Concert: Brandy, Civic Theatre

Brandy, multimedia star of the 90s, is making a major comeback, discovers Cameron Adams.
Brandy.
Brandy.

Welcome to the rebirth of Brandy, the musician.

The US singer, now 37, was one of the 90s most popular multimedia stars.

She was only 15 in 1994, when she released her debut album, scoring the hits Baby and I Wanna Be Down. Two years later she had the starring role on iconic TV sitcom Moesha, leading to more acting work, including a reimagining of Cinderella with Whitney Houston and a string of films.

Musically, her 1998 duet with Monica, The Boy Is Mine, became a global hit and was followed by Top Of the World, Full Moon, Have You Ever?, What About Us? and Talk About Our Love, with a young Kanye West producing. She scored a hit with the Phil Collins cover Another Day in Paradise in 2001, a duet with her brother Ray J - best known at the time for being in an independent film with the unknown Kim Kardashian, but also a singer, reality TV star and Whitney Houston's ex.

Despite working with everyone from Frank Ocean to Bruno Mars, by 2008 Brandy's music career was flagging - even she recognised that writer/producer Rodney Jerkins wasn't giving her his best work on the Human album. The 2012 follow up, Two Eleven, fared even worse. She even dabbled with rapping as Bran'Nu on Timbaland's Shock Value 2 album.

Brandy kept busy - judging on America's Got Talent with David Hasselhoff, starring in a reality show with Ray J, competing on Dancing With the Stars and more acting work in both films (I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, Temptation - Confessions of a Marriage Counselor) and TV shows including Drop Dead Diva, 90210, The Game and this year's Zoe Ever After.
There was also an incident Brandy declines to discuss - a 2006 car accident where her vehicle hit one driven by Awatef Aboudihaj, who was killed.

The victim's family filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, which was settled out of court.

Brandy has been open about her battle with depression, following turmoil in her professional and personal life and a string of setbacks and missed opportunities.

She has adamitted renewing her faith in God and focusing on daughter Sy'rai, who is about to turn 14 and whose singing is regularly featured on her mother's social media.

"People would never guess the dark space that I was in about a year ago, and how long I was sad and depressed. It showed in my physical frame and in my eyes," Brandy said in 2014.


As part of getting her career and life back on track last year Brandy made her Broadway debut in Chicago, playing Roxie Hart. She and Ray J will appear in the new US celebrity version of My Kitchen Rules. And, after some disillusionment with the record industry, and the end of some public relationships, she is making a serious return to music this year.

New single Beggin' and Pleadin' was released on her own label, Slayana.

"One of my fans gave me the name 'Slayana'," Brandy says. "People always say 'Oh she slayed' when someone does a good performance. My middle name is Rayana, so they just added the 'Slay' in. With this new movement of me fighting for my voice and my stance within my life, I'm not really taking anything other than what I deserve.

"I know my value as a person, now, as an artist and I'm owning that. I want to be okay with my gift. I'm not afraid to say no, not afraid to own what belongs to me and what God has given me and share that with others and inspire others. That's a blessing.

"I just don't want to ever forget that's a part of who I am. There have been times I have forgotten my values and my worth. It's a different feeling being in this space."

Beggin' and Pleadin' is far from a guaranteed radio hit in 2016 - mixing a vintage John Lee Hooker sample with modern trap beats - a risk Brandy says is deliberate.

"I'm not a great follower," she says. "I was always inspired by the music I should do, when I lost that I started to lose my way as an artist. I wanted to get back into that leadership position within my own life.

"Sonically I feel like Beggin' and Pleadin' can tell the story I'm trying to tell going forward. It's blues, with trap beats, and just real music. Real music and speaking to that time when people were not afraid to just follow their gut. That's what I'm following right now."

That also means Brandy has no desire to return to a major record, after becoming a victim of politics that saw albums shelved, interfered with or under-promoted.

"I'm all by myself and I like it that way," she says. "With major labels, excuse me if this sounds shady, but they're all shadow artists. They all really want to be the artist, they all tell you exactly what they think you should do. Some people have great intentions, some people don't.

"Unfortunately I've been in contact with people who've had the best intentions for themselves, but not for me, so I had to distance myself from people like that and get some balls and move forward and do what I'm led to do.

"What's leading me is something that's bigger than me so I've gotta follow that.

"The great thing about social media is you can connect right to your foundation of fans, let them know music is on the way. Stay up, I might drop something at midnight. You can be your own publicist, your own label. I'm glad I've finally got that.

"It's been an expensive lesson I had to pay, but I got it."

Brandy promises fans can expect her most honest lyrics to date on her next album, touching on her depression and also her comeback.

"My last experience is one of the greatest stories I have to tell, it was one of the craziest transitions of my life - coming into my own as woman, fighting depression, coming out of depression into this Broadway girl who realised I was born for theatre and moved to a whole new space where I feel like I can do anything if I put my mind to it. I'm no longer in a box.

"That's a story that needs to be told and told in the rawest sense.

"So many people can relate. Even if they can relate in terms of where I am in the end, hopefully some people in the middle can think 'OK, if she can survive it, I can survive my own stuff'.

" I just want to be an example. I want to be the face of triumph."

This month she'll perform what will be, remarkably, her first ever Australian live shows, with a full live band.

"I haven't been with my band in a minute, this is a fresh new experience," she says.

"Of course I'll do all the hits, do the fan favourites, some special tributes. I always do something for Whitney, she was my all time favourite and she was my friend. I might do some Chicago songs.

"I get to bring my daughter too, which is a blessing.

"Just know I'm going to bring my A-game out there.

"My fans out there have been very patient supporting me. I'll bring it, believe me."

Lowdown

Who: Brandy

Where: Civic Theatre, Auckland

When: Wednesday, June 15

Tickets: Priced from $79 - $129 from Ticketmaster.

- NZ Herald

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