A decade ago, Macy Gray burst onto the music scene with a hit single, platinum album and Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
However, her subsequent efforts failed to reach the commercial and critical successes her first record generated. On Tuesday, Gray releases her fifth studio effort, "The Sellout," which she says is better than the previous four albums.
And with the guidance of Romanian director Giuliano Bekor, Gray got in the World Cup spirit with a soccer-themed video for the album's first single, "Beauty in the World." In it, models take to the Los Angeles Coliseum turf knocking around the much-maligned official World Cup ball, which takes turns funkier than anything we've seen in South Africa courtesy of the high-heeled participants.
Gray recently took the time to talk to The Life about her upcoming album, interest in soccer and modest beginnings at one of sport's most hallowed halls.
The Life: I'm sure you're excited about the album's release. Can you tell us a little bit about "The Sellout"?
Gray: It is 12 songs, electric soul and the best album I've done so far. Basically, it's a diary of my life and my career, my love for the past few years and love letters to my fans. It's a lot of things, but I'm excited about it very much.
The Life: What's the feeling an artist has right before a record debuts; do you think it's comparable to the feeling an athlete feels right before the big game?
Gray: I'm terrified. People make so many judgments depending on numbers. Numbers are such a big thing in our society and people just put a lot of focus on numbers, so I'm just nervous what it's going to do and how people are going to react to it. I think the reaction scares me the most because critics can give you such a hard time.
The Life: You shot a World-Cup themed music video for the album's first single "Beauty in the World." Any reason in particular to go that route? Are you a soccer fan?
Gray: I am a soccer fan, but it was the director's idea, actually. When he heard the song, that was his vision for the song. We just went ahead and did it. At first it was for fun, but I actually really like that video.
The Life: Now did you get to kick the ball around or did you just leave it to the models?
Gray: No, it was cool. We actually had real soccer trainers. Some of those girls are actually real soccer players. The stunts, they were actually doing them, just in high heels. They were real soccer players down there, it was pretty awesome.
The Life: Did you kick it around yourself at all?
Gray: A little bit.
The Life: How did you do?
Gray: [Laughs] Not very well. I hadn't played since I was little. They took out all my stunts.
The Life: You have three kids; do they or did they play soccer growing up?
Gray: My youngest is playing. My other two just weren't interested. I couldn't get them into it. And I know it's a universal thing that every kid does, but they just couldn't get into it.
The Life: How long has your youngest been playing?
Gray: He's been playing for about a year. He doesn't like it either, though. He only goes because I force him.
The Life: You watched the U.S.-England game; what did you think of the boys' performance?
Gray: I thought they did great. I didn't know the USA had that good of a team. I thought they did really good. Because I hadn't really followed them closely before, it was a nice surprise.
The Life: Is it safe to say you'll be watching them the rest of the tournament?
Gray: Yeah, I like watching soccer. Some people are really in love with it. I don't feel that way about it. I feel that way about basketball and boxing, but you know when it's on, I'll sit and watch it. It's cool. I'm just in awe in how good condition those guys are in. They run up and down that huge field, like, full-speed for hours. That's amazing to me. It's like they're machines or something. I can't even fathom how you can get to that point.
The Life: Last year you were on "Dancing with the Stars." Did you schmooze with any of the sporting luminaries?
Gray: Yeah, I got to know Michael [Irvin] pretty well, and me and Chuck [Liddell] hung out a few times. Because I'm not an athlete, I always really admire athletes, as a fan.
The Life: What was the experience like as a whole, because dancing isn't easy?
Gray: It's really hard. Everybody knows the athletes always do better, and they usually have three in the competition. But I wasn't really worried about that. I'm not a good dancer. I have flat feet for one thing. I'm not the most graceful person, but I tried it. I actually learned a lot. It actually ultimately helped me with my stage performance when I'm doing music live. And it was cool. I met a lot of interesting people. I hadn't had a real job in a long time and "Dancing with the Stars" is like a real job. You have a schedule. You have to do this and you have to do that. And you're on this weird salary. That was different. That took me a while to get used to, but it was cool.
The Life: Talking about jobs, there's a rumor that you used to work at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio; is that true?
Gray: Yeah, that was my very first job.
The Life: What were your responsibilities there?
Gray: I was a tour guide as a summer job when I was 14. We had to dress up like referees and show people around the building.
The Life: Did you enjoy doing it?
Gray: I learned a lot about football. You had to study everything before you do it. It was a rough summer. I was only 14, I didn't know much. I didn't care about having a job, so I don't think I was any good at it.
The Life: When you're watching a game, do you ever throw out a historical fact or obscure stat to try and impress people?
Gray: [Laughs] No, I don't remember anything. It's like studying for a test and then it's over and you forget everything.
The Life: You also participated in Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown" and finished third in your episode. Do you think you have what it takes to give the World Series of Poker a try?
Gray: I don't get as much practice as those guys. Sometimes I go to the casino, but those guys sit there all day. They use it for their rent money. Practice is everything. If I didn't have anything else to do but practice poker, then maybe, but you know, those guys make a career out of it. You have no chance. It's what they do all day.
Matthew Glenesk is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.