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Mary J. Blige Covers W Magazine

For W*’s Art Issue, Mary J. Blige and Carrie Mae Weems teamed up to talk, and to make pictures that pay homage to Blige’s continuing reign and Weems’s The Kitchen Table Series and 2010 Slow Fade to Black series. They met recently in a ­landmark 1920s-era bank building in Brooklyn and enjoyed a conversation that covered the gamut, from the portrayal of African-Americans in the media, their upbringing, being strong women in male-dominated worlds, and their new projects, including Blige’s excellent album Strength of a Woman, and her upcoming role in Dee Rees’s critically acclaimed Mudbound. The pictures and their conversation make clear that Weems and Blige both command the spaces they occupy: Weems with her camera and incantatory style of speech, Blige with her presence and voice.

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Photographs by Carrie Mae Weems; Styled by Styled by Paul Cavaco. Hair by Kim Kimble for Kimble Hair Care Systems at SixK.LA; makeup by D’Andre Michael for U.G.L.Y. Girl Cosmetics. Set design by Kadu Lennox at Frank Reps. Produced by Carly Day at Rosco Production; Production Coordinator: Marie Robinson at Rosco Production; retouching by silhouette studio; Lighting Director: Rob Kassabian at Honey Artists; Photography Assistants: James Wang, Pamela Vander Zwan, Adger Cowans; Lighting Assistant: David Schinman; Gaffer: Armando Reyes; Fashion Assistants: EJ Briones, nicholas eftaxias; Tailor: Christy Rilling; Set Design Coordinator: Joanna Seitz; Production Assistants: Will Foster, Alejandro Armas, Carl Miller; Special thanks to Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter, Skylight Studios, Pier59 Locations.

Mary J. Blige and Carrie Mae Weems in Conversation: On Race, Women, Music and the Future

Long before female empowerment became a nationwide rallying cry, the artist Carrie Mae Weems and the singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige had their work cut out for them. Weems, who is now 64, first picked up a camera at the age of 18 and over the decades has recast the ways in which black women have been ­portrayed in images. Early on she realized that she couldn’t count on others to make the pictures she wanted to see. In her seminal work The Kitchen Table Series (1990), she ruminates on race, class, and gender in an unfolding domestic story in which she appears as the protagonist. Shot in black and white, with alternating images and panels of text, the series shows the artist at her kitchen table, alone and with others, seated under a hanging lamp, playing cards, chatting with female friends, and hugging a male partner.

Since that career-defining project, Weems, who lives in Syracuse, New York, has been honored with a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” a medal of arts from the U.S. State Department, and numerous museum solo shows, including a retrospective in 2014 at New York’s Guggenheim—the museum’s first-ever survey of an African-American female artist. More recently, in her 2016 series Scenes & Take, she photographed herself standing on the empty stage sets of such TV shows as Empire and Scandal, contemplating the cultural climate that gives rise to commanding black heroines onscreen.

In Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop soul, best known for her raw, openly autobiographical songs of empowerment, Weems found a towering ally. Like Weems, the Bronx-born Blige, 46, is a storyteller, and also began her career at 18, when she became the youngest female recording artist to sign with Uptown Records. Her Puff Daddy–produced 1992 debut, What’s the 411?, went multiplatinum, as did many of the hits that followed; so far she’s won nine Grammys. Now she is generating Oscar buzz for her breakout performance in director Dee Rees’s critically acclaimed Mudbound, about two families in the Mississippi Delta during and after World War II, divided by the racism of their Klan-addled community.

Blige is quietly devastating as the wife of a sharecropper and matriarch of a struggling brood; while shooting the film, which will debut on November 17 on Netflix, Blige was dealing with the dissolution of her own marriage. In 2016 she filed for divorce from her husband of 12 years and manager, and emerged with her 13th studio album, Strength of a Woman, which serves as something of an anthem for her life. the New York Times called it “her most affecting and wounded album in several years.”

Both Weems and Blige command the spaces they occupy: Weems with her camera and incantatory style of speech, Blige with her presence and voice. For this project for W’s Art Issue, the two teamed up in a ­landmark 1920s-era bank building in Brooklyn, ­making pictures that reference Weems’s The Kitchen Table Series and 2010 Slow Fade to Black series, and Blige’s continuing reign.

