Given her monstrous musical talents, it's only fitting that Macy Gray's 1999 debut album has become a freakish success. Titled On How Life Is, the multimillion-selling album yielded the crossover hit "I Try" and netted Gray a 2000 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.
As 2001 dawned, the Grammy voting committee honored her again. During its January nominations press conference, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences announced Gray had earned three 2001 Grammy nominations for her aforementioned single "I Try," including bids for Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (which she subsequently won) categories. Contrary to the title of her song, Gray doesn't just try: She triumphs.
For mature music lovers alienated by the teen-pop craze, Gray's arrival on the music scene is as welcome as a summer breeze. There's something almost subversive about the singer's perfume-scented ballads, philosophic funk shuffles and multigenerational appeal. "I Try" resulted in a music video that captured the childlike giddiness of romantic love.
But Gray's emotional range isn't confined to emotive ballads. Other songs, like "Do Something" and "A Moment To Myself," boast positive, introspective lyrics that never stoop to mindless sloganeering or mawkishness. With her balance of sass and funk, Gray is a music marketer's dream: Adults can embrace her music without apology, while kids can appreciate her the hip-hop sensibility of her songs, as well as her '70s fashion aesthetic.
Gray's album reflects her simple, unaffected upbringing. Born and raised in Canton, Ohio, the singer had seven years of classical piano training. Despite her formal musical education, Gray grew up listening to artists like James Brown, Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. During her junior high years, she gorged on the fresh, new sounds of hip-hop. During two years at a nearly all-white boarding school, Gray acquired a taste for rock & roll.
Moving to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California Film School, Gray forged friendships with musicians who often asked her to write lyrics. When another singer blew off a scheduled recording session, Gray graciously filled in. The resulting tape circulated and led to more demo singing jobs, as well as some high-paying live performances.
Gray's music grew out of countless jams and listening sessions in living rooms, studios and rehearsal spaces. Eventually, the singer created her own after-hours hangout, imaginatively dubbed The We Ours. This Hollywood coffee shop became an extension of Gray's circle of friends and a venue to hone her live show. The cafe was visited by respected contemporary artists like rap renegades The Roots and trip-hop pioneer Tricky. In 1998, Gray signed to Epic Records.
Now, with a resumé that includes critical accolades, record sales in the millions and Grammy nominations, Gray seems poised for enduring superstardom. If her debut CD is any indication, she will continue to redefine the role of the pop diva.