Mary Mary




When it comes to urban gospel superstars Mary Mary, everything is done on a big scale. All of their pursuits-musical, spiritual, or otherwise-are larger-than-life: not a single thing is left to chance. For them, there's simply no room for halfway, half-done, half-baked efforts. No matter the venture, the bar is always sky-high. Absolutely everything must be handled with an utmost sense of excellence.

This commitment to greatness isn't novel for them. As far back as their breakout, career-defining first single, "Shackles (Praise You)" in 2000, Mary Mary have time and again gone for broke. Their landmark fifth album for Columbia Records, THE SOUND, is no different. Hands down, the project is their boldest, most complete work yet-a remarkable milestone in their now decade-long trajectory in music.

"We represent a great, big God who is excellent, so we like to think that our work represents that, too," says Tina Campbell, one-half of the best-selling duo. "God's blessings are new every day. He's blowing our minds every day. We should be able to speak to a new day in a new way." Her sister Erica Campbell can't help but concur: "I wholeheartedly agree," she says.

With nothing to prove, Mary Mary could very well rest on past successes and settle for the middle-of-the-road. After all, they are Grammy, Dove, Stellar, MOBO, and American Music Award winners, and all of their studio albums-2000's Thankful, 2002's Incredible, and 2005's Mary Mary-are either platinum- or gold-certified. But independent of older glories, THE SOUND proves they go it all out, all the time.

"We consider ourselves to be unpredictable," Tina says. "We like to think that we're innovative and original so you cannot figure out what our next move is and you can't really define our ability or what you think the expectations are."

That's putting it mildly. From top to bottom, THE SOUND sees the tandem stretching their wings into realms rarely explored in music, for a celebration of sound that nearly defies categorization. Assisted by longtime producer Warryn Campbell, the disc melds the twosome's love of truth-grounded gospel music, yet swathed in a colorful patchwork of R and B, pop, soul, jazz, electronic music, and then some.

There's no better preamble for THE SOUND's genre-bending dynamics than lead single "Get Up," a song unlike anything on the airwaves in 2008, mainstream or gospel. "That song embodies what the whole album is about," Erica says. "It asks people, 'Why are you waiting? Why do you care what other people think?' It reminds us that your beginning can be whenever you want it to be."

Following ethereal, hypnotic verses with soft, near-whispered vocals, "Get Up" explodes into a praise party dominated by horns, beats-per-minute, and an empowering lyric: "Get up, 'cause you can't stop / Get up, gotta lot to do ... What are you afraid of? Don't you know what you're made of?"  By the time the song hits the rhythmic vamp, Mary Mary have already shattered all preconceived notions about their craft.

More mind-blowing still is the album's title track, a psychedelic, synth-driven retro piece that seems lifted from a '60s spy film. The song is perhaps the wildest Mary Mary has ever committed to tape, but it's not a vanity number: it was created in hopes it will touch someone who doesn't normally listen to faith-based music-a big part of Erica and Tina's ministry.

"There's always someone who has music that will reach an unchurched audience," Erica says. "That's definitely the position Mary Mary holds. Growing up, we didn't look at people who didn't go to church any differently from those who did. When it comes to our music, our music is for everyone. Everyone needs to know that God loves them."

Tailor-made for both the streets and the sanctuary, songs like "Dirt" ably wrap a timeless message into a tune that could apply to individuals on either side of the spiritual divide. "We all need a little bit of dirt to grow," the pair sings in this thought-provoking number, a guitar-laced composition that rides a smooth, mid-tempo groove.

As expected, THE SOUND shows Mary Mary can have church, too. Not ones to shy away from in-your-face declarations of faith, the girls are now more intentional than ever about Whom they adore, without for a moment compromising their call to innovation and growth. The introspective "Seattle" is a prime example, a pensive prayer that asks the Lord to descend upon the soul the same way rain falls on the Emerald City.

Equally worshipful is the slightly odd-metered "I'm Running," a breezy tune punctuated by lightly strummed electric guitar and an insistent snare-kick pattern. The song, which describes a heart who longs to draw ever so close to the heart of God, contains a brilliant nod to the worship classic "As the Deer"-yet another indication of Mary Mary's desire to give praise where praise is due.

