The following article includes mentions of suicidal ideation.
Hailed as the Vocal Bible due to her rich, honey-layered tones, Brandy was undoubtedly one of the coolest teen stars of the ’90s. Before she’d turned 20, she’d bagged her own sitcom, scored a bunch of US Top 10 hits — including the bona fide classic “The Boy Is Mine” — and inspired a generation of singers with her laid-back blend of New Jack Swing, soulful ballads and cutting-edge R&B.
Monica’s one-time sparring-partner remained a fixture on the singles chart well into the ’00s, too, while also guesting on numerous hip-hop records, judging the biggest talent contest in America and becoming one of the first major names to embrace the world of reality TV.
But due to a combination of personal issues, rotten luck and the law of diminishing returns, Ms. Norwood isn’t as visible as she once was. Here’s a look at why the Moesha star hasn’t been on top of the world for a long time.
There was a legal battle between Brandy and her label
Brandy took some time following up her 2012’s Two Eleven — a full eight years to be exact. But this wasn’t because the Grammy Award winner simply fancied some extended downtime. In fact, the star was so desperate to release new music that she took her record label to court.
As the AP reported in 2016 (via Rolling Stone), the “Almost Doesn’t Count” singer sued Chameleon Entertainment Group after claiming that they had prevented her from recording any material at all since her last LP. According to legal documents, the joint deal she inked with the company and RCA in 2011 was intended to produce up to four LPs. But Brandy alleged that Chameleon was essentially holding her to ransom to force her hand in signing a new contract.
After the lawsuit was thrown out of court due to one particular clause, Billboard reported an undeterred Brandy filed another one several months later, demanding $270,000 in compensation and a “court declaration that she is contractually freed from Chameleon.” The vocalist told Billboard, “I’m as free as a bird in my mind. But on paper, it looks like I’m a slave. And I’m not a slave. The kind of deal I’m signed to should be criminal to any artist.” According to blog the Jasmine BRAND, both parties reached a settlement in 2017.
Brandy has had health issues
In 2017, Brandy suffered a health scare when she fell ill on board a Delta plane due to leave Los Angeles’ LAX for New York City’s JFK. The “Full Moon” singer was subsequently taken to hospital before being allowed to go home several hours later.
TMZ reported that the multiple chart-topper lost consciousness shortly after the aircraft pulled out of its gate but regained it on the jetway while being treated by paramedics. Brother Ray J later reassured fans that the star was doing fine in an interview with the same gossip site. Brandy’s management team also explained on Twitter that the star’s busy tour itinerary was to blame.
“In recent days she has taken more than 10 long haul flights including internationally,” the statement read. “She was in the studio all night last night until it was time for her to leave for the airport to catch a 5:45 am flight. The stress of all of the traveling and working so incessantly has exhausted her. She will be relaxing for the next few days.”
Brandy's sitcom was canceled
From Reba and Raising Dad to One on One and The Soul Man, Brandy had appeared on numerous comedies since Moesha wrapped up after five seasons in 2001. She’d even picked up an NAACP Image Award for the recurring role of Chardonnay Pitts in The Game. But it wasn’t until 2016 that the star got the chance to front her very own sitcom again.
BET’s Zoe Ever After saw Brandy play the titular character, a single mother who in the wake of splitting from her boxer husband decides to pursue her dreams of launching a cosmetics firm. When asked by Variety why she’d chosen to return to the multi-camera sitcom format, the star admitted she wanted to enjoy the same kind of experience she had while filming Moesha.
Unfortunately for Brandy, Zoe Ever After had a much shorter shelf life than her classic ’90s sitcom. In fact, the show — which also featured guest appearances from several other double threats such as Tatyana Ali and Jordan Sparks — was taken off air after just eight episodes. And Ms. Norwood hasn’t appeared in a comedy since.
Putting out new music wasn't easy for Brandy
After reportedly settling with the label who’d prevented her from releasing any new music, Brandy then found another obstacle in the way: herself. In a 2020 interview with HelloGiggles to promote her long-awaited seventh studio effort, the imaginatively-titled B7, the singer admitted that she’d been hesitant to get back on the scene.
“I went through a lot of mental challenges with having to put out music after eight years, because you start to doubt, you start to question things … It took a lot of journaling, a lot of talking to my family, a lot of talking to who I talk to that’s higher than me, to get me in my right place.”
The I Still Know What You Did Last Summer star ultimately took the plunge after discovering the encouraging “true voice” that told her, “If you put 100% into your music, then you better get out there and share it, because there are people out here that love you, that are waiting for your music, that have been riding with you for such a long time.” Released independently through her very own Brand Nu, Inc. company, B7 ended up approximately selling a respectable 25,000 copies in its first week to peak at No.12 on the Billboard 200, but this was nine places lower than her previous effort, Two Eleven.
Brandy has suffered from depression
Record company problems and worries about her place in the industry weren’t the only reasons why Brandy took nearly a full decade to follow-up her Two Eleven LP. The “Sittin’ Up In My Room” singer told People magazine in 2020 that she’d also struggled with depression in the intervening years.
“I was a little bit lost eight years ago musically, creatively, spiritually … I had to pull myself together, I had to pull it all together and make it all make sense,” the Cinderella star said. She also revealed that she’d thought about suicide at her lowest points: “I remember laying in bed super depressed. I [told] myself, ‘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.'”
Brandy also drew upon these experiences on her long-awaited comeback album B7, although she was initially unsure about whether to do so. “I was thinking, ‘Did I go too deep? Did I go too far in what I was singing about?’ But I didn’t dwell on those thoughts,” she shared with People. Thankfully, the Grammy winner now believes that she’s “moving in the right direction.”
