December 5, 2022

Los Angeles is one of those cities that brings on a very distinct sting of loneliness—one that can only be cured with a grandiose night out. As Mary J. Blige’s Good Morning Gorgeous Tour stopped at Inglewood, Calif.’s Kia Forum, the night resulted in a much-needed, cathartic release that was never anticipated. 

As my best friend and I walked up to the entrance, we immediately noticed the wide range of folks popping out for the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. From a middle-aged white couple to a Black lesbian pair in complementary outfits, the “aunties and uncles” were in full vintage regalia. A woman (apparently also named Mary) sat in front of me and had visibly pregamed a bit too hard. “Same name, different daddies,” she hilariously exclaimed. 

Over the past 30 years, Blige’s music has evolved beyond being the soundtrack for around-the-way girls with tough exteriors who are undercover over-lovers. There’s something in her catalog for everyone—whether you’re powering through a heartbreak, welcoming in joy, or busting a move. This versatility is why newer R&B acts like Queen Naija and Ella Mai also have faithful listeners in this crowd.

As the Detroit native’s adoring fans’ voices echoed throughout the venue, the similarities between her and Blige’s appeal became apparent. Queen Naija turns her pain into prose in a way that feels like spilling tea with your homegirl, which is reminiscent of Blige’s relatability. The 27-year-old looked incredible with flowy, jet-black hair cascading over her hot pink Namilia corset jacket with matching cargo pants and a noticeable thong—giving Manny Santos from Degrassi. She glided through “Hate Our Love,” Pack Lite,” “Karma,” and other singles.

Mai, however, mirrors another side of Mary. The London-bred singer opened her set with never-before-seen footage of Blige laying down vocals for her sophomore album, Heart On My Sleeve. The visual reads like a “passing of the torch,” particularly as Mai channels her “grown and sexy” era. Once a budding star in sweats, the now full-fledged 27-year-old phenom rocked soft glam and a voluminous blowout onstage, wearing an oversized blazer, biker shorts, patent leather heeled boots, and velvet gloves. 

The songbird’s 2017 smash hit, “Boo’d Up,” still proved to be the kind of crowd favorite that surpasses identity. As soon as the melody blared throughout the venue, everyone stood on their feet to record the live rendition and sing along. Similar feedback occurred when Mai performed “Trip” moments later. 

Ella Mai performing on stage in a black attire

Singer Ella Mai performs onstage at The Kia Forum on October 09, 2022 in Inglewood, California.

Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

Both opening acts laid the foundation for Mary J. Blige’s nearly two-hour set. I felt the burst of heat from the literal fire at my side-stage seat as Blige jumped into “Amazing,” the second single from her fourteenth studio album, Good Morning Gorgeous

The 51-year-old—who has aged like fine wine—wore a black mesh bodysuit with a gold chain, fringe corset, and matching thigh boots, of course.  

This was my second time seeing Blige this year and the experience is unmatched. She and her breathtaking dancers commanded every ounce of the stage. After three decades in the game, she is a true performer, complete with several looks, slick transitions, breath control, and vocal agility. It didn’t take long for her to tap into her classics, teasing her infamous dance break during a quick run-through of “You Remind Me” before segueing into “Real Love” as the crowd took over by belting out every word. 

Blige’s epic two-step breaks are now a required portion of her shows. My friend and I happily turned into hypemen as MJB hit the dance during the “Love No Limit”/“Mary Jane (All Night Long)” medley. In fact, several people in the audience proceeded to rightfully gas up the New York legend. A few songs later, the crowd once again stood at attention to perform “Be Happy” as the Power star stood onstage in amazement. 

Following a quick outfit change, Blige reemerged, propped up on a chaise for a heart-wrenching take of “Good Morning Gorgeous.” Seemingly fighting back tears, she reached deep into her soul to perform the self-love anthem. It quickly became clear that things were about to get melancholic. She transitioned into B-sides “Love Without The Heartbreak” and “Come See About Me” before plunging everyone into their feelings with “Not Gon’ Cry” and “I’m Goin’ Down.”

The 1995 ballad from Waiting To Exhale still evokes a harrowingly familiar pain. By the time an added transition took us into Blige’s iconic 1994 cover, we were a singing congregation. She helmed our every note, turning her gold microphone to us before descending into the stage.

Returning in a hot pink set—her third outfit change of the night—Blige mentioned she’d been taking us on a journey. We first escaped to a tropical oasis for an enchanting rendition of “Everything,” as images of palm leaves reflected around her while she stood under a single spotlight. We were transported to the streets of New York City for “All That I Can Say,” but the starry night visual accompanying “Share My World” and the montage of personal images for “My Life” were my favorites.

For her grand finale, Blige changed once more into a silver Dolce & Gabbana sequined two-piece set and yes, the thigh-high boots. She filled the stage with smoke for a dynamic version of “I Can’t Love You,” during which actress Leslie Jones rapped Lil Kim’s verse verbatim from the front row. 

The night wrapped with dance hits, “Family Affair” and “Just Fine” before Blige addressed the crowd and shouted out her friends Simone Smith and Jimmy Iovine. Confetti and streamers burst from the front of the stage as the acclaimed singer ended the show with her 2005 anthem, “MJB Da MVP.”

With my voice now hoarse and my silk press not so silky, my friend agreed: this particular girls’ night was needed. We ignored all the baggage beyond our control, let loose, and emerged freer, lighter. That’s how Mary makes us feel. We go through a journey of deep-rooted pain and fear, but come out singing. Showmanship aside, this has been the key to her longevity. We’re thankful for her life—the growing pains, the breakthrough, and most of all, her sharing her world with all of us. 

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