Carrie Mae Weems:
Long before I picked up a camera I was deeply concerned with the ways in which ­African-Americans were depicted, and, for the most part, I didn’t like what I saw. So one way of dealing with it was to step in and rethink how black women, more specifically, need to be represented. That’s been the guidepost; I’m always on that track. And today I was just looking at another woman, somebody I’ve admired, whose music has been a backdrop to my life. Mary, I see you as an extraordinarily beautiful woman who needs to be defined, described, articulated in an authentic way that celebrates the complexity and depths of your beauty and your internal self. From the moment you walked in, I wanted to greet you personally and invite you into a space of welcome with the understanding that I see me and you.

Mary J. Blige: Thank you. Same here. A lot of women don’t do that. I don’t see women getting along a lot. In my own circle, I see it because that’s what we do. We want to love on each other, and we want to build each other up, and we want to let each other know what you said just now: We see each other, and we see each other in each other. So I felt protected today, and I felt you cared, which is not always the case in most photo shoots—they just want the pictures. I thought, Okay, I’m going to have to do exactly what she did in order to make this hot. [Both laugh.]

Weems: Those last photographs! Child! I mean, that puppy was smokin’. It felt like the whole day we were ascending. I’m not in the commercial world—I spend 99 percent of my time in my studio by myself—so we were building each thing like interlocking circles so we could go to the next plane. I could feel it coming into a certain kind of flow, and then it became easy. And I thought, Let’s just have fun. There’s a ­wonderful saying: “Within seriousness there’s very little room for play, but within play there’s tremendous room for seriousness.”

Blige: I didn’t realize how vain I was until I started working on Mudbound. Once I saw how my character, Florence, lived [in a shack on a farm in Mississippi], I thought, Wow, I’m really a vain person. When I went to the movie set to do the first day of fittings, I was Mary J. Blige: I had just done a tour and a show, so I was all, you know, I had wigs and weaves and all sorts of things going on, and Dee Rees was like, “No! We want to see you. You can’t have a perm, you’re going to have minimal, minimal makeup.” And I was like, “What about lashes?” And she said no, and I was like, “Really? Florence doesn’t have lashes?” That part was a lot! A lot! But once I tore away and sunk into the character, Florence actually gave Mary—me, the so-vain person—a little more confidence so that Mary didn’t feel like she needed to depend on all of that. I cut my hair really short. Florence really liberated me. Just committing to and trusting that character kind of helped to save my life. I could also relate to her because she reminded me of my aunts and my grandmother who lived in the South. My mom used to send us to Savannah every summer. My grandmother had her own garden, chickens, cows; so I’ve seen chickens slaughtered, I’ve been on a farm.

Weems: You have this film, this history in music. Where do you see yourself going, and what do you want now?

Blige: I want, at some point, to not have to work so hard. I want peace of mind and acceptance of self, totally. I know that’s an ongoing process, so every single day I’m working on that, and it’s been hard ever since this challenge I’m having with this divorce. It was such a terrible thing. It made me see myself as “I have to be better than this”: I was never good enough; I was never pretty enough, smart enough. And there was someone chosen over me. It was like, I can’t stay, but it really let me see, Mary, you are better than that. You have to continue to grow.

Weems: We’ve all been through stuff. And the pain is so deep, but the place it takes you—right? The level of self-reflection—it’s all in the process. Working through that process brings you to a deeper and more profound understanding of who you are and your meaning to yourself.

Blige: Exactly.

Weems: I’m older than you. I work hard every day, and I’m always trying to figure out how not to. But there’s something that’s a part of my DNA that’s about this constant, persistent level of examination. I’m always thinking about the craft, the art, about how to step in, not for the world, but for myself; these are the issues that concern me, and I can’t expect anybody else to deliver on my promise. Right? We were talking about this earlier. No matter what, you’re going to come home by yourself.

Blige: That’s done right now. I’m by myself.

Weems: Mary, I was telling you earlier about this beautiful image I have of [singer] Dinah Washington, who, too, is crowned. The act of crowning is about giving it up, it’s the act of recognition. For this project, I knew that I had to participate in crowning you as a gift and an homage. You are in it, and leading the way. Checkmate.

Blige: Checkmate, yeah!

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Celebs

Kanye West Now Worth Estimated $6.6B Thanks to Lucrative Gap, Adidas Deals

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Kanye West is now worth a staggering $6.6 billion, as revealed in a new Bloomberg report and confirmed by a rep to Billboard.

According to a private document obtained by the outlet, Yeezy – West’s sneaker and apparel business with both Adidas and Gap – has been valued at between $3.2 billion to $4.7 billion by the Swiss investment bank UBS Group. As much as $970 million of that total is tied to West’s new clothing line for Gap (under the Yeezy Gap label) that the retailer has slated for release by July, part of a 10-year agreement the parties signed in June of last year.

