September 08, 2003 10:18 AM

“Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” Mary J. Blige, who along with Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin and Britney Spears was part of the National Football League’s season kickoff concert in Washington D.C.’s National Mall last Thursday, tells PEOPLE that performing in the capital was part of her patriotic duty.

The singer, 32, the daughter of a Vietnam vet, says singing is her way of thanking U.S. troops for all they do to keep America safe. Thursday’s concert, before an estimated 125,000 fans, included many uniformed military men and women.

“It just felt real good, you know?” she told PEOPLE backstage after her performance. “There’s a lot of the military out there — that was one of the reasons I just take my heart out, just to let them know that if I don’t say, ‘Thank you’ literally … my performance is saying I appreciate what you guys have done and are doing for our country right now.”

She also told PEOPLE she has a fresh, positive outlook on life, a view that’s reflected in her new album, which just hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart.

“I guess it’s about knowing that happiness is a choice. It’s not easy, ’cause there’s always so much drama no matter where you turn. But the new outlook is, that no matter what, just know that the only way you can be happy is to love yourself and not worry about the opinions of people,” Blige said.

“They’re going to have their opinions and always have their things to say, and that’s normally what gets us down. But now, it’s like I really don’t care what anyone has to say.”

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