Backbeat: Mary J. Blige Previews 'My Life II' at 'American Express Unstaged' Concert
Backbeat: Mary J. Blige Previews 'My Life II' at 'American Express Unstaged' Concert

Mary J Blige
Nas and Busta Rhymes, both of whom are featured on Blige's new album, joined her in celebration post-concert. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Mary J Blige
Blige acknowledged her celebrity guests, including Anthony Anderson (pictured here with a guest), by shouting, "I see you, Anthony!" mid-concert. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Mary J. Blige reigned supreme at Club Nokia in Los Angeles Thursday in the seventh installment of the "American Express Unstaged" music series in partnership with VEVO and YouTube. Jennifer Lopez, Anthony Anderson, Magic Johnson, and Forest Whitaker, as well as execs from American Express, YouTube, VEVO, and AEG, were among the VIPs in the sold-out venue's balcony section.

Launched in the summer of 2010, the series pairs musicians with filmmakers for live-streamed concerts that use digital and social media to bridge the gap between the live concert experience and the at-home viewing one. The Mary J. Blige "American Express Unstaged" concert, directed by Adam Shankman (Hairspray, The Wedding Planner), comes just two weeks after Coldplay's own concert of the same kind in Madrid, which generated more than 19 million streams-a record for live-streamed events on YouTube.

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The timing of the concert is no coincidence, as Blige is set to drop her highly anticipated new album "My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act I)" on November 21. It is Blige's tenth studio album, and a nod to her classic "My Life" album, released 17 years ago.

For this concert, which the hip-hop soul singer dedicated to her friend and fellow Uptown Records artist Heavy D, Blige played only songs from "My Life" and previewed new tracks from its sequel, including the singles "25/8" and "Mr. Wrong." Blige deviated from the theme for "Family Affair," the 2001 hit produced by Dr. Dre.

"Tonight is the night we celebrate how strong we are, cause we're still here. The journey continues," said Blige in between songs, alluding to her personal struggles with drugs and alcohol through the years and her recovery from those addictions, and her troubled childhood.

Mary J Blige
Blige also gave a shout-out to actor-producer-director Forest Whitaker. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Mary J Blige
The Blige-Shankman pairing was organic, says the director, who just wrapped the big-screen adaptation of Rock of Ages, in which he cast Blige as "the owner of the world's most incredible strip-club." (Photo: Charley Gallay)

"To present Mary in this more intimate way was very appealing to me," said Shankman, whose original idea was to turn Club Nokia into a speak-easy type environment, but couldn't because he found out the organizers "sold too many tickets." "That album ["My Life"] was a big release for her, almost a cry for help, and her fans responded in a way that helped her get out of that very dark place. But rather than explore the darkness, I wanted to stay in the present, which is this very happy place. I wanted to go back and celebrate the album, as opposed to wallow in it. So it's all very beautiful and you get to feel that evolution."

It is Blige's emotional connectivity with fans that the folks at American Express said makes this particular concert memorable. "This is not a concert you'll see anywhere else," said Walter Frye, director of entertainment partnerships for American Express. "Mary's is a story of personal triumph over tragedy, and so fans are able to submit photos that reflect that same set of ideals," he added, referring to one of the additional components of the live-streamed experience, which is the projection of select fan-submitted photos on the LED screens behind the stage.

Mary J Blige
The screen projections were a combination of images from Blige's past albums and videos, fan-submitted photos, and footage from the live concert. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Before the concert, Blake Morrison, producer with AEG Digital Media Group, gave reporters a behind-the-scenes tour of the production office and stage set-up. All in all, the concert used 12 Sony HD 1200 cameras, one of which used a 30-foot retractable telescoping crane to capture Blige at any angle- as well as the crowd.

Blige's hit "Be Without You" capped the night as the encore, which fans were able to vote for-another element of the concert that went beyond the stage.

"This program isn't just about the 120-minute show," said Dana Vetter, music manager for YouTube Marketing Programs. "It's the live event, it's the content before that teases it, and it's the content afterwards, which gets a lot of viewership and attention. It's a smart way to bundle it so everyone can digest it however they want, especially people who may not be home tonight."

Mary J Blige
Surprise guest Nas joined Blige onstage for the new track, "Feel Inside." (Photo: Charley Gallay)

In addition to the pre-show, which featured Blige and Shankman collaborating, there's the looped re-broadcast, which played for 10 continuous hours immediately following the live-stream on Blige's VEVO page, as well as a highlights video from the concert. Blige also created a playlist of her favorite videos of all time, with commentary. In addition, fans who "like" the American Express Entertainment tab on Facebook can download three live tracks from the evening.

After the concert, VIP guests moved into the Nokia Lounge, for an after-party. Technician the DJ played hits from the '90s onward.

Mary J Blige
Shankman said he used lighting to convey Blige's current state of happiness, and to shed light on her fans in the live audience. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Mary J Blige
Blige took time after the show to pose with Sue Cole (at left), Partner at DDCD & Partners, and Debra Shuwarger, Lead Marketing Attorney for William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Mary J Blige
DJ Kid Capri (at right) and Technician the DJ were in charge of music. (Photo: Charley Gallay)

Mary J Blige
Susanna Courier (at left), Manager, Global Sponsorship and Marketing for American Express), and Walter Frye (center), AMEX's Director of Entertainment Partnerships, enjoy themselves at the afterparty at Nokia Lounge with a guest. (Photo: Charley Gallay)