In 2022, Mary J. Blige rose from the ashes once again, just as she did in 2006. During the first few months of the year, the Queen of Hip-Hop of Soul was incredibly active, performing on the Super Bowl LVI Halftime Show and 53rd NAACP Image Awards, releasing Good Morning Gorgeous under 300 Entertainment and receiving the Icon Award at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards.
At the latter celebration, hosted by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Blige was presented with Billboard’s highest honor by Janet Jackson, who had previously received the award.
Many were moved by Blige’s self-assured acceptance speech, particularly when she proclaimed that she had finally discovered genuine love within herself.
“For so long, I was searching for a real love, but I finally found my real love, and that real love is me,” Blige declared into the microphone, wearing a revealing custom look by Rey Ortiz.
It was heartening to witness Blige’s invigorated confidence level, especially considering her past struggles with self-love. Ironically enough, this section of Blige’s speech bears a resemblance to the title of her earlier single, “Real Love,” which was released in 1992.
By all accounts, “Real Love” is Blige’s signature song. Written by Mark C. Rooney and Mark Morales, the hip-hop-influenced cut spoke to a new generation of women that could relate to this toilsome quest of finding a meaningful relationship.
“Basically, Mary J. Blige is the female that’s from the hood that sings the pain of all of the females from the hood,” Rooney told Ebony in a 2012 interview. “At that point in her life, she was being taken advantage of by a lot of industry cats and a song like ‘Real Love’ described her situation.”
“Real Love” is designed for singing in the mirror with a brush. Blige displayed her vocal prowess by belting out the love-searching lyrics with conviction and attitude, reminiscent of the soul legends she admired. Instead of relying on smooth R&B production, Blige made her mark by boldly integrating hip-hop elements into her soulful street sound.
With the great Audio Two “Top Billin” sample running through the track, Blige begins by sharing her experience of being a naive, hopeless romantic deeply attracted to someone.
In the second verse, she realizes that the person she had feelings for is not interested in her and decides to continue her search for an authentic connection.
“Ooh, when I met you I just knew that you would take my heart and run / Until you told me how you felt for me, you said I’m not the one / So I slowly came to see all of the things that you were made of / And now I hope my dreams and inspiration lead me towards a real love,” sings Blige.
Despite her lingering feelings for this individual, she believes that God will guide her to find a partner who shares her level of dedication in love.
Blige’s performance struck a chord with listeners, as the depth of her pain in her journey to find love was palpable and relatable. Moreover, she started her first decade of Billboard activity with “Real Love,” yielding her first No. 1 hit on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (previously known as Hot Black Singles). It held the top spot for two consecutive weeks, beginning Oct. 17, 1992.
“Real Love” topped the Rhythmic Airplay chart, making it her only song to achieve this in the 90s. She later had two more No. 1s on the same chart, 2001’s “Family Affair” and 2005’s “Be Without You.”
Less than two months later, “Real Love” reached No. 7 on the Hot 100 chart, landing the then-emerging singer her first top 10 placement on the fiercely competitive chart.
Around the same time, Blige would pick up her second consecutive gold single certification for “Real Love.” She had previously earned one for “You Remind Me,” the first single from What’s the 411?
In 1993, Blige hit the refresh button on “Real Love” with an official remix featuring then-buzzing rapper Notorious B.I.G. The new backdrop is taken from Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman.” It appeared on the remix edition of her debut album and has become the version Blige performs most on her headlining tours, most recently, the Good Morning Gorgeous Tour.
Throughout her What’s the 411? album cycle, Blige performed “Real Love” on various platforms. A particularly notable performance occurred on an episode of MTV’s Fade to Black, created by Moses Edinborough.
Blige even took the stage to accept multiple awards for “Real Love,” including her first two Soul Train Music Awards (Best New R&B/Soul Artist and Best R&B/Soul Album) in 1993. She later incorporated part of her speech for the former award into the intro of her 1997 album, Share My World.
Since then, Blige’s “Real Love” has been occasionally sampled and interpolated in songs by R&B and hip-hop stars, including Frank Ocean (“Super Rich Kids“), Ariana Grande (“Lovin’ It”) and Wreckx-N-Effect (“Tha Show”). It was also featured in Target’s holiday campaign in 2020.
Beyond the actual song, the Marcus Raboy-directed video for “Real Love” has received its own legacy. In it, Blige is seen rocking a rusty red hair color and dressed in a jersey, coupled with a basketball cap, knee pads, and combat boots.
Not only has this outfit been duplicated for subsequent ‘90s-inspired parties and Halloween events, but the choreography, made by Leslie Segar, a.k.a Big Lez, has been equally as iconic through the years.
Blige is currently upholding the spirit of her breakout song “Real Love” by fulfilling the role of executive producer for a Lifetime original movie with the same name.
Mary J. Blige’s Real Love is being produced under her production company, Blue Butterfly Productions, and is directed by Camrus Johnson. Sonja Warfield and Rachel Ingram wrote the script.
Don’t miss out on Mary J. Blige’s upcoming Lifetime movie, Mary J. Blige’s Real Love. The original film stars Ajiona Alexus and Da’Vinchi and will air on the network on June 10 at 8 p.m. ET.
Revisit Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” below.