Mary J. Blige is still helping us through it with ‘Good Morning Gorgeous’
With her first album after a 2018 divorce, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul lends an empowering lift to fans dealing with heartbreak.
Mary J. Blige is a rare artist; a soulful hip-hop pastor leading sermons that have for the most part been the realm of the crooning male preachers like Al Green, Bobby Womack, and Babyface. “Mary doesn’t have followers or fans — she has believers,” said music executive Kevin Liles. He lays it out in simple terms that there is a Blige gospel that has allowed both its namesake and her believers to grow through doubt, love in the midst of spiteful betrayal, and fiercely cling to freedom. With her latest album, Good Morning Gorgeous, the Yonkers everywoman-turned-sagacious auntie delivers the heartbreak medicine that she needed to hear as she healed, while also lending verses of hope to those still finding their way through the pain.
This recording has been years in the making after a public breakup that saw Blige’s 13-year marriage end in accusations of infidelity and financial disputes. The 2017 album Strength of a Woman was the immediate retelling of her heart’s unsettled state during that time, and Good Morning Gorgeous is the culmination of what was left behind when the fires petered out: forgiveness, reflection, reclamation, and clarity. The title track is both an interlude and a single, co-written by Blige and singer-songwriters H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas, who also share an Academy Award. Thomas is known for her distinctively personal lyrics that feel like an all-cards-on-the-table conversation among friends, and it’s a candor that aligns seamlessly with Blige’s confessional type of writing that strikes a balance between melancholy and hard-fought celebration. Only Mary J. Blige can believably sit in a dry, pristine white tub decked in a jeweled two-piece, wrists and fingers weighed down by diamonds and wearing fur boots, with a glass of sun goddess Pinot Grigio to the side, and her face screwed up regretting the times when she “hated herself and wanted to be someone else.” There’s nothing quite like dabbing at your tears with dollar bills acquired through sheer grit, genuine talent, and unwavering resolve — on this single Blige is basking in the excess of her world, and lavishly enjoying what she’s made possible.
Blige believers typically turn to her for solace after heartache, and her blueprint is work that offers the kind of relief you get from a rage room. The trio of “Love Without the Heartbreak,” “Failing in Love,” and “Enough” sees the singer pulling from her genre-shifting My Life, and No More Drama days, but now with the weathered experience and insight of a performer and storyteller. “If I can pick the best parts of love, I would start it like this/I would start at the time we took our first trip/I would start at the time we had our first kiss,” Blige sings on “Love Without the Heartbreak,” mapping the meet-cute, the honeymoon period, and the make it or break it acts of a relationship in motion.
On “Enough,” she pleads for understanding and compassion, and yet at some point, Blige knows that what’s understood cannot be always accepted. This realization hits listeners on the fiery “Rent Money,” where Blige demands a return on the equity and time that she invested into building a life that was taken for granted. The Three 6 Mafia-sampling “On Top” is Blige braggadocio at its most rooted, and the track’s embrace of self paired with the luxury of solitude is a highlight, while the DJ Khaled-assisted “Amazing” falls flat with similar aspirations. Blige thrives on the authentic and unfiltered, which is a leap and a step away from Khaled’s empty benedictions of success filtered through clunky mottos and eyebrow-raising online antics. The track sounds like a hype house version of Drake’s treacly “Elevate,” and leans heavily on lyrics that can be IG captions, refrigerator stickers, or coffee mug decorations. Lines like “Only positive vibes…./My house is so big I tell the guests to use a map,” feel empty and forced, undermining Blige’s revelation on the interlude “GMG” that she only recently ever felt comfortable calling herself amazing. After three decades in the music industry, it is only fitting that she owns the fact that her legacy as Queen of Hip-Hop Soul is unmatched, and beyond question. She really has been that bitch for three decades, and it’s unfortunate that the song meant to lean in on that fact is as interesting as popping balloons..
During the course of such an expansive career, rarely has Blige ever needed the aid of another to make her own songs pop. So collaborations with Anderson.Paak and Usher on “Here With Me” and “Need Love” feel more meandering than necessary or experimental, but they’re still fun and easy on the ears.
In the universe of Mary J. Blige, there’s no such thing as being overdressed or too indulgent — bold proclamations when Black girls and women are routinely scrutinized and deemed too much, simply by being capable. Good Morning Gorgeous moves with the acknowledged confidence of someone who has had to fake it for so long, even after they had made it. The album was likely released two days before Blige’s scheduled Super Bowl performance to boost sales and ride the commercial wave of the massive event, yet for those who have tuned into the Blige sermons from the very beginning, her gospel will always find a space in their homes and on their most listened playlists because a word will always be a word. On the interlude, Blige shares a reason for the album’s name that inadvertently encompasses what most Black women work to remember as they try to succeed in a violent world: “When I was going through all this bad shit in my life, I started waking up and saying good morning gorgeous … hungover, not hungover, mad, not mad, whatever, I’d wake up and say good morning gorgeous.” That is the Blige gospel — earnest, steadfast and hopeful.