Brandy is back, and her comeback – including a collaboration with her daughter – brings up emotional memories!
Brandy is back, and her comeback – including a collaboration with her daughter – brings up emotional memories!
This interview between Brandy and Sina Braetz is taken from our current print issue on ‚Life,‘ which can be found in stores and ONLINE
Someone answers my call with a silent but determined, “Hello.” I assumed it would be Brandy’s manager. Instead, I startle, hearing the American superstar introduce herself in this voice, this voice I listened to so much in my youth. Smokey, yet evocative and warm, just unmistakable. It gave me the feels.
I grew up with a lot of R&B music, mostly because my sister was a big fan. She put up a big poster of Aaliyah the day she died in a plane crash; I will never forget. My sister loved to go clubbing and especially when she was warming up for long nights, I would hear songs from Brandy, Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, TLC, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, Janet Jackson and many more resounding from her room. Although I was way too young to understand any lyrics, I always loved the energy of those songs and artists, unlike most people that I knew from my generation. R&B was poorly understood in Germany when I grew up, it was often considered to be too cheesy, too soft, too uncool. I will never understand how people could say that about good R&B. There is nothing more sensual, more sexy than a good R&B song.
Now, Brandy, for me, was of special importance. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to Sittin’ Up In My Room – probably the most appropriate song for 2020 – I Wanna Be Down, or her single with Monica, The Boy Is Mine. There was something very raw, very authentic and real about Brandy Rayana Norwood, alias Brandy. Maybe also because she started at such a young age. At 12 years old, she had already auditioned for Atlantic Records’ A&R director Daryl Williams and signed a contract; by 15, she had established an impactful career. Her self-titled debut album from 1994 went quadruple platinum. Brandy was known as one of the hardest working teenangers in the 90s industry. She gained additional attention with her sitcom Moesha (1996-2001), and in 1997 she made history as the first Black Cinderella in a remake of the Disney classic. Two years later, there was even a Brandy Doll.
But times weren’t always that glamorous for her, just as with most teenage stars. The pressure on her only kept growing and everything became really difficult when she got stuck in an abusive realtionship and shortly thereafter had a serious nervous breakdown. Throughout her career, she has won many awards, including a Grammy, and with more than 50 million records sold worldwide, she still is one of the best selling female artists of all time. Brandy is an icon. The now 41-year-old musician, songwriter and producer is currently celebrating a comeback with her new album B7, on which she also collaborated with her daughter. We talk about life and its magic, about healing spirituality and the importance of perspectives.
Fräulein: Hi, Brandy. I really need to start with this question: Is it true that you heard I Wanna Be Down playing for the first time on the radio at Taco Bell?
Brandy: Yes! [laughs] It was actually Del Taco in Charleston. I was so excited to share my song in my neighborhood at one of my favorite fast food places, coming from another person’s car – that was just unbelievable. It was like everybody’s experience, it was very surreal. And then, another time, I heard it in another one of my favorite fast food places in my neighborhood. It was after church when someone pulled up, playing the song. It was not coming from the radio, but from a casette. I could tell because when they ordered their food and then got back in the car, the song started from where it had stopped, so I knew it was a person that really bought that song. I was just amazed, so blown away by that experience, it is a memory that I’ll never forget.
So beautiful. How are you today and how are you handling these intense and difficult times of the pandemic?
Oh my god, it’s been just a different way to live life, to respond to life. It’s another way to separate us all and that’s not a great feeling. But in a positive way, me and my family are a lot closer together, just not taking things for granted and appreciating the smallest things, and trying to stay as safe and as positive as possible. And my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered from this, whose life has completely changed, not for the better.
Has the pandemic been a life lesson?
Yes. It’s a time of self-reflection. I find myself thinking about things I haven’t thought about in a long time because of the isolation. In your mind, it’s pretty still, you start to think about things that matter the most, you become aware of things that have just happened and accountable for things that you’ve done. I really wanted to reach out to people and see how people are, people who I haven’t spoken to in a long time. Change comes with pros and cons. I definitely see the good in this, but also the tragedy.
You were brought up with a religious Christian belief. How important is religion to you today, did it become more relevant in the past weeks and months?
I think spirituality is life. I feel like spirituality is music, spirituality is love, and I definitely know for a fact there is a higher intelligence, there is unconditional love in this universe that is ready and available for us all to embrace, to strive for creating the kind of behavior that will present love in the highest way. Believing in that and having a certainty in that keeps me on track and it keeps me inspired to be the best version of me that I can be. Although I’m not perfect in my behavior, there is a nature within all of us that I completely respect and honor. I’m thankful that I have that foundation because I don’t know what I would do without it.
Does that foundation help you to practice self-love?
Absolutely. Because I think self-love is when you find a true love and a true bond with the highest; I do really believe that. It starts with yourself and the love that you have for yourself. So you can nurture that love and be a vessel to share with others.
What do you think of concepts as Kanye West’s Sunday Service?
I think that any idea that is celebrating love and music and art in a way to heal and touch people is a blessing. And when it’s not self-serving, it’s more about unity and togetherness – I think that’s beautiful. So, I support anyone who is moving spirit and culture in that way, through love and positivity. That’s for anyone that’s on that wave.
As a teenager but also later on, you went through a lot of emotionally difficult years. Is music therapeutic to you?
Oh, music is the best therapy. [laughs] Just to be able to express my feelings through harmonies, certain lyrics, language – creating all of that with sound is a different kind of healing, more than anything. And I’m blessed to be able to connect with music on such an emotional and personal level and to be able to be very sensitive to it is truly a blessing. It’s a craft and a skill that you try to hold and master so you can be proud of the work that you put out there.
