Mya. Her name is synonymous with low-rise studded flares, an ever-present midriff and the woman who penned those “single, sexy and free / making my own money” lyrics. Thrust into an international spotlight at just 18-years-old, Mya was responsible for some of the biggest pop songs you remember from the 1990s and early 2000s; Case Of The Ex, Ghetto Superstar, My Love Is Like…Wo and Free. In 2001, Mya collaborated with PINK, Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, and Missy Elliot to remake Patti LaBelle’s 1974 song Lady Marmalade. Winning the Grammy Award for Best Pop collaboration and selling over 5.5 million copies worldwide (in hard copy form, streaming wasn’t available, remember!) making the track the most successful airplay-only single in history. For most women – and some men – their memories of Mya’s music are conducive to certain moments in their lives. For me, it was a high school talent quest, where myself and three friends dressed in a wardrobe far beyond our 15 years and danced to Lady Marmalade. I was Mya. “Aww! What a wild story”, the real Mya replies when I tell her my sad, angsty teenage anecdote today. Returning to Australia in November with a slew of RnB artists for RnB Fridays Live, the now 36-year-old musician, actress, dancer, activist and philanthropist chatted to GRAZIA about the Marmalade video, the guy who inspired Case Of The Ex and the misconception behind her hiatus.
GRAZIA: So many of your tracks, namely Lady Marmalade for myself, bring back nostalgic memories. The early 2000s was a time of female empowerment, irrespective of a man and songs like that really drive that messaging home. When you look back at that time in your life, does it bring back a nostalgia for you and how would you describe that?
Mya: “Oh yeah, absolutely. You know, I was a young kid in adult clothing in Lady Marmalade. That was sort of a rare thing for females to get together – individual artists – at that time. That was a big moment in our careers and a completely different experience for all of us that I don’t think we’d ever had before. In that case, we had a great time in rehearsals and in the recording studios as well as performing and making the video. And meeting Patti LaBelle [the singer of the original 1974 track] was the icing on the cake.”
What was it like on the Lady Marmalade music video set with Christina Aguilera, PINK, Lil’ Kim and Missy Elliot?
Mya: “The video set was extravagant. It was decked in obviously a theatre but it was beautifully crafted. The director was Paul Hunter and the wardrobe department was amazing, all of our costumes were very intricate. As far as hair and makeup went, I think that was the most overtop all the ladies had experienced, including me! It felt like five like five holidays in one with all the glitter and the spectacular things that occurred on the video set, it was awesome.”
Credit: Getty Images
Did you all get along? And do you still keep in touch?
Mya: “Oh yeah we all got along despite any rumours! I think the things is people think when females get together, there’s always some cat fight or bickering but that was not the case at all. PINK and I have written the song Take A Picture since, which was really great to work with her. And Kim and I had a meeting in New York about a year ago about working together. And Missy and I ran into each other recently actually in Los Angeles. We were stopping at the same clothing store so we always pass each other!”
There’s been a few attempts at the power group anthems like Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj’s Bang Bang. What do you think made the formula so electric?
Mya: “Well, it’s very rare that you get to see females team up! We see it happening among males all the time, especially in hip-hop, a male and another male or a male and a female collaborating but very rarely do you see females – other than if it’s a duo – collaborating. It can be very expensive when you’re dealing with females between record companies behind the scenes. But I think its always a great, empowering move when women are coming together and setting aside any insecurities because it looks like a party! And females do know how to have fun together. I think if people take the risk sometimes, magic can happen. All of the magic is in the glitter.”
It’s in those awards as well, you guys received so many for that song! Another one of your massive tracks is Case Of The Ex. What inspired that song all those years ago?
Mya: “Oh wow, well, an all too familiar experience. A cheating guy or a guy that might be entertaining their past and she keeps coming around for some reason and its me asking him and confronting him about why she would be knocking at the door. So, I give my warning and my ultimatum to leave her alone; she has no reason to call, you guys don’t have kids or mutual friends, it’s either me or her. There should be no reason an ex should return into your life. So that’s the basis behind that song, Case Of The Ex, it sounds sort of like an ailment. [Laughs]”
How important was it for girls and young women in the 90s and early 2000s to be listening to songs like this one and Free?
