Brandy discusses label politics and why she 'wants to win'
It’s only after performing a small set of hits in front of a packed house at West Hollywood’s Key Club does Brandy appear nervous. Standing in front of the crowd, R&B singer Tank, who played host for the headlining gig, proclaims Brandy as the “best female R&B singer in the game.”A bold proclamation given her last album was in 2008. Although “Human” -- her debut on Epic after leaving longtime home Atlantic -- garnered mostly positive reviews (excluding our one-and-a-half stars rating), it debuted at number 15 on the U.S. Billboard 200, but logged fewer than 100,000 copies, becoming the singer's lowest-charting opening since her debut nearly 16 years ago.
It doesn’t help that the current crop of female R&B singers, including Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna and Alicia Keys, doesn' t seem likely to step aside anytime soon. So, it’s no surprise that at a time when even seasoned veterans such as Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton struggle to push album sales, Brandy just “wants to win.”
And she might be on the path to victory. The 31-year-old singer recently reintroduced herself to fans with a new VH1 reality show, “Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business,” where along with reality star brother Ray J and their parents, the family offers viewers a first-hand glimpse into their home life as the siblings try to jumpstart their singing careers.
As an added bonus, “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy's Grammy winning duet with another R&B veteran, Monica (who also saw a career boost with her own reality show), recently got the “Glee” treatment when the song was featured on an episode and live tour of the hit show.
The singer admitted that she was apprehensive about jumping on the reality show train with "Brandy and Ray J," which she co-executive produces (though she made appearances on both seasons of her brother’s “For the Love of Ray J” and even chronicled her pregnancy in MTV’s “Brandy: Special Delivery”). VH1 has become a destination for more mature reality shows featuring musicians post-Flava Flav with other projects that include Fantasia, Pepa, Chilli from TLC and Jessica Simpson.
“I was very hesitant. [People] can tell if you’re ‘putting on’ or if you are being very real or fake. This show was more polished. I felt because it was like [Ray J] and I, and the whole dynamic, I thought it was a better idea. It was more about building our business as a family,” she said. “You can see the different dynamics and the different personality conflicts. I’m glad I did it.”
In the show, which airs its finale on June 27 and was recently picked up for a second season, Brandy deals head-on with some of the issues that have plagued her career -- including a 2006 car accident that left a woman dead and her slapped with multiple lawsuits.There was also the aforementioned commercial failure of her last project. On the show, it appears she placed the blame on frequent collaborator Rodney Jerkins. But she is quick to correct that.
“It was lacking my belief in it. It lacked my vision. Pretty much bottom line, if you don’t believe in something it’s not going to go,” Norwood said. “Do I believe that ‘Human’ was as creative as ‘Never Say Never’ and ‘Full Moon’ [previous albums largely produced by Jerkins]? No, I do not. You definitely want to put something out that’s like that. I felt at the same time I could have had much better songs and a much better set-up.”
She's not afraid to discuss industry politics, either. Fans of the singer cried foul when Jennifer Lopez released her first single, “Louboutins,” a song originally meant for Brandy (her version eventually leaked online, as did her take on Rihanna’s “Stupid in Love” from “Rated R”). The song was given to Lopez after Brandy parted ways with Epic.
“There are things that happen that I don’t even know about. But a lot of things are political. That’s why it’s so important for me to find the right home for my music and surround myself with people who understand that. I haven’t found that place. I have a few deals on the table, and I’m leaning toward one,” Brandy said. “When things like that happen, it’s a reflection of who’s around you. It’s not anything personal, it’s business. As hard as it is for me to understand that, it is business. Everything is personal to me. You have to have tough skin. I really don’t believe [the song] was meant for me to have. It was [Lopez’s] blessing. That’s my perspective.”
With Season 2 officially confirmed, Brandy hopes to show the process of recording and prepping her next album, and as evidenced by Monica’s recent No. 2 debut on the U.S. Billboard 200 charts (impressive given that her last album was in 2006), no doubt a major thanks to her own hit BET show, Brandy is ultimately hoping for success. But she realizes that it will take more than having cameras following her around.“At this stage in my career …. I want to go all around the world and share my music with everybody but I can’t do that without the right team. I think at this point, where the music industry is, you get afraid to spend more money [on promotion],” she said. “I just feel like for me, I just really wanted to win. I still want to win, but that’s just not the way the universe works sometime.”
-- Gerrick D. Kennedy
Photo: (Top) Credit: John Paschal.
Bottom: The Norwood clan, from left to right: Brandy, Willie Sr., Ray J, Sonja.
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