Michelle Williams’ latest album Journey to Freedom (out now) is filled with liberating anthems about self-love, spiritual growth, and her search for happiness. The 34-year-old brings her gospel background to the party, but also adds a touch of hip-hop and Nigerian hymn-inspired flavor. Williams tells ESSENCE.com she’s “excited about her growth.”
She spoke with ESSENCE.com about her Journey, hearing from God and building herself back up from depression.
It’s very rare that we hear Jesus’ name in mainstream music, but your single “Say Yes” is doing very well. Were you met with resistance from record label executives when you brought the record to them?
Not at all. I let so many different people hear the song—even record executives from other labels—and they loved it. It was quite surprising. Now, there might be certain radio stations that like it but probably won’t put it in heavy rotation because of that. We can put everything else in heavy rotation, but if you say the name Jesus that really kind of throws people off sometimes. I don’t know of any other gospel song this year that’s received nine million views on VEVO. So, it might not be getting crazy radio spins, but these kids are tuning in and they are watching the video.
On the album you have a song called, “Need Your Help” where you talk about getting directions from God. How do you do that?
I’ll pray about it and then I’ll sit still. I won’t move on anything, I’ll just wait. He’ll always show me a sign whether through a phone call. God does speak to everybody, He doesn’t leave anybody out! He shows us through however He needs to show us, sometimes we might not recognize it or we ignore it. That’s why we just have to put it into practice of trusting our instincts as well.
How have you grown spiritually from Destiny’s Child to now?
I’m more mature and a little stronger. I think that’s something believers strive for everyday; to get more strength. But when you ask God for more strength, he just doesn’t magically give you more muscles. Your strength comes from the tests that you can pass. I’m excited about my growth.
What are some things that you wish you’d known then that you know now?
To be a little more patient.
You’ve talked openly about your depression; about living this glamorous life, yet feeling empty inside.
You never know what people are going through. They can have the best hair and makeup in the world, wear the most fabulous designer clothes, be at every red carpet event, but still be unhappy. And it’s not because they are unhappy about what’s going on, there’s [just] something deeper going on and they’re not fulfilled. If you notice [with] certain actors and entertainers, they make sure to appreciate the little things—whether its going to the beach with their children and getting an ice cream cone. It’s like those things are much better than having to be on red carpets, talking to [reporters] who really don’t care about you, they just need a story. You know what I mean? But if you’re happy within yourself and have that solid foundation and you’re healed of any hurts and everything—then that’s when you can appreciate everything going on in your life.
Did you ever lose faith during those moments?
No, I didn’t lose faith. I probably stopped caring, which almost could have been a good thing or a bad thing. ‘Cause I was always putting people first and feeling bad if I didn’t, then I just stopped caring one day. I began to say “no” to even family members. It was liberating.
How did you start to build yourself back up?
I had some amazing therapy, because see, sometimes what we do is we also isolate ourselves from people that do love us. It was like getting back connected with people that honestly love me. That’s what really strengthened me again.
Michelle’s fourth album Journey to Freedom is out now. She stars in Oxygen’s new reality TV show Fix My Choir, premiering November 5th at 10pm ET on Oxygen.