Sometimes it's just a feeling, or a look that says it all. In the case of "Mighty River," the Golden Globe-nominated song co-written by R&B veteran Raphael Saadiq for the film Mudbound, it was both.
"Since she was in the film and she knew the feel she wanted, and everything is in Mary's eyes," Saadiq tells Billboard about the inspiration for the stirring ballad, sung by his old friend Mary J. Blige, who was also nominated in the supporting actress category for her moving work in the WWII drama. "She can not look at you and talk and then look at you for a second and everything comes to life. She has so much feeling in her character."
Saadiq slept through his first Golden Globe nomination on Monday morning (Dec. 11) because his phone was dead. But when he plugged it in, he saw a text from an old friend that just read "congratulations" -- but he had no idea what he was being congratulated for.
His friend eventually explained that the gospel-tinged "Mighty River" was up for best original song from a motion picture, and just hours after finding out about his first Globe nom, Saadiq says he's still confused. "I'm always surprised about everything," says the old-school Grammy-winning R&B torchbearer, who has produced and written songs for everyone from Solange and D'Angelo to Ledisi and Big K.R.I.T., as well as recently co-writing the song "Jump" for the award-winning Sundance doc STEP and composing the music for HBO's Insecure.
"Mary J. Blige is one of the hardest-working ladies in the business and we've been pretty good friends through our music, and she's been through a lot this year. After I heard about this, it felt like a good time and a good space and I was excited," he says.
Saadiq recalls how Blige called him and asked for a song for the film and how after watching a screening of it and listening to Mary talk about her part, he had a good sense of what she was looking for. "I knew I had to come up with something that would fit Mary and would have the textures of the film," he says about the track with the inspiring chorus: "Let it wash you clean (like a river), Going upstream (like a river), Cutting through right (like a river), 'Cause it never gives up (like a river)." Blige knew what she wanted, and Saadiq says his friend communicated it through her eyes, after which the song -- written with frequent collaborator Taura Stinson -- quickly sprung to life.
"I think when she heard the title and the story, the lyrics touched her in a few different places," he says. "[Blige] had the opportunity to work out in the cold on the film, and it was rough and the story was heart-touching, so she knew way more than we did about it. She said, 'I need it to be like this,' and we just went with it."
It's not like Saadiq hasn't been to the Globes before. Well, like so many of us, he says he's watched the often boozy star-studded affair from home for years. "It's a huge deal," he says of his nomination. "For a lot more than just me. I have a lot of people who really support me in every aspect of my career... friends, family, fans, and it's more for them than for me. People love to see someone they cheer for their whole career and I don't do anything for awards, but this is definitely a huge honor.”