Brandy Norwood — or simply, Brandy — truly ruled the ’90s. This R&B singer secured her biggest hit with “The Boy Is Mine,” a delightfully rivalrous duet with Monica. Of course, the multitalented Brandy also starred as the title character on the sitcom, Moesha. Continuing her acting roles, she played titular princess Cinderella in 1997’s live-action TV adaptation, and also co-starred with Diana Ross in the movie, Double Platinum (via Rolling Stone). Moving into the new millennium, Brandy continued to put out music, and from 2015 to 2017, she appeared on Broadway as Roxie Hart in the famous musical, Chicago.
Though it may appear as though she conquered multiple industries, behind the scenes, life threw many curveballs towards Brandy. “I’ve been through a lot … a lot of heartbreak, a lot of pain, a lot of ups and downs with love, trauma, mental health,” the singer-actress told the New York Post. “Everything you could think about, I went through.” Thankfully, things seemed to be turning more positive as the next decade arrived. In 2020, Brandy released her album, B7, on her own label, Brand Nu, Rolling Stone reports.
But since life rarely imitates that of a Disney princess, it’s time to learn the tragic details about Brandy.
Brandy lost her celebrity idol
As a teenager, Brandy was ready to break out into the music industry. Prior to releasing her debut album, a 14-year-old Brandy saw her “idol”, Whitney Houston, live in concert. After the show, the young girl tried her best to see the superstar in person. Once backstage, Brandy recounted to The Guardian in 2020, “I was just telling security: ‘I’m going to be a star someday, I’m going to pay all your bills if you just let me back.'” They let her through, but unfortunately, Houston was no longer there.
“I was crushed,” Brandy remembered, saying that her mom consoled her by saying, “You’ll meet her when you put music out.” It turns out, Brandy finally got to meet her childhood idol when the two starred together in the movie musical, Cinderella, four years later, when Houston specifically requested Brandy portray the lead role. “It’s just something that’s still surreal to this day,” Brandy said of the opportunity to work with Houston.
Sadly, Houston passed away far too young in 2012. Brandy, who considered Houston to be her very own on-and-offscreen “Fairy Godmother,” was understandably devastated by the news. “I miss her every day. I’m not over it,” Brandy later confessed to the New York Post. “She was a wonderful light. No matter what she went through, you could always see the light. And I just pray that she’s resting well.”
Life was difficult for Brandy as a childhood star
While some childhood stars fall from relevance with age, others, like Brandy, find a way to achieve success across the years and continue to delight fans. But a common thread between many of them is the intense pressure that comes with every step of their most formative years.
“I had to grow up in front of the public,” Brandy explained to Rolling Stone. “I didn’t get a chance to make private mistakes and really discover my own voice without having to deal with everyone else’s voices and thoughts and opinions about the things that I was doing.” Sadly, as a result, Brandy admitted that “trauma definitely comes along with that.”
As a young actress with little experience, Brandy talked about working in the entertainment industry in her teens. Her first major acting gig was playing the title character’s daughter on the television show, Thea, which Okay Player notes “marked the first time a Black female comedian had a show named after her.” Just a few years later, Brandy herself would star as the title character on Moesha, continuing this path for Black women as lead actresses. But in her first onscreen role, Brandy felt out of place, confessing to the outlet, “I had a difficult time on Thea because I never dreamed of being an actress. I thought everyone was light years ahead of me.”
Brandy's tumultuous music career
Brandy released her first album, Brandy, in 1994 at just 15 years old. The album celebrated its 25 anniversary in 2019 — but Brandy had stayed active in writing and releasing music, proving her impressive longevity. But even with her sustained output, there were many bumps in the road for her music career.
For example, Brandy ran into label troubles after releasing her 2012 album, Two Eleven. As reported by Rolling Stone, “Chameleon Entertainment, her former label, claimed she breached her contract by releasing music without their permission, while she countersued over unpaid production costs.” It wasn’t until 2017 that Brandy and the label reached a settlement — and three years later, she released her next album. During this eight-year gap between Two Eleven and her follow-up record, B7, Brandy also dealt with writer’s block. Confessing that she lacked inspiration in songwriting, she recalled to the outlet, “I just didn’t want to start creating music and not feel inspired, not feel moved by life or the things that I was going through.”
On top of these issues, Brandy also revealed her self-criticism as a musician. For example, the singer admitted that her 2008 album, Human, didn’t feel right upon release. “I was on the fence … I thought it was too pop,” she told Okay Player. “And I love pop music, but the entire album didn’t have a balance to my ear at the time.”
Were Brandy and Monica fighting?
