Mary J, please have a seat

During April Fool’s weekend, of all weekends, Burger King launched a new ad campaign that quickly drew fire because in one of the ads, Mary J. Blige sings about chicken. Singing all extra about a tasty tortilla, and throwing up six fingers for three cheeses. BK has had singers poking fun at their images before (I’m thinking Darius Rucker’s ad a few years ago), but with this ad, you really can’t tell if MJB is in on the joke or not.

Never mind that BK committed two advertising cardinal sins: Urban music used to market chicken products, and white people dancing off-beat to it. It’s very possible that BK was, in a sick, twisted way, making fun of “urban” ads we’ve been bombarded with for years. But considering the rush to bring down the commercial from YouTube and other sites (and blaming it on copyright issues even though one would assume BK would have had to seek copyright permissions before even filming the ad), maybe not so.

On The Detroit News’ Poptropolis blog, Adam Graham says it might be a good thing because people are talking about MJB again after her last album pretty much flopped. While I like Adam’s work, I have to respectfully disagree.

People are talking about MJB for all the wrong reasons, and this ad is just the latest in a series of career missteps. When Mary bombs, she bombs huge. Her image has always been that of a serious, soul singer who’s been more about the music than the product. But it’s been hard for Mary to maintain that image.

Who could forget that horrendous VIBE cover from a few years ago? Or her claiming to have been accepted to Howard University even though she only holds a GED? Or that epic, epic, damn-you-autocorrect fail of the decade when she demanded that no one “understand estimate my intelligents“? Her Twitter breakdown after losing out on an Oscar nomination?

To be fair, some of those were beyond her control. The things within her control after a 20-year career are inexcusable. Since “The Breakthrough,” it seems MJB has been working too hard to hold onto her crown that no one, not even Keyshia Cole, could snatch. From lending her voice to damn near everyone’s remix or hook (Robin Thicke’s “Magic,” Ne-Yo’s “Do You,” T.I.’s “Remember Me,” Musiq’s overly generic “IfULeave,” and so on) to dropping album after album of radio filler, it seems like the MJB who effortlessly gave us classics of the ’90s has devolved into merely staying relevant. The My Life II, the prologue, the Intermission, the Haiku, whatever she called it album title was the last straw for me.

And to be honest, Mary and national advertising don’t really mesh well, anyway. I couldn’t stand her Chevrolet ads around the time of “The Breakthrough” album — particularly the one where she’s driving a Tahoe with all of her former incarnations of herself. Remember that one? What does the journey between “What’s the 411?” and “The Breakthrough” have to do with a Tahoe?

No one can take MJB’s place, but it seems like she’s inadvertently losing her grip. Maybe after 20 years in the game, this is her “awkward phase” that Janet and other long-standing divas have gone through. That means MJB is around the corner from a proper comeback. Until that time, however, please have a seat.


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