The document further reveals that Gap, an ailing brand whose partnership with West represents a play for younger consumers, expects its Yeezy line to break $150 million in sales in its first full year in 2022 and envisions it surpassing a billion dollars in revenue within eight years, or even as soon as 2023 on the upside. West stands to profit handsomely in any event, as he retains sole ownership and creative control of the Yeezy brand and earns royalties on sales under the deal, with the rate increasing as the business grows. He’ll also receive stock warrants when the collection hits sales targets, with the highest set at $700 million, according to a securities filing.

West’s longstanding deal with Adidas has been the most lucrative part of his business endeavors to date, with Yeezy sneakers continuing to fly off of shelves; according to the documents, the brand grew 31% to nearly $1.7 billion in annual revenue last year, netting Yeezy royalties of $191 million. West has been in business with the company since 2013, with their current deal running through 2026.

An unaudited balance sheet of West’s finances, provided to Bloomberg by his lawyer, shows an additional $122 million in cash and stock and more than $1.7 billion in other assets, including an investment in his wife Kim Kardashian’s underwear label Skims (Kardashian filed for divorce in February).

West’s music catalog is worth another $110.5 million, according to a 2020 valuation by Valentiam Group cited by Bloomberg.

The numbers revealed today represent a decidedly sharp turnaround for West, who in 2016 claimed to be $53 million in debt; at the time, he also took to Twitter to implore Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to invest $1 billion in his work. That was before West himself was named a billionaire by Forbes, which estimated his net worth at $1.3 billion in April 2020.

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Celebs

The Weeknd Still Pissed Over Grammy Snub

“I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.”

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The Grammys are coming this weekend, and it looks like it’s still bothering The Weeknd.

If you recall, The Weeknd was this years’ biggest snubbed artist. His song Blinding Lights has broken many records, such as longest Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 run. The songs success and album success also landed him the Super Bowl half time show last month.

From the Grammy Committee stand point…..they weren’t “wrong” in what happened. Although it was one of the biggest songs of the year, it was a tough field. Lets start off with the facts. Fact is, they tried to initially submit the song in the R&B genre, which would have given him a bigger chance of winning because R&B acts lately haven’t been as big as him. The committee rerouted him to the POP category, because the song is a POP song. In those categories, he is up against POP Stars like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa, and new comer Doja Cat. They all had pretty big years, and in the POP world, The Weeknd isn’t really the biggest guy out there.

Moving on. A lot of Blinding Lights’ chart success was due to multiple factors, one being a pandemic and another being that he had a lot of radio play. While streams and sales were solid, they weren’t enough to keep him in the Top 10. I looked at a random week in July 2020 and he wasn’t even in Spotify’s Top 10.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, The Weeknd stated he would boycott the awards from now on. “Because of the secret committees,” the Weeknd said, “I will no longer allow my label to submit my music to the Grammys.

Some would see this statement as him standing up to a long standing, flawed system. For me, he is throwing a temper tantrum. He’s in the music industry to express his creativity and bring his art to life. The awards and accolades are merely bonus. To have this much attitude over a predominately white award show is an example of him feeling as if he was entitled to the awards. Crazy thing about it, he didn’t mention his displeasure for also being snubbed at the NAACP Image Awards.

At the end of the day, you win some, you lose some…but you live to fight another day.

Friday

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Music

Grammy Performers Announced

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Update 3/09: Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars & Anderson.Paak) have been added to the performers list for the Grammys this weekend. They will be performing their new single, “Leave The Door Open“.

This weekend is the biggest night in music, and some of our favorites will be taking the stage.

Listed to perform at the event is BTS, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, HAIM, Cardi B, Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, Megan Thee Stallion, Bad Bunny, Miranda Lambert, Post Malone, Roddy Ricch, Maren Morris, John Mayer, Mickey Guyton, Chris Martin, DaBaby, Lil Baby, Black Pumas, Brandi Carlile, and Brittany Howard.

Out of everyone listed what I’m looking forward to is hopefully *crosses fingers*, the first WAP performance. Possibly the first Cry Baby performance, being that we probably won’t get too many times with Megan and DaBaby at the same place anytime soon. I would love to see Roddy Ricch perform The Box, but wouldn’t mind a Rockstar performance as well. I hope someone goes over Lil Baby’s performance with him, because he has been a little lackluster in the past.

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