This song has a very sweet melody, which makes the lyrics about getting choked up over someone and wanting him in your life sound like it could be a love song, but it's really a heartbreaker with a very personal story behind it. Macy Gray was signed to Atlantic Records in the mid-'90s as part of a rock band, but the album they made never got released. With her music career kaput, Gray became a secretary and married her boyfriend, a mortgage broker named Tracy Hinds. They had three children together but split up just as Gray got a solo deal with Epic Records. Many of the songs Gray wrote for her first album were about Hinds, including "I Try," where she explains that she wants to be strong and leave his memory behind, but can't bring herself to do so:
Though I try to hide it, it's clear
My world crumbles when you are not near
"I Try" had widespread appeal, getting airplay on pop, R&B and adult contemporary radio, and also doing well on MTV. It was not typical of her sound though - as many of the 7 million people who bought the On How Life Is album found out, Gray did a lot of funky soul with gritty lyrics as heard on tracks like "Caligula" and "Sex-o-matic Venus Freak." Her European audience was more accepting (Gray had six other UK Top 40 hits), but in America she became a one-hit wonder - her only other Hot 100 appearance was as a featured voice on the Black Eyed Peas collaboration "Request Line."
Gray fought with her record company, imploring them not
to release this song as a single. "I really didn't understand what was so special about it at the time," she said in her Songfacts interview
. It was all very strange to me. I was shocked when that song hit. And I'm still shocked every night when I sing it and everybody still knows the words."
In America this song wasn't released as a single until January 2000, reaching its peak of #5 in May. Elsewhere, the song was released in September 1999 and in many places became one of the biggest hits around change of the millennium. The song went to #1 in Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand.
The video was shot in New York, depicting various familiar scenes including the Lexington Avenue subway. It was directed by Mark Romanek, an industry veteran who also did the movie One Hour Photo. The video was a rare case of Gray giving in and letting someone else call the shots. In the clip, we see her buy flowers and then deliver them to her man, who greets her with a big kiss. We then find out that it's a daydream, as Gray is seen looking at the flowers in her hotel room.
"We were in Central Park and it was the first time I kissed a guy in front of a whole bunch of people," Gray told us. "And I wasn't crazy about my outfit. But my label kind of told me to just shut up, be quiet, and do it, so I did. It was the first time I ever listened to anyone - I went along with what everybody thought was the right thing.
And I hated my hair. I hated everything about it. The same thing with the song - I turned out to be totally wrong about all of it, so it was good."
At the Grammy Awards in 2001, this was nominated for Song of the Year and Record of the Year, but lost in both categories to "Beautiful Day
" by U2. The song did win Gray the award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Gray wrote all the lyrics, but worked on the music with Jeremy Ruzumna, Jinsoo Lim and David Wilder. Ruzumna also played organ on the track; Wilder played bass.
When you listen to this delicious, gravely voice, which sounds like it's made of smoke and scotch, it's hard to remember that Macy Gray was just 32 years old when it was recorded. While that voice provided her with a career, she found it troublesome growing up. Said Gray: "I kept real quiet. I had a peculiar voice and I was a bit ashamed of it when I was little. You know how kids are. I would say something at school and kids would start to crack up, so I just back a little bit."
This was featured in the 2010 episode of the TV show The Office, where it was performed by the show's minstrel, Andy Bernard. We see a montage of his fellow workers singing along as he performs it at the end of the episode to lift spirits.
This won for Best New Artist in a Video at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. She beat out Christina Aguilera, Papa Roach and Pink.