On the famous album, Thriller, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney teamed up on the song, “The Girl Is Mine” — a tune about the two men vying for the same woman. Almost 20 years later, Brandy — inspired by the duet, as well as the “domestic arguments” showcased on The Jerry Springer Show, according to Billboard — co-wrote her hit song, “The Boy Is Mine.” In the gender-reversal version, Brandy’s rival was fellow R&B star Monica. Both singers were still in their teens when the song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed at No. 1 for 13 weeks.
Attached to the song, unfortunately, were rumors of the two young women feuding in real life, which included alleged physical fighting between Brandy and Monica. They supposedly “punched each other after rehearsing their song” for the 1998 VMAs, per MTV News, which noted that the original story by the New York Daily News claimed that “Brandy had given Monica a black eye during their supposed struggle.” The initial report was deemed “inaccurate,” but looking back, Brandy expressed dismay over the media portrayal.
“For us to be put against each other like that, I didn’t think that was funny at all,” Brandy told The Guardian. “We didn’t really get a chance to experience what we could have with ‘The Boy Is Mine.’ The fanbases and the media really threw a wrench in that experience.”
Was Brandy actually married?
In the lead up to the 2002 birth of Brandy’s daughter, Sy’rai, the R&B star invited filmmakers into her home to document the experience. On the MTV special, Diary Presents: Brandy — Special Delivery, the singer and her supposed husband, producer Robert Smith, showed audiences their story. But just a year after it aired, Smith and Brandy were separated. Later, Smith revealed a shocking truth about him and his wife: According to the producer, he and Brandy were never actually legally married. “The couple just portrayed the notion of nuptials to preserve Brandy’s image,” per MTV News. Wait, what?
For her part, Brandy stated through her publicist that she felt “hurt and shocked” by the comments, and defined her relationship with Smith as a “spiritual union and a true commitment to each other.” Looking back at the incident, Brandy confessed that the public negatively reacted to the news. “It changed people’s perspective of me,” the star told People in 2020. But luckily, the most important result of the program kept Brandy moving forward: “I had to focus on what was important, which was Sy’rai.”
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time Brandy’s marriage prospects were up to public discussion. A couple years later, Brandy fell in love with basketball star Quentin Richardson. The two became engaged in 2004, according to Us Weekly, but ultimately broke off the commitment one year later.
Why Brandy kept her relationships a secret
For six seasons, Brandy starred in the TV sitcom, Moesha, during which the young actress helped pave the way for minorities on TV. According to The Washington Post, Brandy’s portrayal “diversified the Girl Next Door trope forever.” But behind the pioneering success of her role, she had to fit into the family friendly show’s image and never revealed her real-life relationship of the time.
As reported by The Guardian, Brandy dated Wanya Morris — one of the singers from Boys II Men — while filming. However, since he was five years older, this meant that Brandy was still a teenager while Morris was in his twenties. Since this conflicted with her onscreen persona, the relationship remained private. In a 2020 Instagram Live session, Morris opened up about his relationship with Brandy, clarifying that he was initially just friends with the star, and that the two were not romantically involved until she was “of age” — at which time, he confessed they were “young” and “in love.”
This wasn’t the only case of complicated love in Brandy’s relationship history, though. In an interview for the New York Post, she talked about the meaning behind her song, “Borderline,” saying that the lyrics explore “the mental-health side effects of an unrequited love.” Noting that a real-life situation inspired the songwriting, she said, “I loved someone that was not available to be loved by me, and so that drove me crazy.”
Brandy was involved in a fatal car accident
While she was still thriving as a musician and actress, Brandy’s life instantly changed in late 2006. Just before the New Year, Brandy was behind the wheel of her car while driving in Los Angeles. As reported by People, she “rear-ended a 2005 Toyota Corolla,” which started “a chain-reaction crash that involved two other cars.” The singer-actress walked away from the incident uninjured, but tragically, the driver of the Toyota was not as fortunate. “Awatef Aboudihaj, a 38-year-old mother of two, died the following day from injuries she had sustained,” the article noted.
Prosecutors investigated the traffic incident to see if Brandy should be held responsible for the accident. After a yearlong investigation, she avoided charges of “misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.” In a statement released by Brandy’s attorney, he revealed that the process had “posed an extraordinary hardship for Brandy and her family, who have been unfairly forced to live under a cloud of suspicion initially caused by the ill-advised and premature press release sent out by the California Highway Patrol accusing Brandy of wrongdoing before the police investigation was even finished.” Brandy later settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Aboudihaj’s children out of court.
Understandably, the tragic highway crash may still negatively linger with the musician, who seldom talks about it during interviews. For example, when she sat down with The Guardian in 2020, the topic was “very much off the table,” according to the interviewer. Similarly, Brandy did not speak with People about the incident “out of respect.”
Just how confident is Brandy?
