The trailer for it may have been awkward, but once you actually watch Mary J. Blige’s interview with Hillary Clinton on her Apple Music talk show, The 411, in full, you’re likely to find out it's rather innocuous.
The memes surrounding the image of Blige and Clinton in what looked to be an emotional moment were funny. As were the jokes fired off about Blige presumably bursting into song. However, there was a bit of a visceral reaction to the image of Blige, a black woman, singing in front of Clinton, a white woman, though that actually says more about their own discomfort with certain behavior in front of white people than about Blige herself. Heaven forbid a singer burst into song.
The editing was misleading and, arguably, damaging in the presumption it gave people, but fret not, Negroes and those who fancy themselves allies. Blige is not referring to HRC as “Miss Hillary” during the interview; nor is she telling Clinton, “Pardon the watermelon on my breath.”
What you get between the two is more or less a daytime-talk-show interview on a pay music site. It also plays into the growing trend of outlets having famous people interview other famous people. Sometimes it works; other times, not so much.
Before it begins, it’s clear that Clinton is on friendly terrain. Blige explains before the Democratic presidential nominee arrives, “What inspires me most about Secretary Clinton is that she’s a woman and she’s running for president.”
When Clinton arrives, she compliments Blige about her glasses. Full disclosure: They are fly. Later, Blige compliments Clinton about the ivory suit she wore when she made history by becoming the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination for the presidency. To be fair, Clinton’s suit was white-party excellence.
The questions Blige poses to Clinton are noticeably easy in the beginning. Like, “What do you want people to know about who you really are?” Another: “How has your faith guided you in this process?”
Then come Blige’s inquiries about the role Clinton’s mother played in her life; the relationship she has with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton; and what it’s like being a grandmother.
Now, as for the singing that brought so much attention, context is key. That moment didn’t happen until 18 minutes into the interview, when Blige notes that she’s about to sing a 16-year-old song (“American Skin [41 Shots]”) by Bruce Springsteen. She sings well, despite revealing that she’s worried about how she’ll sound; and then the two have essentially a Hallmark moment. They clutch each other’s hands and Clinton extensively rehashes lines we’ve already heard when she’s been met with similar questions about police brutality.
Blige was not crooning “Pull up your pants and be nice to the po-lice” ideology, which just goes to show what people learn when they wait to see something in full before reacting to it.
We are now at least two decades into the practice of presidential candidates appearing on talk shows to reach out to voters. This encounter was another instance of this, only in digital form. Blige, surprisingly, did note that black people feel that racism gave way to noted obstructionism toward President Barack Obama’s administration, and she asked whether sexism will deal Clinton a similar fate. Did Clinton give MJB the deets on her plans to potentially take executive power to unprecedented levels if need be? No, but what did you expect?
Speaking of expectations, no one should fault Blige for this interview. And as to whether or not Clinton is willing to enter less friendly environments to talk more about policy and how the policies pushed by her husband affected black people, duh. Clinton is not about to go knock on Michelle Alexander’s door and ask for a chat.
Politicians, particularly those, like Clinton, struggling to get key voting blocs to feel enthusiastic about this election, are going to avoid goofing up. Even Obama, in the last stretch of his presidency, ain’t exactly sitting down with anyone to talk about his deplorable record on deportation. That doesn’t mean those questions cannot be posed, though. They just need to be posed by the right people.
When I think of Clinton’s need to talk more about serious black issues, I think of the press pool, producers on various cable news shows, the hosts of network news shows and so on. Those are the ones we should be piling on because, sadly, they’re not all as good as Another Round’s Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton, who gave Clinton one of the best interviews of her entire political career on their podcast because it was substantive, warm and challenging.
Was it that interview? No. But it wasn't intended to be. Frankly, as much of a fan of Blige’s as I am, my main concern was how she would function as a host and interviewer. Blige is gifted as a singer and captivating as a performer, but in interviews she often appears nervous and, subsequently, awkward. Here, Blige was effective and competent and reminded me why her holiday album featuring a duet with Barbra Streisand gets played so much at Macy’s during the holidays.
Blige deleted the tweet cursing out her critics earlier this week, but she should have kept it up. The interview was fine-fine-fine-fine-fine, whew! More folks will know that if they ever bother to watch it.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.