Mya: “I was very outspoken at a time that I hadn’t even experienced life before that so I think it’s very important to basically set the tone for what you want your life to be like, early on, which definitely moulded me in not taking any crap from anyone! But Free is a great example for other women – and men. Men actually come to me and say, ‘thank you so much for that song, it made me get over my ex!’. You know, it’s just about knowing your worth and your value and being strong enough to walk away from something that’s not healthy or good for you.”
You were so young, you were just 18 when you released your first album, what was one of your biggest lessons you learnt when looking back at the music industry?
Mya: “Well, I began to understand clearly that there was my music, there was the art of music and then there was the business and they were separate things but they can merge beautifully together if there are no egos involved. That’s seems not to be the case though. Producers have egos, artists have egos, choreographers, record label execs – everybody’s hearts may be in it but egos is a big thing that can be a downfall of many operations and companies regardless of what business it is. So having a great team in very important for anyone young coming into the business. But knowing who you are is really tough when you’re a teenager. If you haven’t had any life experience, then having a solid foundation is important. And taking your time and staying patient is probably one of the biggest lessons I hold onto today.”
“You should be in no rush to further what you love no matter what that is because that will afford you longevity.”
Your music video in the early 2000s tend to open and centre around a hip-hop Brooklyn-looking neighbourhood. How has that setting changed now? What does life look like?
Mya: “My life is pretty all over the place. I’m always on tour. I’m an independent artist so I’m always funding my projects like my music or movies. I kind of move around a lot, I’m very rarely stationary but I have a home in California and a home in Merryland. I love trees and grass and flowers and that’s how I maintain my sanity and peace of mind. I’m a country girl!”
People do think you went on a hiatus but I’ve read your bio and you have actually done so much – even outside of music – making you not only an extremely talented woman but a hugely compassionate one. Is it tiring/annoying that people have that assumption that you have been stagnant for a while?
Mya: “Well, no I totally understand if I’m not seen on television or heard on radio which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions from a business perspective which people don’t always understand. I always look for the positive in every comment because lots of people say ‘When are you going to sing again? We miss your voice’ so I just give them the links or the names of projects to go and look up and they’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t know, my bad!’. But its usually perception so I’ve been independent and independent is a different world and a lot harder. It’s a lot more fulfilling in some ways but you’re less visible and less audible to the masses. Your core fan vase understand but the world doesn’t know. But you know, I never get annoyed, it’s a good sign that people say, ‘Where have you been?’ or ‘Why did you stop singing?’ – I look at it as a great thing.”
What can we expect come November in Australia?
Mya: “Performing is my forte and I’ll be giving a show. I’ll be singing live, dancing my behind off and reaching out to people. I’m sort of a comedian on stage so you’re just going to get the full package entertainer!
“Obviously the classics are a sure request from the fans so I will be sure to perform those in Australia. I have an archive of music that’s unreleased so I will do them too.”
And will the styling resemble any of your 90s wardrobe?
Mya: “[Laughs] Well let’s see, I don’t know. Not with the internet! Maybe not because I believe that 90s fashion is absolutely horrible!”
RnB FRIDAYS LIVE – NOVEMBER 2016
Presented by Frontier Touring and HIT Network
Nelly ,TLC, Mya, 112, Montell Jordan, Blackstreet, Blu Cantrell, Dante Thomas, Fatman Scoop , Kevin Lyttle + DJ Horizon
FRONTIER MEMBERS PRE-SALE
Go to: frontiertouring.com/rnbfridayslive
Begins: Tue 6 Sep (12noon AEST)
Ends: Wed 7 Sep (12noon AEST)
(or ends earlier if pre-sale allocation exhausted)
GENERAL PUBLIC ON SALE
Begins: Thu 8 Sep (10am local time)
Fri 18 Nov Qudos Bank Arena | Sydney, NSW (All Ages)
ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849
Sat 19 Nov Eatons Hill Outdoors | Brisbane, QLD (18+)
oztix.com.au | Ph: 1300 762 545
Sun 20 Nov The Gates at nib Stadium | Perth, WA (All Ages)
ticketmaster.com.au | Ph: 136 100
Fri 25 Nov Hisense Arena | Melbourne, VIC (All Ages)
ticketek.com.au | Ph: 132 849