it?s as committed to her scalp as she is to her subjects.
10. She really is the people?s diva ? Something you won?t see on TV happened after Mary exited the stage. Her dressing room was behind the audience and so she basically had to walk through the crowd to get to it. Halfway between the stage and the dressing room, a fan called out to her. Mary stopped and listened to the fan go on and on, about some seemingly personal event that didn?t seem apropos of anything, really. Regardless, Mary stayed, and looked into the fan?s eyes through every word. If the display is any indication, connecting with people is a 24/7 job, and it?s one that Mary takes extremely seriously.