"It'll make you feel strong and confident, just like Mary!" testified a fan in an interstitial package that ran during Mary J. Blige's appearance on HSN this weekend. Mary was there to hawk her My Life perfume, which was made out to be a magical elixir that would make you as perfectly imperfect, positive and real as the woman whose name was on the bottle. Since it is simply impossible to sell something on television without hyperbole, some amount of dishonesty and spin was to be expected. Adding to the nonsense potential and overall difficulty of the exercise was the fact that Mary appeared on HSN no fewer than four times this weekend, sitting on the couch for stretches as long as 90 minutes. Instead of an entire line of product to promote, she had only a fragrance to fill the space with, and so she did what any good megastar would: she talked about herself for much of the time.
Mostly, she made it so that talking about the perfume and talking about herself (and, by extension, her followers) were one and the same. My Life is named after Mary's second album, the one that established her as a misery/empathy queen (What's the 411? was heartfelt and easy to sing along to, but she didn't write a lot of it and it now plays like a collection of fantastic singles as opposed to a cohesive statement). Very early on, Mary established herself as a people's champ -- someone who'd been through everything and who was going through more, sometimes right in front of us (like her abusive relationship with K-Ci Hailey). At some point between then and now, it seemed that commiseration became Mary's brand -- even after she absolved herself of drama, she felt the need to remind her "troubled sisters" in "Good Woman Down" from 2005's The Breakthrough, "I still have troubles, too / You're not alone." More than anything, it sounded like a plea.
Confessing as an angle versus actual confessing is one thing -- music can be therapeutic no matter where it's coming from. If nothing else Mary was just doing what she does -- singing the blues. To then use that same rhetoric to sell perfume, however, verges on despicable. Even though pop music is product, too, the case can always be made for more art and expression; the same cannot be said for perfume. Mary J. Blige's entire shtick is based on trust and healing and for her to attempt to use that to sell something that is 100 percent pure product is so slimy ("My whole thing is to do good. My intentions are to do good. And that's basically why I did the fragrance," she explains virtually incoherently in the video above). Mary talked about putting her heart and soul into the creation of this fragrance, which was either a foolhardy waste of time or a bald-faced lie. Now that she has her audience hooked, she apparently thinks they will buy anything. That kind of egotism runs rampant in pop stars, but usually manifests itself in the form of shitty, samey albums. Branching out in this way and with this rationale (during one moment that my DVR ate, she referred to the perfume as a "blessing" to her fans!) feels infinitely worse.
Obviously, Mary J. Blige is not the first celebrity to attach her name to a perfume or any other useless thing that isn't even tangentially related to her craft. But this endeavor was sold via the cruelest of spins. It would be different if Mary's hook wasn't touching people on a personal level (however foolhardy and ego-fueled that is to begin with). For her to use this bond (or illusion of one) as grounds to make an easy buck reminds me of something Sarah Palin might do: pander to an audience by claiming to be one of them, while obviously not being so and profiting off people's gullibility. It's gross and it calls to question the veracity of an entire empire -- and that's a big problem when said empire is based on what's supposed to be honest emotion. (The donation of a dollar to Mary's FAWN Foundation for every $46 bottle sold was on one hand nice and on the other a joke of a pittance that only served as lip service for Mary's empathic persona.)
The video above isn't cut up to yield a laugh a second; rather it's to support my point. There are funny parts, I think ("It does not feel good to not feel good. It feels horrible."; "If I was a fragrance bottle on the counter, I would want to look like this."), but mostly it's just sad. This is the nail in the coffin of Mary's trustworthiness. As an R&B and pop singer, in a way, Mary's job from the jump was to sell her soul; watching her do it so literally is disturbing.