The phrase “a force to be reckoned with” is one that journalists and writers like to throw around carelessly to give a sense of meaning to someone or something that they struggle to describe in other terms. The term is over-used, over written, and, in my opinion, has lost it’s once impressive impact. With that said, every once in a while, there is a person who truly deserves the title “a force to be reckoned with”. It is rare, however. Yet, in my recent journey to define her, it dawned on me that Mýa is that deserving person.
Mýa is ever-present. Mýa is powerful and inspiring. Mýa is a force to be reckoned with.
At first blush, some may think it is an overstatement, but, when inspected further, it is easy to see just how easily this is fact. Millions of people spent the late 90’s and early 2000’s rocking out to chart-topping hits like Ghettosuperstar, Lady Marmalade, Case of The Ex and My Love is Like Wo. Mýa ’s impact on pop culture was furthered by her contributions to two of the most popular, influential, and important movie-musicals of our time: Chicago & Moulin Rouge.
However, what some may have perceived to be the end was only just the beginning of a liberated woman set free, flying high on her own terms with the best yet to come. If one were seeking a prime example of classy, understated, seemingly-effortless longevity, one would have to look no further than the force that is Mýa. But, to use the word ‘effortless’ in any discussion of Mýa’s career would be an abuse of the term.
Producer. Record-label owner. Actress. Singer. Writer. Dancer. Musician. Engineer. Mýa literally has done, and continues to, do it all – and with flare. Walking into 5 Points Studio, famed photographer Walid Azami’s downtown Los Angeles digs, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Mýa would be shooting her cover spread for this issue of Contrast, and days like this are hectic, crowded, and often go on for 10 or more hours.
As a writer, I’ve been surprised and delighted as well as angered and disappointed with my subjects. Having personally seen and heard it all, I usually walk into all of my interviews the same: a blank slate ready to absorb. Not much shocks me at this point in my career, yet every once in awhile something does, and for all the right (read: good) reasons.
Imagine the feeling you have when trying to put your name down at the only sit-down restaurant around. In a mall. The week before Christmas. That is the feeling and energy that surrounds even the best cover shoot/interview situations – chaos, glee, excitement, exhaustion – a bunch of juxtaposing emotions and vibrations all churning together, somehow working, somehow seeming normal.
Regardless of the shoot, and you can swap out tons of factors – the interviewer, the makeup artist, the managers, the publicists, all of it – one fact remains: the celebrity at the center of the shoot always sets the overall tone. That over-arching note playing above (or, more often, below) the chaotic cacophony of craziness is always the one felt loudest – and it is always, at the end of the day, coming from the center of attention for the day – as it should. Today, Mýa was playing the note, and it was beautiful.
When I was led back to the makeup area where I would meet Mýa and discuss my plans for the interview with her, I saw all of the normal buzzing and chaos: Interns running coffee around. People running clothes back and forth to be OK’d or axed. Lights going off in the background as Azami tested backdrops. But, in the midst of all of this, literally with makeup-artist-to-the-stars David Rodriguez and famed hair stylist Michael Solis whirling in an almost dance-like tornado around her, there was Mýa – serene smile on her face, almost shockingly calm.
I have to admit it caught me off guard to the point where the first few words out of my mouth didn’t even make much sense to me. There she was, laughing, making small talk with everyone – grounded. Mýa conveys such a strong presence of natural solitude and centeredness, it’s almost contagious. There was no pretense, no army of publicists and assistants – in that moment, there was no doubt – this multi platinum, grammy winning, record label owning badass really did command her ship. She was the captain, and was calm and secure in that position.
For many reasons, seeing Mýa so grounded and so in command made me want to know about more than just her music. I wanted to know about Mýa the businesswoman, the business owner. Before the interview, I asked some industry friends, and they confirmed what I suspected: it isn’t exactly the easiest thing on Earth to own a small independent label, make an entire album on your own, release it without a major label or distributor, and have it not only be successful, but have it be nominated for a fucking Grammy. But, that is exactly what Mýa has done in the last year alone. In fact, the day of our interview was only a week and a day after The 2017 Grammy Awards, where her latest album, Smoove Jones, was nominated for Best R&B Album.
