According To Amerie, Women Can Have It All, But With ‘Concessions’ And Sacrifices
When you hear Amerie’s name, you think of her smash hits responsible for some of the most notable R&B lyrics of the early 2000s, like “Why Don’t We Fall In Love” and “1 Thing” - including the Eve remix. But there’s one more thing about Amerie that we can add to her resume in addition to being the sound of 2006, and that’s being an author.
The “Gotta Work” singer released her debut children’s picture book,You Will Do Great Things, inspired by her son River. With the development of her then-future son’s mind at the top of her mind, Amerie would read to River while he was in the womb in an effort to not only hear the sound of his mother’s voice but to relay sweet and meaningful messages as his organs and subconscious began to form simultaneously. “Maybe there would be that kind of cadence and that kind of feel he would be familiar with when he was born,” Amerie told me retrospectively during our phone interview.
Once River was born, she continued to read to him as regularly scheduled programming when he was inside of her, but it wasn’t until she held him in the natural world that Amerie realized how much she really wanted to share with this new life. Between 14 and 16 weeks old, Amerie noticed how her son began to turn the pages of books by himself because he was already so familiar with the cadence of his mother’s reading voice - even down to the indication of when a line was done on a page. While she realized that her son was able to recognize the action of reading, something clicked in the “Why R U” singer’s head that it was just as important for her son to see himself represented in the books that she was sharing with him.
“We would have books that feature kids from all different backgrounds, but I wanted more books in which he could see himself,” Amerie told xoNecole. “I really wanted to create a very special universal message book that was also very specific to how I was feeling. I knew that I was feeling pretty much how most parents feel, but that would have that beautiful and strong message about life, and all the things that he can do, and all the great things that I am certain he's going to do, and all the love that surrounds him from the past and the present. All of those things were in a book that featured a child who looked like him. That was extremely important to me.”
Following the release of her children’s book, I caught up with the Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter about prioritizing self-love as a mother and wife, demystifying the notion that women can’t have it all, and addressing the fears of being a mother raising a Black son in America.
It’s This One Thing…About Reading
For as long as she could remember, Amerie turned to reading and the world of literature as a form of self-care and escapism from the physical beings around her. Whenever someone would ask her about her favorite hobbies, she would not hesitate to point to either the art of writing or the wonder of reading. She sees reading as a way to continue to expand her mind as an adult, to learn more about the world around her, and to "develop empathy" for new cultural backgrounds and walks of life.
In fact, she loves reading so much that she has a wall in her home dedicated to her collection of books in addition to all of the books located in her personal library, River's room, the guest room, and throughout her house. As a new author, she recognizes that the amount of vulnerability that she experiences as a writer is not equivalent to the feeling when she's writing a book.
While as a fictional author, people who may or may not like your work are not necessarily connected to you as a human being, Amerie acknowledges the powers that lie within her pen game as an author to convey messages of both society's shortcomings and beautiful beings in a children's book. "On one hand, I feel like there's safety because people could either not like the story or they will. It's no indictment on you, necessarily," Amerie explained. "However, when you write something, you really are letting people into your head. When you create these characters, because all these characters represent some part of yourself, it's really like laying yourself bare. In that way, you allow people to see a lot."
"When you create these characters, because all these characters represent some part of yourself, it's really like laying yourself bare. In that way, you allow people to see a lot.”
The “Pretty Brown Eyes” singer believes in the power of commitment to a book, especially when you have the reader’s eyes and ears for hours to the point in which they become the character. “It's that whole holding up the mirror to society and allowing people to see it in a way that's a little bit more subliminal than someone just having an outright conversation with someone who may or may not want to have that conversation,” Amerie said. “I think you’re able to tackle more regarding life in that way.”
In comparison to her music career, Amerie notes that you can impact someone in a shorter time span than a book because a song only lasts between 3-5 minutes on average. She leans on songs as a way to curate a vibe and evoke an immediate feeling as opposed to encouraging lingering thoughts about the state of the culture and the world around us.
“You can uplift, make them melancholy, make them kind of feel sad, make them reflect, make them want to dance. You really can control. It's almost like you're hijacking a person's emotions when you're creating music,” Amerie noted excitedly as she realized the power she possessed as a Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter.
Amerie continued, “Even though you're not letting them in your head, and you do have much more of a buffer between yourself and your art, as far as people may know how you're feeling, they don't necessarily know what you're thinking about any given thing. They may, depending on what you write, but it's not necessarily a given, unlike a book, where you have all these characters running around that are all these different parts of yourselves, but they will know what you're about to a certain extent when they're listening to the music.”
Nothing Like Loving Mommy
In addition to being a singer, songwriter, and author, there are two more roles that Amerie would always put above all - and that's being a mother and wife. But how does she do it all and take time to take care of herself?
"I actually don't put myself first. That's something I'm working on," she admittedly laughed.
While she acknowledges that she doesn't make herself a priority in her life, Amerie doesn't feel the need to check herself to do so. In fact, she's become so accustomed to how things are that she's begun to accept such is life. "I'm kind of fine with that, but I do realize that I do have to make time for myself too. I certainly don't put myself first. That's not what I do at all," she told xoNecole.