How did you deal with your early success? At age 15, you had already built an impactful career. Did you ever feel like somebody stole your youth?
No, I definitely feel like I had a very different childhood than the norm, but these were my dreams that I couldn’t see any other way at that time for me to live my life. My entire childhood, I was going after having a singing career. I could always see myself on stage, with a band, dancing and singing. That was all I could really see, so it was only natural for it to happen to me. Of course, I could have had a completely different childhood if I didn’t grow up in the public eye. My life would have been very different, but at the same time, my dreams wouldn’t have been a reality for me. So, I just had to figure out a way to balance my life. I was growing up in front of the world and grew up in different personas with having my own television show and this perfect image – that of course had its own struggles and its own darkness. But I was able to do it because I had a solid foundation and my family, and was able to find the truth within myself as I grew older. And, of course, being a mom at such a young age also has saved me in a lot of ways. As much as what I’ve been through, I wouldn’t change it. I’ve been so blessed. On the one side, I go through a lot of ups and downs, but on the other side, I’m blessed to be whatever I can imagine because my dreams are my reality.
For your new music video, Baby Mama, what was important to you in terms of aesthetics and styling? How did you want people to perceive you?
I know for a fact that I am a role model and I wanted to represent myself in that way. I have a 17-year-old daughter that is looking up to me to be graceful and poised and classy. So, I wanted to represent that in the way I look, in the way I carried myself in that video. And then I also wanted to celebrate women: The younger women that you see in the video represent the daughters that the mothers strive to protect. It’s also a video that pays homage to Samy Davis Jr.’s The Rhythm of Life. If you go back into his catalogue, you see that the video is so similar, but we put our own twist to it. And I also wanted to celebrate dance as well. Dance is a way to celebrate freedom, youth and strength. Just moving around makes you feel better. When you watch the video, you’ll see a glow, you’ll see a happiness about it, but you’ll also see class, and you’ll also see just a great representation of baby mamas, mothers and women in general.
Do you think that it’s the right time for female artists to make statements against the oversexualized image the music industry suggests?
For me, that has never worked. To be oversexual has never been for me. I’ve been able to reconnect with that part of myself where I don’t feel like I have to go that route to connect. I love the way I look in the new video, that I have all of my clothes on. What I represent works for me but of course other arists have their own way to express themselves and I don’t judge anybody for what they do. I just know what works for me. And I feel comfortable staying true to that because when I wasn’t true to that, I didn’t feel comfortable with myself.
You have both collaborated with and been highly influenced by Whitney Houston. If she were still alive today, what would you tell her or what would you ask her?
That’s a very hard question to answer. I was very affected by her passing. She actually passed on my birthday, so that day will never be the same. Just her entire life [long pause] was such an inspiration for me, coming up and then getting to know her and work with her, and then to watch what she had to endure was very tough. I know that I would tell her how much I love her and how much she’s loved. I know that she is an angel now and her spirit lives on through her music. I’m thankful for her presence and her gift. I’ll never forget my moments with her. But I have no idea what I would ask her or say to her other than: I love you so much. It was really important for me to let her know what she meant to me before she left this planet.
In my youth, I was so moved by your cover version of Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise. How do you feel looking back at this story and this song today, especially in these times?
Thank you so much. I think Another Day in Paradise is a timeless song that speaks to life and what people go through and how to be appreciative every moment that you have to share, and connect, and to show love – you should be grateful! I was very moved by Another Day in Paradise when I first heard it from Phil Collins, and then to redo it wit Ray J, it was a joy to work with him. He is such a great, underrated artist. It never feels like work when I’m working with my brother, I love singing and sharing music with him. I look forward to doing more of that in the future.
How come he is not part of your new album?
We tried to work out a song, but it simply didn’t work out for this album. But we have the rest of our lives to pull it together, for sure.
What do you think makes a timeless song?
It’s really hard to put that into words. I think it is about the way it feels, the way it sounds, the way it gives you the kind of memories that you think of when you hear the song. Sometimes a song can hit you so in the right spot that you know exactly where you were when you heard the song. Those songs are really powerful and you never know what exactly it’s going to be, you just know it when you hear it and you can’t really explain it. It’s magical. And those songs, they all don’t sound the same. They stand out and move people in ways that are unexplainable. Like Adele and Hello. That’s just an undeniable timeless record that will last forever. Just as Whitney Houston’s song, Greatest Love of All, or Mariah Carey’s Vision of Love. Lauryn Hill’s Doo-Wop. They all sound different, but you know when you hear these songs, you kind of drop everything you’re doing just to hear them.
Are there upcoming artists that you are interested in working with?
Yes, I like H.E.R.; I think she’s an amazing artist. I also think Kehlani is awesome. I had the pleasure of working with Jhené Aiko. There’s a lot of great artists out there who are really keeping R&B alive; I appreciate their contribution. I’m open to creativity and I’m a pretty versatile artist, so I would love to work with different artists, too, not necessarily R&B related, but just artists that are really moving the culture forward, spread love and do really care about their music by putting everything that they have into their craft.
What are your thoughts on the contemporary R&B scene?
I mean, is R&B where it used to be? No, absolutely not! But it’s in a better place than it has been. I think it’s a great time for real music people yearning for timeless music again, and I’m grateful to be one of the artists that can contribute to timeless, true, real music. I think people want it and need it and they deserve to have music that they can listen to forever. Shoutout to every artist that is putting out that kind of work – I’m inspired and so appreciative for it.
Thank you, so much, Brandy. You are a truly a star and such a wonderful woman.
Thank you. I just wanted to say that I’ve been having a great time talking to you. God bless you!
Images by Derek Blanks