“It’s an exciting and challenging time to be a creative,” Michele tells Billboard, “because it’s important to not be afraid to talk about what’s happening, to talk about being woke vs. being authentic. I just wanted to write a song in which I’m simply celebrating being strong at a time like this. The truth is that if we don’t lift each other up, nobody else will.”
Watch “Strong Black Woman”:
Available here now, “Strong Black Woman” was co-written by Michele and produced by Dee Hill and longtime collaborators Four Kings Productions. The song will be featured on Michele’s sixth studio album, Out of Control. Set for release on April 13, 2018, the 12-track project will be issued on Michele’s Rich Hipster label and distributed via Rich Hipster/Four Kings.
“Strong Black Woman” signals Michele’s return to music after issuing a series of poems for free on social media, beginning with “No Political Genius.” Talking with Billboard after the Inaugural Ball, Michele said, “A song wasn’t the right thing to do now. I didn’t feel like singing.” She does now. Upcoming performances include the House of Blues in Chicago on Dec. 28.
Before sharing more details about Out of Control and her post-inaugural outlook, Michele noted, “People assumed I lost work, stopped performing and wouldn’t see the light of day again. That’s the reason why I chose ‘Strong Black Woman’ as the first single.”
What inspired the album’s title?
The words "out of control" speak for themselves. Coming off the shock of Hillary Clinton’s loss and the inauguration, there was this sense of complete loss of control, what’s really happening? That was actually the beginning of this album’s writing process. I began writing about my personal experiences from that moment on. I did a lot of soul searching and listening, trying to understand how I could regain my posture and strength. My writing went from being hurt to becoming empathetic and understanding why others hurt.
What was it like going back on tour after the Inaugural Ball?
I’ve never been as strong as I am now after wrapping my tour in March on behalf of my last album Milestone and also playing 60 cities with two back-to-back musicals [Love Jones the Musical, Married But Single] during that time. I remember being petrified to walk onstage for my very first concert after the inauguration, thinking everybody hates me. But I walked out to uproarious applause. I’d do other shows and I’m like confused as to who exactly is upset with me. Just two weeks ago, I came off a soul cruise [the Capital Jazz SuperCruise XI], performing for several thousand people who were singing my songs and posting pictures. I know there are some folks who are still really upset. But standing up before those audiences then and believing I had something to share is what got me through and what this record is about.
Who else are you collaborating with on the new album?
The album is finished and there are no other collaborators. At this point, having done six albums and operating my own production company writing for myself and others, I feel well-equipped to handle the creative process. Writing my own lyrics — that’s a form of power for me as a creative and artist. We plan to release two more songs, including the title track, before the album is released. The video for Strong Black Woman is definitely coming before the end of this year.
Nine months later, do you have any regrets?
There’s been so many false premises: a lot of people saw the headlines but they didn’t see the actual experience. I also thought I had enough of a track record, that people would know who I was having sung twice for president Barack Obama at the White House, at Democratic conventions and black caucuses. I was incorrect. I also think a lot of people who spoke out [against my performing] like Questlove, somebody with whom I’ve collaborated, were just afraid for me. And I think their fear was warranted. But I also think that part of this was a catalyst for me to learn about other people’s thoughts and experiences. A lot of good conversations happened from this. I don’t know that I ever would have been on CNN, MSNBC or the Breakfast Club [on New York’s Power 105) talking to other people who are devastated about the state of our country. Our pride is being tried right now.