That young girl we all danced along with as she strutted her stuff along Lil’ Kim, Christina Aguilera, and P!nk in Lady Marmalade and we all watched show off her acting and dancing chops in Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango” isn’t a little girl anymore. That young girl is now the living embodiment of what it means to be an empowered grown woman. As I would learn from our conversations that day, Mýa was all at once open and guarded. Mýa was a team player and played by her own rules. She was strong, yet vulnerable. As opposing as all of that sounds, with Mýa, it just somehow works – beautifully.
“Well, the world doesn’t know me much at all, not that I expect them to. [H]eck, I’m still learning myself. It’s impossible for the world to receive or know an entire person through just albums or art. [I]n order to explain who Mýa or any individual actually is, I’d need volumes of books and films. There are too many layers to even try to begin to explain.” Mýa told me.
Even with this answer, I wanted to know what was behind at least some of those layers, as I knew her legions of fans would.
Contrast (C): What was the best phase in your life?
Mýa (M): Right here, right now.
C: What was the worst phase in your life?
M: I’ll be saving that for a book. Other than that, when I had poison ivy in elementary school.
C: What’s the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?
M: It’d be inaccurate for me to place people as a whole in a box. But, many people think I quit music when I left the major label system, when, in fact, I went harder & produced & [have] released a project almost every year after the split.
(Mýa left longtime label Motown/Universal Records in 2008 after her fourth LP, Liberation, was accidentally released.)
C: The chaos surrounding your fourth album Liberation actually seems to have turned out to be liberating in some ways, because you have developed this incredible outlet and label of your own…can you talk about that?
M: Liberation was my 4th completed album and last project attached to a major label. When it was accidentally released due to the release date changing for a 4th time, one territory was never informed. That territory was Japan, where the project was released digitally on iTunes [and other online music retailers] which, then spread to YouTube [and blogs, websites, and illegal downloading sites].
I didn’t feel like going to court to sue for negligence, but I was able to get out of my contract with Motown/Universal, become debt free, and I instead decided to pursue doing music without being signed to a major label. An independent label based in Japan named Manhattan Records loved Liberation and approached me with a one album partnership deal limited to just the territory of Japan, which sparked the beginning of my independent journey. A year after my split with Motown, I released Sugar & Spice and toured Japan.
C: Who is Mýa the business woman?
M: Mýa the business woman is a chick without a budget who steps up to the plate to go to bat and wears whatever hat she needs to to make it happen. It’s necessary in order to survive and take care of others. But, most importantly, [it helps me] to get to the true love, which is the art at the end of the day. I’ve waited on companies, entities, etc and if there’s lack of passion or commitment in any area, the results are just blah. So, there’s never a day I am not working even if it’s considered an ‘off’ day.
These days, I am 90% business and 10% an artist. On the daily, I am the manager, the agent, the lawyer, the driver, the travel agent, the trainer, the chef, the choreographer, the seamstress, the engineer, the A&R, the accountant, secretary, coordinator, road manager, hair stylist, make up artist, stylist, the financier and even security if need be.
The reward at the end of the day is getting to just be an artist with just a little playtime to create, share, perform, elevate, travel the world, and become a better me. I’m just that passionate and willing to do the dirty work to ultimately get to what gives me bliss – art, creation, discovery and helping others.
C: What is your advice to the women and girls out there who want to, but are afraid to start there own business?
M: Never disqualify yourself because you are “a girl.” Remember you are just capable and often more capable. Throw that often taught condescending psyche out of the window ASAP. If you have desires, goals, and dreams: write them down! Ask questions, do research, get involved, surround yourself around those who are doing it, respect the process and understand that things that last take time, [sometimes] years, [and] often decades to develop. If it takes money to start it, cut back spending, live simply, invest in yourself, ask for help, investment, etc. and love it. Come up with your plan of action and act. The most important thing to ask yourself [is]: ‘Why am I doing this? What is the mission, [the] purpose, and how will this enhance the lives of others?’
