Interview: Macy Gray on defying expectations and staying true to herself

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Image: Giuliano Bekor

“It was exciting because I wasn’t expecting it,” Macy Gray said, as she reflected on the success of her debut album, On How Life Is. “I had never had a hit record before so I didn’t know what it was like. It was a good time. It allowed me to see the world and meet all kinds of people.”

Gray’s debut album from 1999 went triple-platinum. Her second single, “I Try,” became an international success. The song ended up earning the singer a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. “I had money in my pocket for the first time in my life,” Gray added. “It turned out to be a really good thing.”

Tell Me

Gray says that moving forward; she just kept on making music. But, it didn’t always meet others’ expectations, given that every song she produced after that was not a carbon copy of “I Try.” However, Gray stayed true to her creative process. For two decades, she has created personal pieces of work and sold out venues all over the world. She continues to win over both fans and critics alike with her unmistakable raspy voice, her soulful spirit, and her vibrant energy.

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As thing progressed, somehow Gray managed to find herself in front of the camera, but says that she never knew she wanted to be an actor. Crossing over from singer-songwriter to actress turned out to be a more natural transition than she would have imagined. Director Antoine Fuqua had tapped her to be in “Training Day” and the rest was history.

After that, Gray went on to star in Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” alongside Janet Jackson, Anika Noni Rose, and Whoopi Goldberg. She continued to shine onscreen in films such as “Brotherly Love” and “Cardboard Boxer,” as well as making an appearance in Netflix’s “Fuller House.”

Beauty in the World

Gray has sold over 25 million albums globally, to date. Prior to her latest album, Ruby, 2016’s Stripped highlighted the singer’s flair for jazz. The critically acclaimed album included covers of tracks such as “Nothing Else Matters” and “Redemption Song,” as well as an updated, sultry, up-tempo rendition of “I Try.”

In September of 2018, the soulful songstress released her tenth full-length album, Ruby (via Artistry Music/Mack Avenue), which has again earned praises from fans and critics alike. The original concept was “Nina Simone 2020.” Producers Johan Carlsson (Michael Bublé, Maroon 5), Tommy Brown (Jennifer Lopez, Fifth Harmony, Travis Scott), and Tommy Parker Lumpkins (Janet Jackson, Justin Bieber), helped bring Gray’s vision to life, turning it into a unique work of art.

Ruby is an eclectic mix of songs that beautifully spotlights Gray’s superb, raw talent. “Buddha,” which is a collaboration with Gary Clark Jr., showcases her authenticity; vocally, visually, and lyrically. Gray tells The Burn-In that coming from a place of honesty and vulnerability is the only way she really knows how to create.

Image: Still shot from “Buddha” video

Time Of My Life

Leading up to the video release for “Buddha” back in August, Gray hosted a cover art contest via Instagram. Out of hundreds of submissions from artists, Jonathan Caustrita took home the top prize of $500 and had his art featured as the official “Buddha” single artwork. Under the direction of Teyana “Spike Tee” Taylor, the video includes electric riffs from Gary Clark Jr. and shines a special light on Gray’s battles with mental health.

Gray says that at this point in her life, what she’s learning most is patience. As far as an overall message that she hopes gets through to fans, it’s one that Gray, herself, embodies. “I think I’ve been consistent,” Gray tells The Burn-In. “I’ve always supported individuality and freedom; freedom for yourself to do as you please and be who you really are.”

“I know that’s really difficult,” she continued. “It’s not always easy. [There] is so much cynicism and expectations—unrealistic ones. Where people feel like they have to do things that they really don’t want to do, or be somebody that they’re not, which is the hardest thing in the world. So, I’ve always stressed that. And I think that still comes out in my new album.”

Image: Album Art

When It Ends

Fans can count on Gray to keep doing what she has always done and continue to evolve in the process. Ruby is just the latest example in Gray’s long list of poetic prowess. It shows an artist who is at her height both creatively and personally; one who masterfully weaves both worlds into one, leaving listeners feeling more inspired than they started out.

Gray is currently working on her next album and has a string of upcoming tour dates on the horizon. She’s also working on a new movie and is busy taking care of her kids. “I’ve got a lot of ideas and things I still want to do,” Gray mused. “But, on a day-to-day, I’m just working, really—like everybody else.”