Folk still think they know Michelle Williams. Yes, she was the quiet one in the Destiny’s Child storm that rocked the music world as the highest-selling female group of all time-and she weathered her success like a soldier. And true, the Chicago-area native was that chick who chose to spread the gospel on her last two chart-topping solo albums. But this new Michelle? Well, she’s broken out of her shell and is flipping the script with her party-starting latest release, “Unexpected.” ESSENCE.com caught up with Ms. Williams to discuss interracial love, playing her position, and that infamous fall.
ESSENCE.COM: So you’re leaving the gospel world behind-for now. Are you concerned about losing the support of the faith-based community?
MICHELLE WILLIAMS: No, because I’m doing what I’ve always done. I did a gospel album after Destiny’s Child, and now I’m finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do in my solo career. Honestly, I’m just a lover of music. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre. It’s good when an artist can do different things. Shoot, I might come back and sing some bluegrass music (laughs). As an artist, I truly believe that if you do what you want and love, eventually people will follow. I like to take musical risks. Yes, they wanted me to do another gospel album that probably would have been safe, but Michelle loves all music and I followed my heart.
ESSENCE.COM: Following your heart is always best. Has this album been a labor of love for you or a royal pain in the butt?
WILLIAMS: (Laughs.) It took two years for me to complete this album. I wrote all the songs, and it wasn’t until I let my mom hear it, and she wasn’t feeling it at all, that’s I went back in the studio. I asked her what she thought and she was like, “It’s a-ight,” and she said it just like that (laughs)-in a sweet, motherly way. She better be glad I still had money in the budget to do a second go on it. It’s not that they weren’t good songs, but I believe the problem is that, when I wrote the album, I’d just gotten out of a relationship and I was very bitter about it. My mom was like, “Nobody wants to hear an entire album of you being in and out of love. Maybe a few songs might work but not an entire album.” And she was right; I went back and added some songs that people could dance to and it’s a better album because of it. At the time, it was therapeutic, but, really, how many songs can you write about being broke down over somebody. This album is a much happier album!
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) Ma Dukes was like, Nobody wants to hear your mess! It’s important to have that sounding board. It was rumored that you were dating a White guy who owned a few Chicago nightclubs. What is your philosophy on Black women and interracial dating?
WILLIAMS: It’s a beautiful thing, and every woman should follow her heart. What makes you happy and what’s healthy for you can’t ever be a bad thing. An interracial relationship can expose you to so many things that you might not otherwise experience. That guy was a close friend of mine, but it was not a relationship. Black women get upset when a brother makes some money and gets a White girl. Personally, who the next man is dating doesn’t concern me because it’s not my business. Now, when I was in middle school, there was an Italian guy I liked and he liked me and his mother told him he could have Black friends but he just couldn’t date them. Needless to say, we broke up and I told him it was more important for him to have his relationship with his mom.
ESSENCE.COM: One comment folk have always made was that you were the one DC members who knew how to play her position. How do you feel about people suggesting that you were complacent and measuring your barometer of success to Beyoncé’s career trajectory?
WILLIAMS: Unfortunately, a lot of people have tunnel vision and want to lock you into one thing. Yes, I was a part of a group, but I’m not Beyoncé and she ain’t me. I’ll never be her. Just like Kelly will never be me nor will I ever be Kelly. When people say what I’m not, I don’t mind telling them that I like being Michelle. And, of course, I knew my position so people had that right. Everybody has a role. Whether you’re working in an office or in a band, everyone has a role to fulfill. What I will say is I was confident and ready. What people need to understand is that when I first joined the group, I met Kelly and Beyoncé in a different [environment.] There was no official audition. I was in their home and Tina and Solange were coming to pick me up from the airport while Kelly was dropping me off. I got to know them on a personal level, and in a blink of an eye, when dreams were about to be shattered because the group was in total disarray, I simply asked, “What needs to be done? Just tell me and I’ll do it.” So, no it wasn’t my position to come in and try to change things. That’s like going into someone’s house and rearranging everything to your liking.
ESSENCE.COM: I hear you, lady. Now, we have to ask about the rise and fall during that infamous “106 & Park” performance. Do folk still try to crack jokes?
WILLIAMS: (Laughs.) That was hilarious because it happened in 2004. Girl, it took me three years to even watch it. So here’s the sequence of events: First of all, I’m all excited because I got a new hair color and this new look and I’m feeling good. We just finished singing “Soldier.” Bey and Kelly just laid it down and were looking great, and then my heel got caught in the cuff of my cargo pants, so I took the nice slide on the stage. We knew it was live, but thought that the cameras would pan it over to Kelly, who was singing the first verse, but instead they left it as a full shot. Bey and Kelly did what they were supposed to do, and that was to keep performing, and I had to explain that to my mom who felt bad for me and asked, “They couldn’t help you up?” (Laughs.) It was a mess, but I’m over it now