In the vein of Mary Mary standards "Can't Give Up Now" and "Yesterday," a couple of ballads on THE SOUND stand out for their passionate delivery: "I Trust You" (feat. Marvin Winans) and "I Worship You" are easily the sonic and spiritual plateaus of the album. Both sisters consider them highlights of the record-two ballads with an immense potential for the Kingdom.

"God knows all," Tina says of "I Trust You." "When you have lost control and you have no information in your little head and you're just confused, blind and don't know which way is up, God knows. He has your life, your future, your family, your career...he has it in control. He has you at heart. He has you in mind. You're in good hands."

That's a message the Campbell family knows all too well. In April, Erica's husband and Mary Mary's producer-in-residence, Warryn Campbell, was diagnosed with a form of kidney cancer that called for immediate surgery. Under similar circumstances, someone else's faith could've been rocked to the core, but not Erica's: not once did the singer or her kin doubt that Warryn would make a full recovery, which he did.

"Everybody's absolutely fantastic," says a resolute Erica when asked about how she and her loved ones are doing. "We're a family of strong faith. We know that Whom we love and serve is capable of taking care of us. There were moments where we shed a tear or two, but what's greater than that was God's ability to take care of us."

Beyond the music, THE SOUND also marks the launching point for a new phase in the sisters' career. In addition to it, the singers hope to continue to expand the Mary Mary brand to territories once uncharted for the duo, into areas such as a bath and beauty line, a designer t-shirt collection, children's books and music, interactive computer games, stage work, television, and much more.

Of these projects, perhaps the one they're the most excited about is BE U-a bath, body, and candle line whose purpose isn't to only encourage external beauty, but also to foster inner splendor, honesty, and integrity.

"We don't want to limit ourselves to just singing," Tina says. "All the gifts and all the talents and all the great entrepreneurial ideas that God has given us, we want to use them."

She continues: "I don't care if you're making a statement in fashion, doing movies that reflect who you are, whatever it is that you decide to do outside of just one thing-if God has gifted you, you should do it all to bring Him glory."


"Bitch Perfect" · RuPaul's Drag Race · TV Review Drag Race gets “Bitch Perfect” with a demanding performance challenge · TV Club · The A.V. Club pre bonded hairConfidence and commitment are the key elements to success on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and these two words that are repeated throughout “Bitch Perfect,” an episode that puts the queens through a performance gauntlet that tests how well they can stand out in a crowd. You don’t really get a solid idea of just how much these queens have to learn until you see the final “Bitch Perfect” product, an elaborate stage show that has the queens performing a significant amount of choreography while lip syncing to a cappella arrangements of RuPaul’s greatest hits, but most of the queens rise to the challenge. Drag Race is known for over-the-top writing, and the script for this episode is especially cartoonish thanks to the “Bitch Perfect” concept. From RuPaul’s initial descriptions of the two teams—The Lady Bitches are “the sweethearts of dragappella from the Lace Front Institute Of Technology,” The Shady Bitches are “bad girls from the Lake Titicaca Academy of Braids, Weaves, and Waffles”—to the voiceover narration and dialogue of the “Bitch Perfect” show, the writers have a ball using drag lingo to create hilarious dialogue. RuPaul is also clearly delighted with the challenge this week, and I especially love how she puts a twist on her catchphrases by playing with the pitch of her voice. The contestants’ performance skills are immediately tested with the minichallenge, which welcomes musician AB Soto to help Ru judge the queens’ dancing and lip of syncing his song “Cha Cha Bitch.” Cynthia Lee Fontaine and Chi Chi DeVayne are the stand-outs thanks to their fancy footwork and sharp sense of rhythm, but Acid Betty also does good work starting the challenge off with energy and Thorgy makes sure she’s noticed by spasming in time to the music, a move she returns to later in the episode. Derrick Berry is surprisingly lackluster given her experience as a Vegas showgirl, but she makes a wise decision not a wear a blonde wig, making her move away from the Britney Spears persona that defines her.

