Melanie Fiona: A Grammy Winner Gets Personal

Originally published on March 25, 2012 9:43 am

The MF Life is the second album by R&B singer Melanie Fiona, released this past week. The two-time Grammy winner says the title has sparked a lot of discussion.

"It gets people talking to each other," Fiona says. "I wanted it to be a collection of music and songs that make people think about the things that we actually go through and feel, and to acknowledge that — to know that there's someone out there singing their story, as well."

Born and raised in Toronto, with Caribbean roots, Fiona says she inherited her parents' musical tastes — artists such as Sam Cooke, Bob Marley, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding and Ben E. King.

"But I'm an '80s baby, so at the time I was born, Whitney Houston was 'the voice,'" Fiona says. "It was just so soothing to me to hear her inflection, her emotion and her control. It is just so magnificent, and it's incomparable, in my opinion, to any other voice that's ever existed. ... I think that had a lot of influence on me, and on why I feel I need to make music that should make people feel passionate about it."

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When Canadian-born R&B singer Melanie Fiona made her debut album, "The Bridge," in 2009, she made it a point to do no collaborations, even though they were the ticket to increased record sales. Some people told her it was a risk, but the risk paid off. Her single "It Kills Me" became her breakout song, sending her to the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks.

Now, after winning two Grammys, Melanie Fiona is all about collaborations. Her new album, "The MF Life," features songs with J. Cole, John Legend and Nas. Even with the release of her new album this week, Fiona is still reeling from her Grammy wins.

MELANIE FIONA: It feels like what it should feel in the definition of dreams come true, if that makes sense. It's an amazing feeling. And this particular award is such a humbling experience. And, you know, to know that I've made music history and the Academy recognizes me forever - I'll be a two-time Grammy Award-winning artist, if nothing else - it's an amazing feeling. I'll probably stay on cloud nine for the - for as long as I can.

SULLIVAN: When you got up for your acceptance speech, you got up to the microphone and you said, hi, everyone. I'm Melanie Fiona.

FIONA: What a goof.

SULLIVAN: Why did you feel you had to introduce yourself?

FIONA: Because I felt like I was meeting the world for the first time.

SULLIVAN: All right.

FIONA: I know when I look back at that, I laugh, I crack up, because they say, what, you're so goofy. And you come up there in this gown and makeup and everybody's expecting this, you know, it was very serious.


FIONA: I come up there goofy. Hi, everyone. I'm Melanie Fiona. It is nice to meet all of you, 'cause that's how I felt, you know? I've been attending the Grammys for the last three years and, you know, I've been nominated and never won. And just, you know, I just felt like, wow, I'm finally meeting everybody for the first time.

SULLIVAN: Tell me about the title of this album, "The MF Life." I mean, I have to say we sat around trying to figure out if this is the MF as in Melanie Fiona, or if you're saying, of course, the obvious other.

FIONA: Wow. What is the obvious?

SULLIVAN: So here you are, let's get the scoop.

FIONA: That's perfect. It's actually doing exactly what it's supposed to. It's supposed to make you think. And it's really up for interpretation. Some people automatically are like, oh yeah, her initials are MF. It's Melanie Fiona. And then some people are like, MF is magnificent, fantastic or other all puns, ruder intended. It's all perception, which is what I want this album to be. I wanted it to be a collection of music and songs that make people think about the things that we actually go through and feel and to acknowledge that.

SULLIVAN: Well, let's listen to one of the tracks from the album. This is a single that's getting a lot of airplay right now. Here's "4AM."


FIONA: (Singing) And I know that my baby is calling somebody else baby. And I can't sit still. Look how gone it got me. Who knew that my heart could ever bruise? You see this scar here on my chest. I'm hurting, and he don't even care. It's 4:00 a.m. and my lover won't answer.

SULLIVAN: That's Melanie Fiona with the track "4AM" off her new album. Some of the men, they come up in some of the lyrics of the song. They're not - how should I put this - they're not quality.


SULLIVAN: Are you getting even, maybe, a little bit?

FIONA: No. You know, the thing is, is that it's actually not that they're not quality. They're actually just human. And not everybody is right for you, right? That's why you generally maybe find love once in your lifetime, or you get married once in your lifetime, or three times, if you're lucky. Who knows? Whatever your perception is.

But it's just about acknowledging what every situation is about, you know? For example, on the album, there's a song called "Running," you know, speaking about being tired of working on a love.


FIONA: (Singing) Shouldn't have to cry for you to make me smile, hey. Talking about good things, talk of your child, oh...

He's not necessarily a bad guy, but maybe he's just not right for me or right for you. And that's just the reality of it, you know? Not everybody is going to be Prince Charming.

