Mary J. Blige has plenty of reasons to celebrate. She’s marking two years of sobriety and set to release her crazily anticipated new album The London Sessions, a thrilling new LP featuring contributions from soul newcomer Sam Smith and dance music trend-setters Disclosure.
With 20 years of experience and more than a few stone-cold classics under her belt, Blige spoke to Billboard about the essential life lessons she’s learned from A-list friends like Elton John and Bono, and the advice she wished she’d given to Amy Winehouse before the U.K. singer’s untimely death.
Here are 5 Important Life Lessons with Mary J. Blige. Read the full cover story when it comes out Friday, Nov. 21.
Lesson 1: You’re Not Alone
“Therapy,” the soulful opening track on London Sessions, was written by Smith with Blige in mind. “It touched my heart because it’s a topic that people don’t like to talk about,” Blige tells Billboard. “I thought it would be nice to let people know, ‘It’s OK, you’re not the only one.'”
Lesson 2: Drugs & Alcohol Don’t Help Get You Out of Hell
Blige never met Amy Winehouse, but she wishes she had gotten the chance to speak with her. “I felt connected to her in terms of the darkness and the searching for something other than the hell she was living in,” Blige says. “I know that’s what she was searching for. Because that’s what you’re searching for when you’re doing drugs and alcohol — you’re trying to get out of that hell that’s in your head.”
Lesson 3: Flawless Singing is Over-rated
Blige relays a valuable lesson U2 frontman Bono taught her. “A long time ago, I was worried about not being able to sing on key. Bono was like, ‘Forget singing on key, just sing. People don’t care about Mary J. Blige being technically on point, they just want to hear you sing from your heart.'”
Lesson 4: Record Songs With a Live Band
Another rock legend Blige is friends with offered her some no-holds-barred advice. “Every time I do something, Elton [John] will give me a call, tell me if I’m on point or if I’m not. He’ll tell me the straight-up truth.” One tip: Get out of the booth and sing with a live band when you’re recording. “He’ll say, ‘No more of that two-track shit, Mary.'”
Lesson 5: Take Responsibility
For all her talk about healing and therapy, Blige admits she’s never sat down with a doctor for a therapy session. “But I meditate and pray and try to really take responsibility. That’s therapy, too, when you take responsibility for all the foolishness you’re doing and all the things you did wrong. It hurts. You got to feel it, deal, then heal.”