“It’s hard to speak in a world where everything can get out and hurt you,” Mary J. Blige says in a documentary about the recording of her Strength of a Woman in which she also alludes to her estranged husband’s alleged mistress.
The Making of Strength of a Woman, which aired on Vh1 last night, featured the usual documentary-style studio scenes, in which Blige explains her vision for the album with producers and songwriters. As Blige has reiterated in recent interviews, this album serves as yet another deep exhalation for her. In the documentary, we see what she means, via studio sessions that serve as actual group therapy; in fact, recording studios are the site of some of the most therapeutic conversations imaginable, many of which never leave the room but do end up becoming magic on a record.
During her deeply confessional press run, Blige shared that she’s never seen a professional therapist. “Boy, did I learn that I had the strength,” she says in the studio with songwriters Lucky and Prince. “There’s nothing in this world that can take me out. I’ve been taken out. I have been dead. I’ve laid on the floor lifeless like, Okay I can go now, I’m done.”
Documentaries presented as supplements to albums often amount to fluff pieces for the subject. But Blige is one of those rare artists who warrants such praise, not just because of her classic material but her ability to constantly break through darkness. So when Prince tells Blige her life story is “unreal” and explains how her music actually helps people, more than empty flattery that’s common in the music industry, it sounds like genuine appreciation. “When we get together, the healing process begins again. It’s like therapy for all of us,” Blige narrates. “It’s hard to speak in a world where everything can get out and hurt you.”
What’s heartbreaking and yet encouraging is seeing Blige’s current pain paired with old footage of her talking about her growing pains—which includes interviews where she recalls being molested at age 5, seeing her mother abused, and living in the Schlobohm Projects, which she once described as “a prison within a prison.”
Later in the documentary, we get a studio session with Blige and Ne-Yo, a man blessed with the gift of empathetic songwriting. With him, Blige is again open about the breakdown of her marriage to her former manager Kendu Isaacs and pours more sewage out. “I’m happy for myself. I’m proud of myself that I had the courage to do what I did,” she tells Ne-Yo. “I’m sad that all this shit, all these years, have come to this. To: you didn’t pick me. You picked somebody else... It hurts real bad that I didn’t get picked. But I gotta keep doing what I’m doing.”
Blige then adds, referring to the woman who came between her marriage (who’s rumored to be her artist Starshell): “And just so we clear, you have a studio over there in that other place, right? Do not let—do you know [bleeped out]? Do not let her nowhere near what you doing for me. Because she’s the reason for all of this shit. That’s my ‘Becky with the good hair.’”
How many bleeped-out secrets does Ne-Yo hold?