C: What words of wisdom would you pass onto your childhood self?
M: If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right and most things will never be as we live in an imperfect world. However, there is a lesson to be learned in everything. Focus on the lesson and apply it. Choose positive, think ahead, listen to your future self – the you 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now. Live in the moment, but plan for the future you and aim for the best you at all times. Don’t let the world define that for you. Define who that is, what happiness is, what success is, and what beautiful is for yourself. Take your time and don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
C: What’s the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
M: I’d love to have a superpower which would allow me to transport my physical body to outer space or any other desired location in the universe. Vivid dreams and documentaries on YouTube will have to do for now (laughs).
C: How would your best friends describe you?
M: My best friend has seen me in every state including at my absolute worst. He’s in Heaven now but I imagine he’d say ‘She gives the best massages, loves watching all of my favorite channels [like] Animal Planet and National Geographic, but she’s very stingy with food. Sharing is caring, my ass!’
C: Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
M: Both. I’m very much like my father – an extrovert on stage. I’m very much like my mother – an introvert – all about business, peace of mind, truth, children & animals off stage.
C: If you could bring one musician back from the dead, who would it be and why?
M: Prince for selfish reasons. I know he’s having a jam session in a purple paradise right now, but I and so many others were just not ready for [his death]. He spoke some words of wisdom about independency and ownership during my independent journey and I so badly wanted to play him the Smoove Jones project in March – a month before his graduation. His advice has been very influential in this 8 year journey even though it’s not the most popular road traveled. His empowering words will forever stay with me.
C: I can see you on SNL or MadTV, what are some future goals?
M: That’s totally what’s missing in my life! In Living Color and MadTV used to be my favorites. That would be the ultimate high in entertainment for me. I’m such a nut case when I allow myself to be, and I know that getting to play in that space would most likely be the completion to my ocho-polarism. (laughs)
M: Who is Mýa the vegan?
C: Mýa the vegan is a bomb-ass chef! Whether the food is prepared raw or cooked, I can make a MF change his or her perception about what being a vegan means and want more. Though I’m only approaching year four and still learning, I’m a fun vegan. As we all know, there’s the boring, rabbit food eating, holier-than-thou perception attached to the ‘V’ word. I love doing fun challenges on social media to involve people and offer recipes for those who ask. My raw vegan dishes are on struggle mode at the moment, but I’m a beast in the cooking space.
C: I heard you’re doing a raw vegan challenge?
M: My goal in 2017 was to implement a seven day raw vegan challenge once every month. 1 week per month in the first quarter of the year – 2 weeks per month in the 2nd quarter, 3 weeks per month in the 3rd quarter & 4 weeks in the 4th… Small, progressive steps to hopefully adopt & adapt to a mostly raw diet.
(Fans and people who are interested in following along with Mýa’s raw journey should check out her Instagram @myaplanet9)
C: What is your favorite go-to vegan dish?
M: Sautéed kale, mushrooms, onions and peppers over a bed of quinoa with a side of purple sweet potatoes drizzled in lime juice. The spices can vary from garlic & cayenne to curry & turmeric or lemon pepper with a dash of pink Himalayan salt. My favorite sweet tooth fix is sliced banana, walnuts, coconut shreds, oatmeal flakes, and hemp seeds drizzled in raw agave. This can be topped with a dairy free yogurt, coconut rice cream or any nut based milk like almond, coconut, cashew, or hemp… or it can be eaten alone.
C: Are you a spiritual person, if so, has that impacted your work?
M: I am, and I recall being spiritual since I was a little girl praying to the Universe, star gazing, knowing that there is something greater and indescribable. Being spiritual keeps me centered and in tune with my truth, what I feel, and what is right for me. [My spirituality is] less textbook, and more divine intervention or divine guidance. Spirituality has helped me hear my own voice and make decisions that I own because they come from me without the interference of anyone else.
C: Your mother is a breast cancer survivor, how did her illness and subsequent recovery impact your life and art?
