Usher Mary J. Blige 50 Cent

What happens when your favorite music artists move on?

They move on to a new school of thought, a new relationship, religion, or even a different music genre all together. They move away from the people, places or things that inspired their music—the music you loved so much. What do you do then?”

I remember how I felt the first time I listened to Mary J. Blige’s iconic album, My Life. I was only 13-years-old, but I belted each song out in my bedroom like I knew the exact pain she felt. I could feel it radiating through my boombox’s speakers, and oddly, it was a great feeling for me. I didn’t know that those words and rugged voice were by-products of abusive relationships, hurt and addiction. 

Nearly 20 years later (has it been that long?), Blige is still singing, but it’s all about her drama-free life and real, real love thanks to her husband, sobriety and a better self-image. If we’re honest, though we were happy for our sister’s breakthrough, her new music was missing something. It lacked the grit and grime that made us cry over her tracks. The “Happy Mary” was a little too happy and kind of boring. 

We music lovers can be victims of nostalgia. Change raises our eyebrows. 

Case and point: When balladeer, Brian McKnight attempted to step outside of the box with his adult single, “If You’re Ready to Learn,” he was digitally crucified on social media sites.  Longtime supporters were shocked that he overtly sang about sex, instead sweet love. Kanye West, though still an artistic powerhouse, often leaves fans wanting his old stories about his struggle as a broke, would-be rapper with each song released about Lamborghini Murcielagos and Louis Vuitton blouses. His debut album, The College Dropout was released almost a decade ago.

Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson admitted that he might be losing his original audience because he isn’t the “old 50” anymore during a recent interview with Oprah. The rapper who built his career on beef, selling drugs and violence has erected a community center in his old neighborhood and has an energy drink, Street King, which benefits needy children in Africa. My, how things have changed.

Each time Usher Raymond performs live, he gets a healthy mix of blank stares and cheers. He briefly struggled to maintain the sex appeal that drove his female fan base after marrying and having children. To add, his latest album, Looking for Myself, is filled with pop/techno music, which has left hardcore fans longing for another album like Confessions, when he sang about breakups and infidelity over classic R&B beats.

We love our favorite artists. We stan for their work and know the best thing about music is its versatility. So why can’t we let them go?

The answer simple: we’re selfish. We want to be right there in that moment that brought us so much joy, and we want them there with us. A true music lover should support the growth and development of an artist, but instead, we’d like to keep them there in those places that were the muses for this great music, whether it’s toxic relationships, depression, low-level fame or even drug and alcohol addiction. We don’t care what they go through, as long as they put out good music. 

And what’s good music? Whatever we can relate to or agree with at the time. 

Music reminds us of where the artists were, but more importantly where we, ourselves, were then. How ridiculous of us to transition out of heartbreak into loving relationships, from addictions and low self-esteem to self-worth and healthy lives, from struggle to achievement and not allow artists to, also? 

When we don’t get the same feelings or receive the same messages we once did, we actually become offended because we are possessive of our artists. We’d much rather them ask for permission to change, when really we should be open to their travels down different artistic paths, even if they aren’t the paths we expected. 

Just as things change, people do, too, and artists are people first. We sometimes forget that. Rather than become annoyed or angry that they aren’t who they started out as, pull out some of their old records and press play. After all, that’s what they’re made for.