Mary J. Blige on 'Precious' song 'I Can See in Color': 'I was damaged, in a good way'
Mary J. Blige on Friday broke down the process of writing “I Can See in Color,” her original, sure-to-be award-contending song from “Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push.” Speaking at an industry conference in Beverly Hills, Blige discussed how channeling the film’s difficult subject matter resulted in a sometimes grueling recording process.
“I was damaged, in a good way,” Blige said of writing and recording the song.
“Precious” opens in limited theatrical release Nov. 6, and the Lee Daniels-directed film tracks the harrowing story of an overweight, abused and pregnant black teenager. Blige said Daniels was present at the recording sessions, and pushed the artist to the limit.
The director, Blige said, was “very passionate” about what he wanted, adding that “everything” she would do was “not enough.” Striving to add more emotion into the song, a slow-burning, bluesy soul number, Blige said, Daniels would say to her, “If you’re about to cry, just cry.”
Blige was a keynote speaker at a film and television music conference hosted by Billboard Magazine and the Hollywood Reporter. The R&B veteran was joined by Raphael Saadiq, who shares producing and writing credits on “I Can See in Color," in a discussion moderated by Billboard's senior editor Gail Mitchell.
Blige’s protege, LaNeah Menzies, also shares a writing credit on the tune. Menzies is signed to Blige’s Universal Music Group imprint Matriarch, and is one of the writers listed on Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.”
“It was a moment where everyone had something to say,” Blige said of writing the song. “Everyone had a moment of ‘me too.’ … It came from everyone’s experience, including Precious, LeNeah and me.”
Saadiq cited Donny Hathaway’s early ‘70s classic take on “Giving Up” as an influence on “I Can See in Color’s” production. It’s a song that has a gradual, piano-driven build that keeps the focus squarely on the singer, and one that reflected the emotions and contradictions Blige wanted to tap into, Saadiq said. Blige spoke of wanting to reflect a “grim and optimistic” feel.
“I see life in colors,” Blige said when asked to explain the song’s lyrics. “When I’m depressed, and going through something, it’s in black and white. The flowers are not yellow.”
The artist has a new album, “Stronger,” due this December. She nearly bristled when asked whether she would consider including “I Can See in Color” on her upcoming collection.
“I wouldn’t put this song on the album,” Blige said. “This is for the soundtrack. This is specifically for the ‘Precious’ movie.”
The soundtrack will be released by digital retailers Tuesday. It will be in physical retail outlets the week of Nov. 23. The album, which also features songs from Queen Latifah, Jean Carn and Labelle, among others, is the first soundtrack to be released on Matriarch Records.
Blige hopes it won’t be the last. She said she still hopes to play Nina Simone on-screen, a project that has been rumored and discussed for years. Said Blige, “It’s still floating around, floating around, floating around. I would love to do that, and I would love to have it scored by Saadiq.”
For his part, Saadiq added that he would someday like to be involved in biopics of Sidney Poiter or Bill Cosby, citing the ‘70s soundtrack work of Curtis Mayfield as an influence. He also admitted to being slightly disturbed by “Precious.” Saadiq said he called his uncle after a screening, and thanked him for not abusing him. “He was just like, ‘What?’”
“It was pretty rough watching,” Saadiq said. “I liked the move, but I don’t know if I can watch it again.”
Photos: Top, Mary J. Blige. Credit: Getty Images. Bottom: Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious." Credit: Anne Marie Fox.