M: My mother’s cancer has certainly kept me grounded and close to the most important
things in life… family. As a teenager, it prompted me to step up in being the provider and making sure that I live simply so that my mother, who’s sacrificed so much and suffered from her years of stress, experiences the best life possible. It also sparked awareness of the direct link between emotional & physical well being. It is a constant reminder to eat healthy, exercise, protect my space, surround myself with positive energies and, when necessary, give myself permission to put me first. If I don’t, there is an opening for dis-ease. As far as how her cancer impacted my art, life, and all … I just follow what feels right because I learned early through my mother’s cancer that this particular life is just too short to chase manmade things like materials, money, numbers and charts.
C: What scares you?
M: After going skydiving in December… nothing much anymore (laughs). Well, maybe bungie jumping.
C: What empowers you? who are your inspirations?
M: Information, living simply & debt free debt, and practicing alone time empowers me.[My] inspirations [are] happy people just as much as the misinformed, unaware, neglected, troubled and forgotten. I yearn complete fulfillment, but that fulfillment has to be shared creating a world where joy, bliss, and fulfillment are the dominant factor.
C: What are some of your musical influences?
M: Mostly 70’s soul, like Minnie Ripperton, Chaka Khan, Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Sly & the Family Stone. [I am also influenced by] 90’s R&B like Mint Condition, Xscape, R. Kelly, and SWV.
C: What are you currently listening to?
M: Reggae. Peter Tosh’s Legalize It and Bob Marley’s Exodus. [I’m also listening to] Miranda Lambert’s We Should Be Friends.
C: Talk about your Grammy-nominated album Smoove Jones.
M: “Smoove Jones” is my eighth independent studio project on my label Planet 9, and served as a gift to my fans who simply requested R&B music. R&B isn’t really played much on the radio anymore, so Smoove Jones is also my own imaginary radio station and radio show in which I am also the smooth talking radio personality Smoove Jones. The project reflects what I’d want my radio station to sound like. All of the songs are positive with high vibrations without losing the Mya swag and sass, and combine influences from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Strictly feel good vibes with splashes of contemporary sonics to balance things out.
C: I have to ask, who and/or what are the songs “Elevator” and “Phya” about?
M: “Elevator” is a song that expresses staying lifted and positive, turning pain or struggle into promise. [It’s about] celebrating your progress and success against all odds along with sending out gratitude to the haters that attempt to lie, defame you, steal your smile, pull you down to their low vibrational, negative levels.
“Phya” is a song in which a woman understands the power of the P and how, if prematurely or maturely shared, can make one insane, coo-coo and controlling. Soooo, before the physical can be entertained, the woman sets the record straight with the horny, touchy-feely man pursuing her. She acknowledges that he is clearly not deserving nor ready to emotionally or mentally embark on, nor handle the physical journey. But, he is absolutely welcome to partake in a friendly outing or a dance on the dance floor. Why? Because, as she has learned in the past… her phya will most likely cause him to become insecure, call her 50 times a day, stalk her, wonder where she is, who’s she’s with, tell her why she shouldn’t wear leggings to the gym… and then all of the sudden there she is… on the next episode of Snapped. (laughs)
You can tell a lot about a person when they are being photographed in a major photoshoot. It’s not uncommon for people to ogle and yell out compliments and tell you how amazing you are, whether its true or not. Watching Mýa handle herself through hours of Azami’s stunningly gorgeous photoshoot, with the costume and jewelry changes, constant hair and makeup touchups, and strangers telling her how gorgeous she was at every turn, it was incredibly refreshing to see an artist of her level of fame and magnitude have such a genuine humility.
Mýa knows who she is and she knew she looked good (she did), but she didn’t need anyone to tell her and, even better, she didn’t need to tell anyone, either. It’s rare to find a famous person so content with who they are as a person. Mýa didn’t possess that trait of needing constant reassurances and compliments that runs like a plague through so many of Hollywood’s elite celebrity. Mýa is genuinely strong, humble, and grounded on the inside. This rare light she possesses on the inside explains her glow, and why, no matter if it’s singing with a major label or her own independent one, on TV, in movies, or on a glamorous photoshoot on a dreary Monday morning somewhere in LA, Mýa is a force to be reckoned with.