At the height of her early ’00s fame, Mya ranked alongside Brandy and Aaliyah as one of the hottest urban-pop stars on the planet. She first graced the Top 10 as a teenager way back in 1998 with her Dru Hill collaboration, “It’s All About Me”. But she really broke through in 2000 with the lead single from her platinum-selling sophomore album Fear Of Flying. “Case Of The Ex” epitomizes everything that was great about turn-of-the-millennium R&B. Produced by Tricky Stewart, the fiery revenge anthem boasts suitably angry lyrics, slick beats and a brilliantly choreographed video. It reached number two on the Hot 100 and proved to be massive worldwide hit.
Mýa reached her career zenith the following year, when she teamed up with Christina Aguilera, Pink and Lil’ Kim to cover ’70s disco classic “Lady Marmalade” for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. That saucy jam topped the chart for five weeks, but the DC-born diva would only manage one more minor hit. Label turmoil, lawsuits and leaked albums then forced the onetime Chicago actress to go independent and focus largely on the Japanese market. These days the 32-year-old views the setbacks as a blessing in disguise and, after almost a decade in the wilderness, Mya is ready to get back to business.
Dru Hill feat. Mya — “It’s All About Me”
IDOLATOR: Did you have any idea that songs like “It’s All About Me” and “Case Of The Ex” would connect so strongly with people upon their release?
MYA: I just knew that I liked them and I loved performing them but you never know if the world is going to like them. You just never know. I’m glad that people felt the same way that I did and found something special in them. I think the videos also helped.
What was it overwhelming to break so big so young?
MYA: I wouldn’t call it overwhelming. You don’t register what’s happening. You can’t process it because you’re moving so fast. It’s different for me now because I’m independent and get to really value things because it is on my own time.
Mya — “Case Of The Ex”
Do you have an early favorite from that early period?
MYA: The title track from Fear Of Flying is really for me. It was not quite a ballad and not quite an uptempo. It was about a girl coming into womanhood. I had a lot of fears that I no longer have. It’s about the transition that you make before you become who you’re going to be. I was still a kid when I released my first album. I had no life experience. That’s what that song was all about.
Tell us what your personal experience was like when recording “Lady Marmalade” for Moulin Rouge.
MYA: It was great to work with other females who were experiencing the same things that you do in the business — but you’re not married to them, so you don’t have to work with them on a regular basis. There were no cat fights! It was really interesting — very competitive, but also respectful at the same time. Everyone was already an artist on their own but we came together and that was the beauty of that project.
Did you feel a special affinity with any of your collaborators?
MYA: Lil’ Kim and I keep in contact to this day. But probably Pink. She and I worked together on my third album [2003’s Moodring]. She wrote a song called “Take A Picture” that I recorded and still perform to this day. We had a bond creatively that came out of “Lady Marmalade”. It was our link. And people don’t know this, but Pink and I actually met when we were both 16 years old in Philadelphia. I was recording my first album and we were working with the same producers, so I originally knew her as Alecia.
Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya, Pink — “Lady Marmalade”
What do you think of the current state of R&B?
MYA: I love where music is because you can make fusions, you can fuse genres together but you can also go in different lanes. Usher’s doing dance music. A lot of urban or R&B artists have crossed over and taken those risks. It’s just world music. It feels good. People wanna party!
Who are you listening to at the moment?
MYA: His name has been floating around recently, but I’ve always liked his music since I first heard it – Frank Ocean definitely gets my seal of approval. Cee-Lo — I’ve always been a fan of his, and he’s taken on this new sound and it’s incredible. He’s a very talented guy.
What happened with your unreleased fourth album?
MYA: I moved to Motown from Interscope Records in 2005 and I started working on Liberation in 2006. It was supposed to come out the same year, but the release date was pushed back a couple of times. On the final change of the release date, it was not held back in Japan, so it was accidentally released and from there it leaked everywhere online.
That prompted you to go independent?
MYA: My lawyer told me, you can either spend time in court suing them and spend more money — more time and get a headache, or you can go independent. It’s just a little detail that was overlooked that cost years of transitioning from a label to another label. All that work in the studio was gone.
Mya — “My Love Is Like…Wo”
That had to hurt.
MYA: It hurt, but at the same time it brought about so much new opportunity on an independent basis. It’s been a blessing in disguise, and I think it was meant to happen. I’m not bitter about it. There was a little dark time, but only for a couple of months. It was a hard time, but I thought there are two ways I can go – the positive side or the negative side. I’m a role model, whether I like it or not, and a teacher. So drugs and alcohol were not an option for me but in any other circumstance it could be really easy to take that route.
Can you explain your Japanese connection?
MYA: Well, that fourth album was leaked in Japan and they loved it. That was the only territory that had it. But they wanted to know why there were no videos, and how come there’s no support? So there was a company in Japan called Manhattan Records that responded to that and wanted to know what I was up to and asked for an exclusive album with me. I said sure. I put it together in my basement studio and that was the first independent project I released. It was very catered to their market sonically. It was called Sugar & Spice and came out in 2008.
How did your current album come about?
MYA: In 2010 the Japanese label approached me again about doing another album and I called it K.I.S.S. [Keep It Sexy & Simple] and it was released in 2011. It was such a good album because I’d been sitting on all of these great songs. I thought, this needs to be shared with the rest of the world. So I started with the States in December 2011. K.I.S.S. is a gift to my fans. I put the album together myself.
So would you consider another major label deal after all you’ve gone through?
MYA: Yes. A huge transition happened in the industry last year. There were a lot of mergers, a lot of lay-offs and a lot of flip-flopping of staff, so everything has changed at the companies. I thought I would wait until they get settled. With the expertise that I’ve acquired in this independent phase, I have a lot more to bring to the table as an artist and as a businesswoman. It’s a perfect time for that. I know my fans want the videos. People have expectations from me and I never want to do anything underneath those expectations. They wanna hear me, they wanna see me. I want to give and do that in an impactful way – and you need a major label to do that. I’ll be entertaining that immediately.