Bob isn’t much of a dancer, but she makes up for it with an evocative character choice, and she passes this knowledge along to Kim Chi later in the episode when Kim worries about her lack of dance skills. She’s easily the worst performer of the group, but after winning last week, this is the exact kind of narrative turn that will benefit Kim in the long run. At this point, she has the most dimensions of all the contestants this season, and the amount of time the show is dedicating to her backstory suggests she’ll be here for a while. After confessing last week that her mother doesn’t know she does drag, Kim reveals this week that she used to weigh 350 pounds and always felt like an outsider because she was the “weird fat art kid with a strong lisp and accent,” and while Acid Betty and Dax ExclamationPoint follow that up by showing pictures of themselves as overweight kids, their stories don’t have the emotional punch of Kim’s. I don’t know how aware Kim is of how well she’s playing the Drag Race game, but she absolutely kills it in this episode despite being one of the bottom queens. After surprising the group with her backstory, she shocks them further by revealing she’s still a virgin, which brings her lots of attention from the cameras, but also the rest of the queens, who rally behind her to show support and affection. Kim is also the only queen to take advantage of the new Shade Tree confessional room (at least in any sort of meaningful way that the show’s editors choose to include in the episode), and she shows a level of vulnerability in that scene that highlights the value of a confession room. Having a place for the queens to express their thoughts in the moment allows for more honest emotion than the talking heads that are filmed afterward, and Kim Chi uses the Shade Tree to bring even more depth to her story. She’s getting a lot of attention, and if Kim can continue to work the cameras while nailing the runway challenges (she looks incredible this week in her cherry blossom nymph drag), she may be able to avoid lip synching for her life, which would surely be her undoing. Split into two teams led by Cynthia (The Lady Bitches) and Chi Chi (The Shady Bitches), the contestants start to turn up the drama as they vie for screen time, with Acid Betty leading the charge by immediately undermining Chi Chi’s authority. Thorgy has known Betty for 10 years, and she’s very familiar with Betty’s attitude. “Because she’s so artistic, she gets away with being a fucking asshole,” Thorgy says, and surely enough, Betty is a fucking asshole for most of the episode. Betty’s behavior might be acceptable if Chi Chi wasn’t on the right track as a leader, but Chi Chi has a firm grip on being leader. Chi Chi has choreographed for the girls back home, and she knows her process works, but Betty wants to be in charge so she becomes aggressive and antagonistic very fast. remy hair extensionsBetty always needs to do what she wants to do while making the current agenda seem pointless, which makes her look selfish and needlessly rude. She wants to start doing choreography before Chi Chi and the rest of the group understand the basics of the performance, but Chi Chi is in the right here. It’s good to have some choreography, but it’s most important that they know what they’re doing before they jump into action or else it will be even sloppier. Betty continues to condescend when the group is talking about shoes and makes their concerns sound trivial, but when you’re going to perform in heels, you need to talk about the kinds of shoes that work best and will be the most comfortable. Chi Chi isn’t wasting time, she’s addressing the issues that a choreographer has to deal with because she’s done it before, and she knows that it’s not all about having dance steps planned out. They have a professional choreographer, Jamal Sims, who will help them put the dance together, and the rehearsal brings out even more of Betty’s bitchiness as she talks about how she’ll gladly throw Chi Chi under the bus if that’s what it comes to on the runway. She’s the opposite of a team player, which makes everyone surprised when Sims says he admires how much Betty cares about the group and making everyone look good. Betty turns it out on the runway, although I whole-heartedly agree with criticisms of the train and butt on her couture gown, but her nastiness makes it hard to root for her and it’s a relief when Chi Chi is named the winner of this challenge. Her runway look is a bit simple, but her performance in “Bitch Perfect” is stellar and she also has a compelling backstory in her gang member past, showing an intriguing new side of this season’s dim country queen. Thorgy and Naomi also have strong showings on the runway, with Thorgy grabbing the judges’ attention with a sequined jumpsuit and Naomi continuing to show that modeling is what she does best. As a performer, Naomi Smalls is still trying to figure out how to work her gangly body in motion, but at least she tries to be ambitious. She delivers one of the show’s most pitiful death drops during the minichallenge, but the effort is admirable and she steps it up during the main challenge, hitting all the choreography and playing a defined character. All of The Shady Bitches but Dax bring a strong personality to the stage, which makes her fade even further into the background. So much of what Dax says this week involves what she doesn’t do (not a gown queen, not a disco queen, not a classically trained dancer), and her lack of versatility combined with her lack of confidence makes her a completely forgettable queen. Laila McQueen is also fighting her forgetability, but she doesn’t know how to make herself memorable. She says she’s going to stand out when Ru visits the workroom, but Ru reminds her that there’s more strategy involved than just saying the words, and Laila isn’t a very good Drag Race strategist. She lets herself get cast as a character who is supposed to be a poor imitation of Derrick Berry, which puts her in a position where her role is working against her, and she’s not able to give that vague character a vivid personality. Laila needs to speak up during the assignment of roles and give herself a stronger character, but she stays silent and allows herself to be doomed.

