Sunday, 9 December 2012

Whatever Happened To RnB? - Macy Gray

Remember when Brandy ruled the charts and the word 'Tweet' just referred to the singer? In this weekly feature, I’m going to take a look back at some of the best RnB artists of yesteryear, sharing their signature videos and underrated hits, as well as looking at what they’re up to nowadays.

Previous posts have focussed on John Legend, Amerie, Jamelia and Christmas RnB classics. Today, it’s Macy Gray's turn!

Hey Macy!

When Macy Gray hit the scene in 1999, she was a revelation. With her distinctively raspy voice and extraordinary songwriting skills, Macy Gray was worlds away from the polished RnB of acts like Destiny's Child and Ashanti. Throughout her career, Macy has recorded six studio albums, gained five grammy nominations and has appeared in a number of films, including Spiderman and Training Day. Despite being influenced by acts like Billie Holiday, Macy Gray is a unique and talented artist in her own right. Let's go right back to her first album, released in 1999.

'On How Life Is' was a huge hit worldwide, both commercially and critically. It is still Macy's most successful album to date, becoming a multi-platinum seller in numerous countries. For this acclaimed collection, Macy also received a number of grammy nominations, even winning the award for 'Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. It's also one of my favourite Macy albums and I can listen to it from beginning to end without skipping a track. With all this success, you might find it surprising that lead single 'Do Something' failed to light up the charts. It's a brilliant song though and a perfect introduction to Macy's unique style. I love the old school production and the track has a great message.

"It's just a dream I had late last night in my bubble bath."

What's up with the naked animal people?

Despite this initial lack of success, Macy released a second single from the album, which became not only her breakthrough hit but also her signature song. 'I Try' was a monster of a hit at the time and has since become a modern classic. It's also one of my personal favourite songs of all time. From its beautiful lyrics and its heartfelt chorus to THAT voice, this song is just flawless for me. The grammy's seemed to agree, awarding Macy her only win to date for this very song. For me, it's that last chorus which just gets me every time.

"I may seem all right and smile when you leave, but my smiles are just a front."

I remember watching this video as a kid and being confused whether the love interest at the end was actually a man or a woman ha! I must have been seriously naive.

No one had seen a popstar quite like Macy Gray before but after seeing her talent on 'I Try', she suddenly blew up and became huge internationally. Follow-up single 'Still' proved that Macy wasn't a one hit wonder though. This tender ballad portrays a woman stuck in an abusive relationship who struggles to leave because her feelings are forcing her to stay. It's just a stunning song that really resonates on a personal level. Shame that Rihanna hasnt listened to it!

"Your crumbs of loving no longer get me by."

How cool is that wig?

Final single 'Why Didn't You Call Me?' is a funky old-school track that includes a great sing along chorus and Macy in a giant fur coat! What more could you need?

"I thought I'd see you again!" 

'On How Life Is' is one of those albums which I could listen to in one sitting so it's tough to choose a favourite album track but for me, it would have to be 'I've Committed Murder. The label must have agreed because this song was included a few years later on Macy's greatest hits album, despite it never being a single. The production is just awesome and Macy's voice makes the whole thing sound believable somehow. 'I've Committed Murder' shows off Macy's songwriting talent and portrays yet another side to her personality.

"Got so much cash that her office looks like a green pasture!"

Probably not the best song to sing out loud in public.
After the success of her debut album, Macy teamed up with the Black Eyed Peas before Fergie joined and they just became another shallow dance group. 'Request Line' has a classic 70s feel and Macy's voice goes great with both the production and the Black Eyed Pea raps.

"Just one desire from a hip-hop fan, hey DJ!"

Macy could quite possibly be the coolest DJ ever.

In 2000, Macy also collaborated with UK dance act Fatboy Slim for the track 'Demons'. It's an unusual song but the two work surprisingly well together on this mid-tempo number and the video is just bizarre. Shame Macy isn't in it much but I like the miniature people playing around on the organs. I love how raw Macy sounds towards the end of the song.

The following year, Macy returned with her sophomore effort 'The Id'. While the album was a big hit in the UK, reaching number one, 'The Id' underperformed in the US, but this might have been due to it being released just one week after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Lead single 'Sweet Baby' is a collaboration with legendary soulstress Erykah Badu (is soulstress  a word?) and also has Chili Pepper John Frusciante on guitar duties. The song doesn't hit you as immediately as 'I Try' but 'Sweet Baby' has such a loving tenderness to it that its become one of my favourite Macy songs over time. Watch the video here, which features a really cute girl playing a young Macy with giant hair and everything!

"They don't know what we had baby."

Second single 'Sexual Revolution' could not be more different in tone to 'Sweet Baby' but its another classic Macy song in its own way. The track has a funky party feel to it and I love that it isn't too explicit. It's just about having fun. Imagine what would have happened if Ke$ha had released 'Sexual Revolution' instead!!?? Here's Macy performing the track live in the UK on Top of the Pops. That's how old it is!

"You've gotta express what's taboo to you!"

Macy only released two singles from 'The Id' but if she could have chosen a third song to release, I think it should have been 'My Nutmeg Fantasy', which features soul singer Angie Stone and hip-hop artist Mos Def on the track. It probably wouldn't have been a massive commercial hit but I think it would have pleased Macy fans with its sing along chorus and awesome guest vocals.

"Picture us on the moon, happy like a cartoon."

In 2003, Macy returned with her third studio album, 'The Trouble With Being Myself,' which featured production by famed producer Dallas Austin.

