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Monica: Despite travails, an R&B singer returns to form

MONICA_Still_Standing_sans_lettering Monica is beaming onstage.

Although the R&B singer is dressed head to toe in black, she's wearing an ear-to-ear smile as she sings the title track to her sixth album, “Still Standing,” a gospel-tinged testimonial of survival and resilience, during a recent two-night, sold-out stint at downtown Los Angeles’ Club Nokia.

Despite the heavy lyrics in this particular song, there is great reason for the 29-year-old to be smiling these days, given the past year she's had.

With a slew of personal and professional setbacks behind her -- she witnessed an ex-boyfriend commit suicide, another ex-lover is in jail after being found guilty of murder and her last album was considered a commercial failure –- she's returned to music after more than four years away.

In a time when the record industry can be unforgiving toward seasoned pros plotting comebacks by adapting too closely to trends (see: Christina Aguilera's last effort), the Atlanta native found success with a more mature sound of R&B than what made her a star more than 15 years ago.

When “Still Standing” was released earlier this year, it debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s R&B/hip-hop album chart and at No. 2 on the Top 200 and digital albums charts, according to Nielsen SoundScan. A welcome change for the singer, whose last album, 2006’s “The Makings of Me,” with its more urban leanings, was her lowest-selling effort yet.

Monica is aware that much has changed since the days when she ruled the charts in the early '90s, alongside such other teen queens Brandy, Destiny’s Child and the late Aaliyah. While Beyoncé stepped out from Destiny’s Child and became Beyoncé, and a laundry list of single-named divas crammed the airwaves with a blurry mix of R&B/hip-hop/pop, Monica had her own ups and downs as she tried to compete in the world of rump-shaking urban music, something that didn’t always work as she navigated the terrain.

Monica_2_LO “A lot of people don’t realize I was only 12 years old when I recorded the first album [‘Miss Thang’]. They don’t realize how young I was … but the great thing about it all was that it was all about the music,” she said during a break from the "Passion, Pain and Pleasure" tour, on which she was the supporting act for crooner Trey Songz. “We weren’t nearly as concerned with what we were gonna wear and all these other things that have kind of taken precedent. It was about the music in those times.”

She is humble when discussing the industry, calling artists such as herself and Brandy (the two snagged a Grammy for their duet “The Boy Is Mine”) some of the “fortunate ones” to be able to emerge when they did. She burst on the scene in work boots and denim, letting her voice and not her figure take center stage. Monica credits her recent triumphs to ignoring industry pressures and following her instincts -- and her two sons' signals.

“I know that I have two young sons that are watching me on a daily basis," she says. "They will have to be able to look to me and be able to feel good about the person that raised them. I think about my kids and how they’ll feel even before I record certain records.”

The release of "Still Standing" was preceded by her BET reality show of the same name, which followed her recording process while balancing her life as a full-time mother. The premiere episode garnered more than 3 million viewers, making it the second-highest series debut in the history of the network. She is allowing the cameras back into her life for a second season.

“I had a lot of things take place personally, so we prolonged taping the show so that I could really get some things in order. Now that I’m in a great place, I felt like it made sense to have the show follow me around,” she said. (Monica has split with the father of her two children and is now dating Lakers player Shannon Brown.)

Despite this almost "second chance" renewal of her career (she is reworking her new single "Here I Am" as a duet with Songz), her priority remains her two boys: Romelo and Rodney.

“They have been very patient throughout this tour, but my 5-year-old just said, ‘Mama, I love the bus, but is this almost over?’ That means it’s time for me to give them my undivided attention for a month or two. [But] I’ll go back in the studio,” she promised. “I want to find that balance again of catering to my relationship, my children and my family. But not disappearing in the way I have the last time.”

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy

twitter.com/gerrickkennedy

Photo: Monica. Credit: Tony Duran

 
Comments () | Archives (5)

She was amazing at the concert at Club Nokia! I am glad that she is not taking a hiatus between albums.

Love it! Boy you sure know how to write

As an avid Monica fan since day one I have to thank you for this article. In my days I have seen many artists come and go, talent wasted and many other things. I have to say this is one artist whom I look foward to hearing from. I love the fact that Monica lets it be know that she is human. she has the same flaws as myself and the rest of the world. she doesn't hide behind the make up or the glitz she tells and sings it like it is! Thank you Monica for being a humble, real woman/artist. God has blessed her with not only talent, but also an aura aboiut her that is almost mesmerizing. Congratulations on all of the success and I honestly pray you have many more decades to bless us with the homegirl from Atlanta we have all grown to love. Still Standing Mo, thanks to you!!!

I have seen you yet in concert Monica but I love you and your voice. Everytime you sing it's a different sound and a great joy that comes over you. I know it must be because of your two sons. I am and will always be a Monica fan. I bought the The Making of Me and Though some felt it wasn't your greatest album , I still enjoyed hearing you and your sweet voice on "Gotta Move On", " Hell No" and "My Everything " Keep making music from your heart and not conforming and you'll always have a fan in me.Be Blessed Mo

Monica if you are reading this i just want you to know that i have always been a fan. Every since middle school hearing your beautiful voice on the airways has always calmed me down from along dayy at school. It is a crime shame how these record companies are promoting these young lady artist that are teaching are young girls to licky licky and sucky sucky.That is one reason why america has a problem with teen pregnancy now. With your lyrics you are teaching them about love and how love feels and how to wait on that right guy and trust love does have many feelings. Uma get to the point don't let what these so called new artist come and change what love really means. Love ya,
Marcee'


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