Earlier this week, Mary J. Blige was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 BET Awards. With a timeless discography, nine Grammy Awards, and 2 Oscar nominations, MJB is an indisputable legend. For my first “Favorite Friday” installment, I want to highlight one of Mary’s best and most beloved songs, “No More Drama.”
“No More Drama,” the second single from the album of the same name, is the Holy Grail of emoting through music. From the very first second of the recording, you know your in for a heavy, but not melodramatic, musical ride. “No More Drama” samples “Nadia’s Theme” by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. The classical piece is used as the opening theme of the iconic daytime soap opera, The Young and the Restless. That opening piano riff, strikes a specific chord of pain that Mary’s voice massages throughout the song.
This song is a lesson in letting go. Mary sings “Only God knows where the story ends for me/But I know where the story begins/It’s up to us to choose/Whether we win or lose/And I choose to win/This song is a lesson in letting go.” That section is so powerful because often we chose to revel in our weariness and sorrow, but Mary is pleading that we get up take back our lives. Her voice strains with emotion: pain, frustration, guilt, grief. While the composition of the song and Mary’s vocal performance err on the side of melancholy, the lyricism is decidely more hopeful which allows for “No More Drama” to be a breakthrough as much as it is a reflection on the past. Mary repeats the phrase “no more drama” a staggering sixteen(!) times thoughout the song. That repetition is Mary’s way of speaking her prayers and wishes into existence.
Mary performed this track at the 2002 Grammy Awards, and, quite frankly, it is one of the most powerful performances of all time. With a single spotlight, a gold pantsuit, and a handheld mic, the staging of the performance is decidedly simple. There are some incredible moments in this performance. Mary’s growl during “I don’t wanna cry no more”; the runs on “I choose to win” as the song approaches its climax; the pacing across the stage like a pastor during a sermon! The performance really becomes legendary when Mary starts improvising lyrics (“Go head, you demons, get out my life!”) and starts dancing a full on Holy Ghost jig throughout the latter half of the song. Mary’s emotion in the song and performance doesn’t translate as melodramatic because it’s so honest. We’ve all heard the stories of various dramas in Mary’s life, so when she pours her heart into the song, that pain is real. During the last minute of the performance Mary leaps across the stage with passion and fire, it’s almost as if she’s overcome by the anointing of the song. “No More Drama” is clearly a musical and spiritual release for Mary, and for everyone who listens to the track.
Now, Mary didn’t sound perfect in every part of the performance, but that’s exactly the point. She wasn’t afraid to hit a flat run or a bum note because she was focused on giving the most honest and raw performance that she could. That commitment to her artistry is what made and continue to makes Mary J. Blige such an important artist.
Watch the 2002 Grammy Performance of “No More Drama” here.