The album was critically well received but did not sell as well as Macy's previous two efforts. 'When I See You' was the first single release from 'The Trouble With Being Myself' and it is one of my favourite Macy songs of all time. The song has such a great energy to it and Macy sounds as brilliant as ever. Despite featuring that annoying hip-hop butler Fonzsworth, the promo is also quite fun and Macy looks great in it.

"It's been three days since I screamed and hung up on ya."

Second release 'She Ain't Right For You' is a sadder song than the previous single, where Macy asks a lover to question whether their current relationship is really right for them. Macy looks stunning in the video, which is all set in one bedroom. It's an underrated track from Macy's back catalogue and if you haven't watched it before, check it out here.

"Sporting the tears of a clown."

My favourite album track from Macy's third album would have to be 'It Aint The Money', which features rapper Pharoahe Monch and was also included on her greatest hits album the following year. 

"Get up and go!"

2004 saw the release of Gray's aforementioned greatest hits compilation, 'The Very Best Of Macy Gray. 

The collection didn't sell particularly well but it's a great introduction to Macy's music, including not only the hit singles but also remixes, album tracks and two new songs. One is an ok cover of Run DMCs classic 'Walk This Way' but I much prefer the other new inclusion, 'Love Is Gonna Get You', which served as the only single release from the album. It's not the best Macy song in the world but it's a nice enough stopgap single between albums. Unfortunately, no music video was ever made for the track but it was used as the opening theme song for Alicia Silverstone's TV series 'Miss Match' (which failed miserably in the ratings). Here's a cute fan made video for the song.

On a re-release of the compilation, Macy included a version of the classic Christmas standard 'Winter Wonderland', which had become popular due to its use in festive Marks and Spencers adverts in the UK. It's a sweet version which Macy makes her own due to that distinctively raspy voice of hers. Check it out if you're in the holiday mood!

2007 was Macy's comeback year, with the release of her first studio album in four years, 'Big'.

The album saw Macy and reunite, where he co-produced and co-wrote the majority of songs on the collection. After her debut, 'Big' would have to be my favourite Macy Gray album. Despite that though, I wasn't particularly a huge fan of the lead single 'Finally Made Me Happy', which featured Natalie Cole, daughter of the legendary Nat King Cole. It's a nice enough track with some great vocals but there's other songs on the album that grab me more.

"Baby you finally made me happy, when you walked out that door."

Instead, I prefer the second single from 'Big', titled 'Shoo Be Doo' (no I don't know what that means either). It's classic Macy but with a more polished sound. Watch a live performance of the track here.


"Baby ain't no word for this!"

Love the piano section towards the end!

The third single, 'What I Gotta Do', was included on the 'Shrek The Third' soundtrack but sadly did not receive the music video treatment. It's a shame as this song about looking after loved ones could have had a sweet story based promo.

What I don't really understand about the 'Big' release is the choice of singles that were used for promotion. For me, there were much better tracks on the album which would have made better single releases. Lucky for you guys, I'm going to share some of the best album tracks from 'Big' here now for you. First up is 'Okay', which was co-written and produced by Justin Timberlake of all people! Its an empowering track that suits Macy's voice perfectly. You would certainly not expect this from the same guy who sung a song called 'Space Cowboy' back in the day with Nsync.

"You've gotta look your daughter in the eye and tell her that Daddy is leaving."

'Everybody' is another empowering anthem, this time about trying to make a difference in the world. On Macys Vevo, there's a promo for the song which shows lots of different people holding up lyric cards that deal with various issues in the style of Bob Dylan's classic 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'. Check it out.

"Ain't what you say, it's what you do with your love."

Finally, I wanted to share my favourite track from 'Big', the Fergie duet 'Glad You're Here'. When I first heard that the two singers had recorded a duet together, I wasn't sure if it would work but I instantly fell in love with this track on first listen. Their vocal styles are so different that they end up complementing each other brilliantly. Watch a live performance of the track here.

"Come on inside, get away from the cold wind that's blowing."

Fifth studio album 'The Sellout' was released in 2010 to mixed reviews.

Many critics noted that the material was bland and that Macy has recorded far better songs in the past. To be honest, I would have to mostly agree. In the US, Macy promoted her album with lead single 'Beauty In The World', which was also featured in the final end sequence of Ugly Betty.  

"So shake your booty boys and girls!"

Nice song but nothing special. In the UK, Macy chose instead to lead the albums promotion with the single 'Lately'

"But I hurt you inside and I'm sorry love."

Neither song was particularly popular and both failed to make a dent on the charts, resulting in the album becoming a flop so in 2012, Macy signed to a new label and released her sixth studio album 'Covered'.

Comprised entirely of cover songs, the album features a range of surprise choices, from a classic Metallica track to Radiohead's signature song 'Creep.' To promote the collection, Macy released her cover of the Eurythmics track 'Here Comes The Rain.' It'sn a unique take on the song which sounds quite experimental in its production. Give it a chance and watch it below.

After listening to the collection of covers, my favourite on the album has to be Macy's interpretation of my favourite Yeah Yeah Yeah's song, 'Maps'. Her gritty voice suits the track surprisingly well and it's definitely worth a download.

Macy is currently promoting the 'Covered' album so who knows what the future will bring for her, but I'm hoping that she will come back soon with a huge smash that puts her back on top. That voice is so distinctive and no one else out there right now sounds anything like Macy so I can't wait to hear her next project.

I've hope you've enjoyed taking a look back at Macy Gray's career. What's your favourite Macy song? And do you have a favourite album? Let me know by commenting, liking and sharing below. And remember to come back next Sunday for another edition of Whatever Happened To RnB?

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