Pop & Hiss goes to the movies: Mary J. Blige digs into the blues for ‘Precious’
If the recording session for "I Can See in Color" got a little rough, that's just how Mary J. Blige wanted it. The song, heard in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," is a sparse, downbeat bluesy number, and director Lee Daniels had specific instructions for the veteran R&B singer and her producer, Raphael Saadiq: "Darker, darker."
His words, said Blige, were liberating, helping her reflect the harrowing story of an abused and pregnant teenager -- the Precious of the film's title.
"We didn't know if for sure he wanted us to go there, and he was like, 'Go, go.' He took us there," Blige said of Daniels.
If the lyrics are optimistic, the drawn-out beat and Blige's painfully impassioned vocals are anything but cheery. Blige and her collaborators wanted the sound raw.
Recalled the artist, "Lee want- ed to capture the imperfections of my trial, as well as Precious' trial. He said, 'If you cry, cry. If you'd like to say a word and it doesn't come out, don't worry about it. If you sing it and you stop, stop. Just let it rip.' Whether it's my experience or someone else's experience, it has to come across as honest. You have to make sure that you're not digging in places where there isn't anything to dig for."
The result is an elegantly somber R&B song, and Saadiq has referenced Donny Hathaway's early '70s classic take on "Giving Up" as inspiration. Both are a little grim, and both put the emphasis squarely on the vocalist.
Though Blige wanted to capture the gradual awakening experienced by Precious, "I Can See in Color" was never meant to be hopeful. Reflecting one's willingness to embrace life's challenges was the goal. "All the relentless trials and tribulations, the straight suffering and having to press through, I wanted you to feel that in the song," Blige said.
The above piece appears in the Dec. 9 issue of The Envelope. Click here for more awards coverage.
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