Before yesterday, the leaked tracks I heard in advance of Mary J. Blige’s upcoming album were merely crappy – there’s “Good Love Do It Again,” bland and horny wannabe disco that matches the sunny tone of “Just Fine” uncannily, and “The One,” in which Mary tries on Autotune with the effect of a 40-year-old in American Apparel lamé leggings. Just ‘cause it works for the kids, doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for your ass, lady. But then yesterday, a track called “Stronger” surfaced. It’s the kind of MOR guitar-strummededly earnest bullshit that R&B has been tending toward in recent years (kicked off, perhaps, by Mary’s blow-hard cover of U2’s “One” from 2005's The Breakthrough). That’s not the biggest problem, though – this ode to overcoming obstacles ("We'll survive / As long as you're by my side") just happens to feature Chris Brown. Things have gone from crappy to offensive.
Look, I know it’s unfair persecute someone who’s, at this point, just an accused abuser and not a convicted one (though between the photographic evidence and Brown’s general air of entitlement and arrogance, I find it difficult not to spit when I hear his name these days). It’s also unfair to persecute Mary for a track that won’t necessarily end up on her finished album, a track that could easily date back to before Monstergate, a track that may still be in demo form and feature guest vocals that were not chosen by Mary or recorded in her presence (to wit, Keri Hilson's demo of the track also features Chris Brown).
That said, it’s nauseating to hear Mary share space with this guy, much less on a song about triumphing over obstacles, when one of Mary's very public obstacles has been abuse by the hand of, wouldn’t you know, a pop singer! Mary hasn’t minced words about how awful K-Ci Hailey was to her (Mary + K-Ci = Rihanna and Chris, 10 years earlier), and there was plenty of abuse in her life before that. How this thing even got out boggles the mind – it’s about as confusing, contradictory and disgusting as a gay sex tape starring Rick Ross. Even if this collaboration is some sort of conscious move, a public act of forgiveness from the abused to the abuser, you’d think she’d at least wait till Brown’s trial was over to side with him.
The worst case, I fear, is that in turning her abuse into a plot point in her mythology, she’s disconnected from it like anyone does when part of their life becomes a commodity (strippers and their bodies, for example). This is just a stupid crappy little song, and yet, it has the potential to taint Mary’s legacy, which has always been essential to her work (you can hear her life on her voice, which for her has always been more important than technical perfection). I hope that this thing never sees official release – it isn’t even worth the bandwidth it’s taking up.