For someone who’s dominated all forms of entertainment — music, movies, TV, and Broadway — one would think that Brandy would be completely comfortable as a celebrity. Yet, just like so many people deal with, this star admitted she gets nervous before performances — and not just a few jitters, but “very very very nervous,” Brandy confessed to The Washington Post. Prior to a performance, the singer prefers “a quiet corner backstage where the only sound was her pencil etching the pages of the journal she takes everywhere.”
While speaking with Oprah.com, Brandy elaborated that a calm state of mind was her respite to help perform her best. “The worst thing to do before a performance is tell yourself, I’m afraid or I’m so nervous,” she said. “Instead, I tell myself, ‘All is well; everything is going to be great.’ I walk back and forth, and I stay completely quiet. And it works.”
Even with her special calming techniques, Brandy revealed that it’s not just appearing on stage that gives her hesitation. In the recording booth, only certain producers have made the singer feel at ease. Particularly, between legendary producers/songwriters Rodney Jerkins and the late Lashaun Daniels, she admittedly always tensed up around the former while working on her earlier output. “Rodney never really heard my vocals until they’re finished because I was so shy,” Brandy remembered in an interview with Revolt. “He’d always sneak in and I could tell by Lashaun’s face that he’s somewhere hiding.”
How Brandy dealt with fading fame
Several famous singers have cited Brandy’s work as a source of inspiration. For example, Erykah Badu revealed that she learned a lot from Brandy while working on her debut album, Baduizm. “She inspired a lot of things about Baduizm because her album had come out before I finished mine,” Badu told ET. “Just musically, production-wise and the writing, it was really good. And I hadn’t heard anything else like it,” Badu added of Brandy’s debut album.
With this praise and success as a young woman, Brandy sadly experienced other people who didn’t have such nice things to say about her career progression. “There have been times where other people have intentionally tried to make me feel like I’m a has-been,” Brandy told The Washington Post in 2020, adding, “A part of me — the weaker parts of me — bought into that.” After dealing with all the negative feedback — and as a result, turning the criticism inward — Brandy confessed, “I was lost. I didn’t know what my sound was. I didn’t even know if I was important enough in music to put together a body of work.”
The self-doubt endured and the singer recalled that these years were her “lowest of lows” as an artist. Brandy even took positive feedback from her fans and spun these comments into negatives, like when she mistook her affectionate nickname, the “Vocal Bible,” as a negative remark about her singing style. “To not understand myself, that’s hell,” Brandy said.
Inside Brandy's frightening health scare
Brandy is not the only one in her family with a talented voice. You may remember the song “Sexy Can I” by musical artist Ray J, but what you may not know is that Ray J is actually Brandy’s younger brother. Of course, Ray J is often remembered as Kim Kardashian’s ex-boyfriend, as well as the sex tape the former couple made together, which in some ways helped launch the showbiz careers of the Kardashian-Jenner family. But amazingly, the relationship between the KarJenners and Ray J may have ended up saving Brandy’s life.
In 2017, TMZ reported that soon after Brandy boarded a commercial flight from Los Angeles, the singer reportedly “took a pill” and passed out before the plane even made it to the runway. While the crew members attempted to aid Brandy, and the plane spun around for emergency help, a doctor stepped in to help. “The physician who came to the rescue was Kim Kardashian’s uncle,” according to the outlet.
Thanks to the quick action from the Kardashian relative, Brandy safely made it to a hospital for treatment. For better or for worse, the Kardashians truly appear to be everywhere in Hollywood.
Brandy revealed her internal struggles
As a superstar, Brandy experienced the highest peaks in the entertainment industry. But few things last forever, which made the fall from the top even more devastating. After multiple incidents, tragedies, and heartbreaks, the singer-actress admittedly fell into a depression. Suddenly, “Brandy found herself deeply despondent,” according to a 2020 People interview. The internal turmoil grew even worse and Brandy recalled “feeling like her pain was insurmountable” at one point. At this lowest moment, the outlet noted, “she contemplated suicide.”
Looking back at her struggle, Brandy said, “I remember laying in bed super depressed.” Then, she recalled thinking about herself, “So, you’re just going to go out like this? That’s wack. You have a daughter. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for her because this is not the way to leave a mark in her life.'” Thanks to Brandy’s bond with her daughter, the star was able to cope with her pain and carry onward. She “credits” her child, Sy’rai, for “pulling her out of the darkness she felt,” People reports.
In her music, Brandy has addressed mental health, releasing a song called “Bye BiPolar.” Despite the title, however, she was never diagnosed with this mental disorder, but explained to the New York Post, “I’ve had moments where trauma has caused me to not be myself, and I felt at a point that I could’ve experienced moments of that.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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