Disappointing performances in “Bitch Perfect” and bland looks on the runway land Dax and Laila in the bottom two, and the judges’ expectations are very high for the queens’ lip syncs of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” the quintessential Gay Lip Sync Song. The editing builds up the lip sync by showing the judges talking about what a seminal track this is, and setting the expectations so high makes it all the more disastrous when both queens fail to impress. Dax looks bored for most of the number and has no connection to the emotional core of the song, and while Laila is putting a lot more energy into her performance, it’s not focused energy, giving her lip sync a frantic sense of desperation that only intensifies once she removes her shoes and dress. Laila doesn’t have the feminine body needed to sell stripping down to her underwear, and once she loses the dress, she stops looking like a drag queen and starts looking like a man in a wig. It’s also not an organic reveal, feeling like a planned last-ditch attempt to grab attention rather than a liberating moment that comes from a genuine emotional place. It’s a shameful lip sync, and RuPaul responds appropriately by eliminating both queens. perruques cheveux naturelsFor Dax, this outcome is the result of a string of excuses, and instead of shutting up and showing up when the judges need her, she gives them sorry reasons for why she’s not performing to their standard. Laila’s story is a bit more tragic, and while RuPaul recognizes that Laila has a fire inside her, it’s a campfire that can’t be seen through the burning buildings of this season’s huge personalities. This is a season full of confident queens that are fully committed to their characters, and tonight’s double elimination establishes that RuPaul has lost her patience with mediocre queens. The stakes have just been risen, and it will be exciting to see how the drama builds now that the queens are feeling even more pressure to be bigger and bolder. Stray observations Who’s Ru talking to on her phone? Maybe she’s inviting a queen from last season back to the competition? If it takes losing Laila and Dax to get Katya back, I’m fine with that. Robbie Turner didn’t impress me much last week with her sour attitude and underwhelming looks, but she’s much more endearing and engaging this week thanks to her strong personality during “Bitch Perfect” and the stunning strawberry red Vera Wang wedding dress she wears on the runway. She’s also not as bitchy, and I think her low showing last week has humbled her and forced her to look at the competition from another angle.

Like being able to sew a basic garment, being able to do basic dance steps is a skill these contestants should have before going on the show. Kim Chi should have taken a dance class (or 10) right after learning she was a Drag Race queen. I am all about the salt-and-pepper Lucian Piane. I’d let him arrange my a cappella covers any day. perruques cheveuxI would absolutely watch a short film about Chi Chi DeVayne’s weekend at an all-gay New England bed and breakfast. Ester Dean co-wrote “Firework,” “Super Bass,” and “S&M.” Dax and Laila would have performed better to any of those songs. “Take that, Donald Trump!” “Kim Chi has two left feet and vertigo.”

“That’s O.K. I wouldn’t want me either.” (Looks down sadly.) “Y’all look like flailing fishes.” “Kim Chi falls and just my heart drops out to my cucu.” lace front wigs“Once a year, two rival dragapella groups meet in the Boobs For Queens warehouse…” “Well look who’s here for an off-key kiki!” “I thought I smelled out of tune-a fishes.” “I’ve got great legs. I bought ‘em on eBay.”

“I know some bitch is gonna wanna buy it off me, but you know what: I sleep in this. This is my pajamas.” “I just want to smell you.” (Kim shows Jamal her back side.) cosplay wigsLucian: “I don’t really have anything negative to say about you.” Chi Chi: “Thank you.” “You can’t see this right now, but he’s got a fist full of Jergens lotion.” “She was doing her neck ghetto style, upside down, while twerking, and never losing a word. Honey, I’ll make a Louisiana purchase one mo’ time!” “I just hated the shoes! They looked like…ugly shoes!” “Thorgy is in an abusive relationship with her makeup.”