Time away from the spotlight can be a bad thing.
But for Chrisette Michele, it was a necessary thing. Without the break, there is a strong possibility she wouldn't be sitting in her Williamsburg apartment on a crisp morning, excitedly talking about her brand new album, Better.
To say the album title is fitting would be an understatement. Chrisette is giddy and proud to share the name of her fourth album with anyone who asks if only because she is a living embodiment of the word. "I've sang a lot of broken-hearted love songs because I had a broken heart from love," says Chrisette. "I began to write a little bit darker. And for me, dark just means a song that doesn't have a happy ending."
On Better, even when Chrisette is laying her heart out on a table, she sounds confident and composed. Whether it's the emotional Prince-like balladry of "You Mean That Much To Me" or the stern warning of "Snow," Chrisette sounds independent and resolute. Even on "Soopa" a song where she explains to her lover that she won't always be the perfect woman, Chrisette isn't apologizing for her flaws as much she's telling him, take it or leave it, and if you leave it, that's okay.
Chrisette's 18-month long journey to be the better hasn't been completely downtrodden. "There were some really, really low and really, really high moments," says Chrisette. "So over the past year and a half, I took the time to regroup and pull my heart together." Chrisette insists her time away had little to do with the music industry and more to do with how she was feeling within. Around the time she began to promote her last album, "Let Freedom Reign," Chrisette felt what in hindsight looked to be burnout. She was physically, mentally, emotionally, and artistically fatigued. So she took time for herself, traveling the world as a global citizen instead of an artist.
But along the way, Chrisette says she developed a vice - albeit not with the kind of substances we typically associate with vices like drugs and alcohol. Rather, it was an unhealthy addiction to food. "I literally gained 40 pounds," she says. "And I began to feel not beautiful; heavy on the inside and outside." The effects of her eating habits began take a toll on her public persona. "I would avoid everything from the red carpet to television appearances," she says.
Though Chrisette could feel and see the effects her unhealthy lifestyle had wrought, the biggest wake-up call that she was not in the best of places was in her music. "I felt myself beginning to give music that doesn't have a happy ending."
To get right, Chrisette began to open up in therapy sessions and in her journal about the way she was living, focusing specifically on the way she was eating. "It wasn't natural," she says looking back on that time period. By meticulously documenting her daily eating habits, she began to gain some introspection. "I was able to find my spiritual self, my writer, and most important to me as a girl who likes all things girly, my love for love again."
Recognizing what was missing on her own was a crucial turning point in Chrisette's path to better. But another important point came during a recording session with producer Harold Lilly. "Harold offered me some green stuff," Chrisette recalls. "And I said, `No thanks, but I'd like some Reisling please.'" Lilly acted as though he didn't hear her. "No," he said. "You have to try this." The green stuff Lilly was referring to was juice. "After Harold told me how green juice changed his life, I decided to try it myself and I've been juicing and a vegan since January of last year."
A healthier lifestyle has begat a healthier Chrisette Michele as an artist. "A lot of artists don't really worry about what space they're in when they create, then they give people things that aren't healthy," she says. "Then you wonder why people aren't healthy when they listen to certain types of music. It's important for me to become healthy in order to give music."
In other words, a better Chrisette Michele = BETTER.
Though Chrisette took her time to put together her new album, she didn't stay completely silent. She was featured along with MusiqSoulchild on "Ah Yeah," the single from jazz pianist Robert Glasper's 2012 Grammy winning album, BLACK RADIO.
And in late 2012, she excited fans with a surprising free mixtape project, AUDREY HEPBURN: AN AUDIOVISUAL PRESENTATION.
The mixtape was a necessary reminder to her fans. "I went to the record label and I said, "It's taken us a long time to put out this album, but I need to tell my fans what's going on'," Chrisette explains. The result is a concise but bountiful 9-track collection of soulful goodies that features collaborations with Wale, Bilal, and 2Chainz. A close listen to songs like "Rich Hipster" featuring Wale, is a good way to understand exactly what kind of changes Michele has made in her personal life like her move to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. "`Rich Hipster' is kind of my whole life," says Chrisette. "In Williamsburg, there is a type of a look. There is a type of sound. There's food, there's music. I'm not afraid to be a part of that,"
Chrisette is also no longer afraid to let people in, which is part of what her campaign leading up to the release of BETTER is all about. Not only is she active on social media through her Twitter (@ChrisetteM) and Instagram (@ChrisetteMichelle), she is producing a web video series called, "Journey to Better" that gives her fans an inside look at the kind of lifestyle changes she's made as a vegan. She's also posing for PETA and releasing a cookbook/coffee table book called, "Fat Vegan," which features her one of her favorite recipes, Fat Vegan pizza. "I want to make lifestyle contributions to my fans, not just musical contributions," says Chrisette.
But it is through the musical contributions Chrisette is really going to let people into areas of her life she hasn't previously exposed. For instance, the bedroom. "I've not been vulnerable on any of my past albums in a sensual way because I was so upset with love," she says about songs like the sultry "Get Through the Night." "I wasn't comfortable being beautiful but this time I'm comfortable talking about the bedroom."
Artistically, Chrisette is also comfortable with being one of the best singers in her genre. "You have to understand I'm young and when you are an R&B singer, it's who you are by mistake. I didn't wake up in the morning and say I wanted to sing R&B," she says.
But on the title track, Chrisette sounds completely comfortable with the singer she is. "Secretly it's my favorite song on the album," she says. "This song is straight old-school R&B, it has the title. It is the type of record, and I'm going to say this becauseI think it's important, that I'm an expert in."
Whether it's the traditional sound of the title track or the whimsy of "A Couple of Forevers" or the sleek bounce of "Charades" featuring 2Chainz, "BETTER" is about exposing Chrisette's fans to the new Chrisette. "This album about me is about having as much fun as possible and showcasing my healing," says Chrisette. "Being able to sing these songs is about the ability to be able to love again."
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