Mary J. Blige keeps fans at forefront

October 14, 2010

Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer

Nine albums and nearly 20 years into her career, Mary J. Blige doesn't have the easiest time pulling together her concert set lists. There are the hits, of course. Then there are the songs that were never big singles but have gone on to become fan favorites, as well as the album cuts cherished by the die-hards.

"It's all a process," says Blige, on the phone last week from her New Jersey home. The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul kicked off her "Music Saved My Life" tour earlier this month in Atlanta, and brings it to Detroit's Fox Theatre on Saturday.

"You have to always think about the people while you're playing," says Blige, who turns 40 in January. "There's a lot of songs that you've done before that people want to hear over and over and over again, and sing every word. Then there's stuff you gotta notice that people are getting tired of. And I have so many songs, still, that I haven't even added to my show! But people love what they love, so …" Right now, Blige is in full-on touring mode, and it's something she's gotten better at over the years.

"I'd say about 10 years ago, my touring life was like …," she pauses, searching for the right words. "I had to learn. If you don't get some rest, you're not going to be able to perform tomorrow. You can't hang out. You can't go with all your friends and stay out until the early morning hours. You have to get some rest after you come off stage. Or at least pace it where you enjoy your people and then get a day off to rest, and then do the show. I learned, but it was definitely trial and error."
Apart from touring, Blige has started work on her 10th album, the follow-up to 2009's "Stronger With Each Tear." The album will likely see the light of day in 2011.

Blige says she approaches each album as a snapshot of where she is in her life — what's around her, who's around her, what they are living, what she is living. Blige says she considers herself an album artist rather than a singles artist, and believes deeply in the album format.

"When I was growing up, and I had the Meli'sa Morgan album or the Anita Baker album, there were songs on those albums that weren't hits that I would play all the time in my house," says Blige. "That's why, an artist like me, I have to make a full product. I can't just make the single. Because my career wasn't built on singles; my career was built on albums, full pieces of work.

"And I have to continue to do what I do, no matter how the world is changing," she says. "I have to continue to give my fans what they want, because they're not going to change for the world."

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