SULLIVAN: I'm speaking with Grammy Award-winning R&B singer Melanie Fiona, and her new album is called "The MF Life." I want to listen to another track from the album right now which is "Watch Me Work."



FIONA: (Singing) Out the box, out the blue. Watch me work, something sexy, something fine. Watch me work, out the box, blow your mind. Watch me work. The status gonna replace, let them other burn. Show them that you're here today. Tell them watch and learn.

SULLIVAN: This song, "Watch Me Work," is so different than the others. I mean, it's almost rock and roll.

FIONA: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: Where did this come from?

FIONA: It's rock and soul. You know, it comes from my background, my love of just music. You know, in the first album, if you listen to the bridge, I had "Bang Bang" on there, which was rock and soul. It was my Tina Turner, and it was my moment to really let loose on the stage and to be able to have that kind of aggression and attitude and sass. It is definitely a side of me, and I needed to have that on this album. And "Watch Me Work" is that.

And in keeping in the theme of the ups and downs of love, that song is about stepping out of the shadows and being unapologetic for who you are and, you know, putting the spotlight on yourself and having people pay attention to you. There's nothing wrong with that, you know, owning who you are.

SULLIVAN: Well, speaking of that spotlight, I mean, you've written a lot of songs for Rihanna, who is getting a lot of heat right now for doing two new collaborations with Chris Brown. We know a little bit about their story with the physical abuse and the restraining orders and so on. And now, you're stepping up into that limelight and becoming famous. Do you feel that pressure to be a role model, to represent for young girls?

FIONA: You know, I definitely do. I take what I do very seriously. And I consider myself to be a responsible person in general, not just because I'm in the public eye. But, you know, it's one thing when it's just you having to reflect on yourself, but it's another thing when you have the world reflecting and commenting. So, you know, I do. I take it very seriously. I do give myself a break because I am human, and I'm not perfect.

And there are going to be things that I'm going to have to go through publicly that, you know, that are going to be difficult for me. But I feel like as long as my integrity and my heart, I think, is in the right place and I keep that integrity honest with my fans that, you know, anything I might need a pass for or forgiveness for or, you know, a second chance for, I think is what people, I think, are OK with. I think they just need to feel like you mean it, and you're honest about what's happening to you.

SULLIVAN: You did a lot of collaborations on "The MF Life" - Nas, John Legend, and here's the song "This Time," which you did with J. Cole.

FIONA: Yeah.


FIONA: (Singing) You can't rewind the past. All I can do is say, this time, I'm doing much better, love you like I never, ever loved you before. Oh baby, not this time. I'm giving my heart and soul with every breath for my live, if you say yes, I'll give you my best, this time.

J. COLE: (Singing) If looks kill, then, Melanie, you a felony. We both hot, I guess we couldn't take the jealousy...

SULLIVAN: That's the song "This Time" with J. Cole. Is this where we're going with selling records, is that you're gonna do collaborations if you want to get your records off the shelves?

FIONA: I think there is a - there's two sides to that. You know, I think it's also like this: on my first album, I made the conscious decision to have zero featured. I wanted it to be about me and my art and, you know, people to digest who I am there. Now, my mode of collaboration on and off this album - and with all the artists - Nas and J. Cole, B.o.B - these are just artists that I actually respect, and I love and want to work with and want their energy on my song.


COLE: (Singing) When the girl of his dreams is the same one to wake him up.

FIONA: (Singing) This time, I'm doing much better. Love you like I never...

SULLIVAN: So much of this album seems to be about learning from mistakes. Is that how you see it?

FIONA: Yes. Oh, I'm so glad you said that. Too often, people focus on this sadness of some of the records, and that's not what it is. And I hope that people listening get that I am not a downtrodden, sad, negative person or woman. I'm very strong. I consider myself to be a very strong woman because I acknowledge the things that I've been through. I'm not afraid to speak about them. I'm not afraid to go through the range of emotions that it is to deal with them and to be better for it so that I don't make the same mistakes twice.

That's the point of life, I think, you know? It's - when you start doing the same things over and over again and you're expecting a different outcome, that's insanity. I say these things and I sing about these things because I have learned so much about myself through my highs and my lows. And I think that that's what, I hope, people are inspired to do when they hear my story and hear their story through my album.

SULLIVAN: That's two-time Grammy winner Melanie Fiona, and she spoke with me from our studios in New York. Her new album, "The MF Life," is out now. Thanks so much, Melanie, for joining us.

FIONA: Thank you for having me.


FIONA: (Singing) Sad that...

SULLIVAN: You can hear songs from "The MF Life" at nprmusic.org.


FIONA: (Singing) ...just fill your head with why then you're caught living a lie again. It's sad that all he ever said was that he loved me...

SULLIVAN: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. Check out our weekly podcast, The Best of WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You can find it at iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc. We're back with a whole new hour of radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.