When she does have a moment, Amerie pours into herself through creation and writing, whether that be literary or musical. She even noted how her son is aware of when it's time to be creative and practice solitude, but River still enjoys being around his mother and being involved in all of her activities. "My son knows mommy's writing time. That's when mommy's doing the thing that I love to do," Amerie said. While she usually doesn't record her music while River is home, she does her best to incorporate her son into whenever "mommy's creating" because "it's fun for him."
Like anyone else who may be a full-time parent, career-driven woman, or an overall on-the-go human being, alone time is essential to recharge her battery, but Amerie practices an open-door policy with her son as an exception for interruption.
"He's the most important thing. He knows that I could be writing, but if it's really important like you really need to give me kisses or you need to tell me something, you can come in. It's an open door," Amerie told xoNecole. "That's important to me that he knows that because I never want him to grow up thinking that this one thing was more important than him, and I don't think he would think that because that's not how I present things."
Retrospectively, Amerie realized that she's only had about three or four massages since the birth of her four-year-old son, which her own husband encourages her to do more of. "The thing is, the way I handle my time is I have a lot to do, [but] I'm never going to sacrifice time from my child," she said adamantly.
Amerie continued, "Whatever I need to do, I can fit it in. We'll make it work. I'll stay up late or whatever it is, but those times are very important, like going with him to school, picking him up, family meals. Sometimes though, Mommy might have to miss dinner, and I don't like that, but [I'm] never missing bedtime because there's other certain things that for myself are important to me. "As she buckled down on her non-negotiables, she added that every parent has theirs, but she stands ten-toes down on hers, no matter how tough achieving the balance is.
"You always feel like there's a ball dropping somewhere, but my own personal thing is, I refuse to let the ball drop in the mom zone. I'm not going to do that," Amerie said powerfully. She thought back to her own parents, who she said were present in her life and encouraged her to do the best she can and always put her child first. However, she knew that it didn't mean to put herself on the back burner and not care for herself at all, but to know that child care and raising a human being is more than just cute Instagram moments and first words."It's such a beautiful gift, being a parent, and it's one that I take really seriously and that I love."
Why Don’t We Let Women Do It All?
Amerie has always been a proud multihyphenate, and she's not the first woman to do so by balancing motherhood, personal time, her professional life, and all while looking good doing it. We've seen Rihanna run her beauty empire with Baby Fenty No. 1 and No. 2 on the way, and we've seen Beyoncé be a mother of three while planning a world tour and dropping one of the best albums of the decade with Renaissance.
But why is it that we still don't have total faith that women can truly have it all? We asked Amerie, and she said that we certainly can - but with some caveats.
"I've always been a big believer in any person, and we're talking specifically about women, can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. Because there will be concessions you have to make," Amerie explained. She continued to express that you can make sure with every fiber of your being that nothing goes wrong while you're in mommy mode. You may slow up or backlog in other areas of your life because you're not giving it that same energy or attention.
Amerie added, "Let's just say you are 'hashtag mommy-ing,' and you are able to balance your work as well because maybe you're staying up later. You're tired, but maybe you are not seeing your friends as much as you wanted to, so it's been harder to maintain more of your friendship. I do think that these things all come at a cost, and maybe you're just balancing it all, but that can be very, very difficult."
She fully acknowledged that women routinely carry a lot of the weight of parenting, both physically and emotionally, in addition to the weight of keeping their marriage alive, having friends, and keeping food on the table. In the same breath, Amerie wants women who empathize with her to know that they're doing the best they can with what they have - and it's okay to give yourself time and grace.
"I've always been a big believer in any person, and we're talking specifically about women, can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. Because there will be concessions you have to make."
"It's important, I think, for moms to know and women to know that you're not failing. It's very easy to see people doing things and [seeing] they're doing it well, and they're making it look so effortless, and it's just like, Well, why can't I get this right? Why am I struggling? Why am I not able to be on top of everything? And no one's on top of it," Amerie reassured. "You can't compare because you don't really know what's going on in everyone's life."
As a suggestion, the singer noted that instead of focusing on how life can be in disarray and escaping for a few moments in between, one would be better off establishing balance by picking two areas to excel in and putting them at the top of the priority list.
"Everyone has those fears. Everyone wonders if they could do it. You can do a lot more than you think. You can handle a lot more than you think, but it's not something that you have to do just because you feel like everyone does it," she encouraged first-time moms about entering the journey of motherhood. "If it's something that you feel called to do or you feel excited about, absolutely, but if you're feeling like you don't want to, then there's no need to do that. You don't have to follow anyone else's path."
Amerie added, "It is a very amazing thing, and it is a very life-changing thing. It is a very miraculous thing. Even though there are 8 billion people on this planet, the birth of a child, bringing another human being into this world, shepherding in another soul, that is a miracle every time."
For more of Amerie, follow her on Instagram @amerie. Her book, You Will Do Great Things, is out now.
Featured image courtesy of Amerie
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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