Vivian Green was a revelation when she debuted in 2001. A former backup singer for Jill Scott, soul music fans (and the powers-at-be at Columbia) saw something special in the then 22-year-old Philly native. While her debut album, A Love Story, included what is arguably the singer’s most well-known song to date (“Emotional Rollercoaster”), it peaked at only No. 14 on the Billboard R&B chart. But Green’s vivacious persona and sincere lyrics resonated with any woman dealing with heartache. And men liked her too. Just ask OG Ron C, who reimagined Green’s top hit in a chopped and screwed mix.
Green spoke to The Boombox about her new album Vivid, being true to herself in an ever-changing musical climate and the importance of switching things up every now and then.
The BoomBox: Since your first album, you’ve always been known for releasing ballads. This time around, no matter the topic, everything seems more upbeat. Were you looking to do a more up-tempo project this time around?
Vivian Green: We wanted to do something different. The last two singles from the last two albums [Beautiful (2010) and The Green Room (2012)] didn’t make that much noise at all. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, but I think when you’ve been around for a minute that sometimes you have to kind of refresh your sound a little bit.
You say “we.” Did your producer have something to do with your new sound?
When we met, he was like, “So, I’m familiar with your music. I really like it. But now that I’m meeting you, it’s so not a reflection of who you are as a person. Its all so sad, and you’re nothing like that. So, why don’t you [make] music that’s a reflection of the Vivian that people actually know? And I was like, “Oh, well I never thought about that before.” It wasn’t easy in the beginning. I was afraid. Some people put you in a box that you kind of get used to…even though you know that you can do so much more.
Your first two singles off the album – “Get Right Back to My Baby” and “Grown Folk’s Music” – show a totally different side of you. They’re racy, but tasteful. How have you been able to stay true to your voice without getting swept up in music’s nothing-left-to-the-imagination age?
I’ve always been proud of myself for remaining classy in my music and in my lyrics. I never, ever want to change that. So I’m never going to start making raw, raunchy lyrics because that’s when…somebody got me to do something that I totally wasn’t with. So, it’s cool to make fun music that you can dance to that doesn’t have to degrade [you].
As the climate of soul and R&B changed into this more blunt form of storytelling, how have you been able to maintain such a more conservative sound?
As far as my image. I’ve always shown a lot of torso. [There might] always be one part of me exposed, but the rest of the outfit is always going to leave imagination. It’s like subtle sexy. I’m not doing anything that is out of character for Vivian, and that is so important to me. You can grow and still stay true to who you are. I think that that is so important and I’m just so happy that we’ve been able to do that with Vivid and the “Get Right Back to My Baby” video. You can be sexy but you don’t have to show it all.
“Grown Folks Music” features a dance that doesn’t look too hard to catch on to. Is that something you’re trying to get people to learn and rock to when they hear the song?
It was actually choreographed by someone else. I don’t know if they’re trying to get people to learn it. I have to say that the concept for “Grown Folks Music” was definitely all [my director] Derek Blanks. It was totally his vision to the point where I [didn’t] want to do it. He told me, “Look, I promise, I’m never going to put you in a situation where you’re not going to be happy or you going to look crazy. He was like, “Just please trust me.” We’re friends at this point so I’m like, “Alright!”
You hear “Grown Folks Music” and “Get Right Back to My Baby” and it’s like you are so in love with this person that you can’t wait to get back to him. Then you have “I’m Not Broken,” which is getting out and getting over a re. Is the album kind of like musical diary of your experiences?
I think every album is a mixture of those two things. I wanted “I’m Not Broken” to be the second single because I felt like, ‘Okay, we gave people a dance song, so now let’s give them something that they are used to me talking about. I love “I’m Not Broken,” and it’s something that I can always talk about not because I’m always going through that – because I’m not – but I remember what that was like and I know that there is always going to be somebody that needs to hear that. I just think I owe that to my fans: to make songs like that, but at the age I am now – my maturity, my wisdom – I see love very differently from how I saw it when I wrote [my first album], A Love Story. I could have not written a song so powerful at that time. “I’m Not Broken” is a very empowering record. A lot of women of all ages can feel like when a relationship is over that everything is over. They’re afraid to trust, and just go through that whole thing and an empowering song like that would be really good to listen to if you just broke up with somebody.
Is this album dedicated to someone in particular?
Dedicated? No. But as far as love is concerned, I am in a very good place. I always tell people I have been [in a good place] for quite some time now, actually. I haven’t been upset since, like, 2005. [Laughs].