The plug on one of Brandy's high-profile concerts was pulled at the last minute
Brandy disappointed thousands of fans in 2019 when she canceled a special orchestral concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. just hours before she was due to take to the stage. And there’s still confusion over why the “Let’s Talk About Our Love” singer pulled out at the last minute.
According to the Daily Mail, Brandy told fans on Instagram that she’d been forced to call things off due to several medical issues, with doctors apparently diagnosing her with everything from acute laryngitis to bilateral severe vocal cord edema. The Grammy winner claimed that she’d been advised to give her voice total rest for seven days and to refrain from any live performances.
That’s now how the show’s organizers saw things, though. One anonymous source claimed to the Daily Mail Brandy got cold feet about singing live and spat her dummy out when she learned that she wouldn’t be allowed to lip sync. They insider alleged, “We were told it was a combination of stage fright and her being a perfectionist. Whatever her phobias, you just don’t lip sync in front of an orchestra and she wanted to.” An executive from the Kennedy Center also allegedly confirmed to the outlet even Brandy’s own team recognized that lip-syncing at such an occasion was a major no-no.
Brandy won't 'ever get over' being involved in a fatal car crash
In 2006, Brandy was in a collision on Los Angeles’ 405 Freeway in which 38-year-old mom of two Awatef Aboudihaj died. As Reuters reported, an investigation by city prosecutors couldn’t find enough evidence to bring manslaughter charges against the singer. But it’s a tragedy that has continued to haunt her ever since.
During her 2014 Oprah: Where Are They Now? interview, Brandy admitted, “Being involved in something that tragic … I couldn’t believe it. I don’t like to think about it because I don’t think that’s something I could ever get over or ever truly understand, but that was one of the worst times in my life.”
When asked how she dealt with the incident, which undoubtedly damaged the star’s reputation, too, at the time, Brandy revealed that her faith was a great source of comfort. “I realized that God is real,” she said. “Because I had no one else to turn to. I had no one else to depend on. So I did a lot of speaking to God. A lot of praying and a lot of journaling. A lot of Gospel music.”
Being a mom is a big part of Brandy's life
Of course, Brandy has one particularly important commitment outside work. As documented in MTV reality show Special Delivery, the singer gave birth to daughter Sy’rai Imran Smith in 2002. But within two years she’d become a single mom when she broke up with her baby daddy Robert “Big Bert” Smith.
The “I Wanna Be Down” singer told People magazine in 2020 that her only child was instrumental in helping her recover from the depression that she’d suffered with for years: “If Sy’rai wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be either. The place that I was in, it just felt like I wasn’t going to make it through.”
And the double threat couldn’t be prouder of how Sy’rai, who’s now graduated high school, has turned out. During an appearance on The Wendy Williams Show later that year, Brandy remarked, “It’s unbelievable. The time goes by so fast. She’s just a beautiful, solid young lady. I really trust her with her life, and I feel like she’s on the right path.” The star also revealed that she has no plans to give Sy’rai a younger sibling. “She’s all I have, and I feel like she’s the only child that I’m going to have,” Brandy shared. “It’s me and her for life.”
The artists inspired by Brandy have found great success
Brandy’s influence on the R&B scene certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2016, the star was crowned the Lady of Soul at the Soul Train Awards, while at the BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards three years later, she was given the prestigious President’s Award. Ms. Norwood has also been cited as a major inspiration by pretty much every name to have emerged in the genre over the past 20 years.
Solange has been particularly effusive about the Mississippi native’s talents. As reported by HuffPost in 2013, the younger Knowles sister leapt to Brandy’s defense on Twitter in response to critics of her Two Eleven album. And then three years later, she told FADER she found the lack of respect toward Brandy “mindblowing.” In a 2017 Billboard interview, Jhené Aiko listed Brandy as one of her top inspirations, calling her voice “perfect,” and Jazmine Sullivan told True Exclusives that the “Have You Ever” singer is “the top influence to all R&B female artists.” And, as Rolling Stone noted, Frank Ocean penned several songs for Brandy including “1st and Love” and “Scared and Beautiful.”
Of course, as is the cycle of pop, several of the artists who grew up listening to Brandy have now gone on to leapfrog her in the charts. Both Solange and Ocean have achieved something their idol never did: reach the top of the Billboard 200.
A co-star said Brandy was disrespectful
Could Brandy really be something of a secret diva? Well, according to one of the co-stars on her very first TV show, she certainly behaved like one as a teen. In 2020, Thea Vidale, who played the leading lady in the ABC sitcom named in her honor, claimed that her on-screen daughter wasn’t the girl-next-door she was made out to be.
According to theGrio, the drama started when Vidale revealed on Twitter that she’d be supporting Monica in the R&B singer’s Verzuz song battle with her “The Boy Is Mine” duet partner. When questioned why she wasn’t rooting for the woman she once worked with, the comic answered, “I’m tired of people coming at me sideways about Brandy. I never said she wasn’t talented. I do and will always fundamentally disagree with her and her mama’s disrespect while we worked together on my sitcom. And I stand by that s***!!”
During an appearance on radio show The Morning Hustle, Brandy argued that Vidale’s comments were born out of jealousy. “I think, you know, maybe she’s just a little bit bitter because I haven’t seen her do a lot since then,” the singer said. “So I think it was a way to get attention. And I just honestly believe that. She needs a little love right now.” Clearly, she went all in when responding to Vidale’s remarks. One might go so far as to say an almost comeback wouldn’t count.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
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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