In 2015, Brandy starred in Chicago on Broadway, launched a new BET sitcom, and got back to recording new music. (Plus, she's on the Ty Dolla $ign album, singing on "L.A.," where she's featured alongside James Fauntleroy and Kendrick Lamar.) Brandy's new year, new me resolutions are, presumably, in good shape as she follows the series premiere of her new show, Zoe Ever After, with the promise of a new solo album.
While Brandy is still feeling out her potential collaborators, she's confident in challenging herself to work with new sounds, and with renewed honesty and vigor. You can hear it in her latest single, "Beggin & Pleadin," which Brandy released last week. A few days after she put out the song, we met up with Brandy to discuss her new musical direction, the wonders of her workload, and the perils of singing honestly about love.
Interview by Justin Charity (@brothernumpsa)
You've recently been juggling several professional commitments. What are you up to now?
I did Chicago for most of the summer. I stopped Chicago in August, and then I went to do my new television show, Zoe Ever After, in September. I did that for a couple months, had a little bit of time off, then came back with the show—and now, the song. For me, the song is the single. My first single back into the music scene. I’m so proud.
Do you already have a full project that you’re rolling out?
I’m working on it. This definitely was a kickoff to the new music. The song is just so different. It’s so passionate and edgy.
Who produced it?
Oak & Pop, Flippa, and a guy named Steve. Just really incredible producers. They were open-minded about the direction that I wanted to go in. Kirby Lauren is a great writer. She helped to tell the story that I was trying to tell on the song.
What sounds, and which other producers, are you gravitating toward?
I’m just tired of things sounding the same, trying to recreate songs that I’ve already done. I wanted to try something different and challenge myself vocally. Do something to really reflect my true emotions.
What are you feeling?
I feel awesome. I feel like my life is restarted. I was feeling like it was not happening, and I wasn’t really happy with my life. Now I feel like I have a lot of purpose, and I have so much more work to do. I’m just excited, and I’m pushing forward. This record represents so much freedom and liberation for me. I feel really blessed right now.
What was your interest in auditioning for Chicago?
I’ve always loved the play. I saw Usher in Chicago, and I loved the movie.
Six months before Chicago, I was in a very depressed place. I was heartbroken. I wasn’t feeling good about my life. Through time and meditation and working on my self, I told myself that I was getting ready for something big. Mentally, physically, spiritually. Going to the gym, eating better. Just taking better care of my life. I didn’t know what I was getting ready for, but I just kept affirming that. So when I got the call for Chicago, I thought, this is going to be the one project that takes me to another level as an artist.
That’s a live show. Every night, you have to be on point. You have to have a discipline to be phenomenal for every audience that comes to support you. I thought, this is something that I have to do for the experience, just to see if I’d be good at it. I did it, and it changed my life. Completely. That then inspired me to want to do a television show and new music. Just everything I want to do. What else am I gonna do? What am I gonna show my daughter? What kind of example do I set for her in terms of going after your dreams if I sit around and do nothing?
When did you see Usher in Chicago?
Ten years ago. He played Billy Flynn. He was amazing. He inspired me to want to do it, he did such a fantastic job.
What’s your favorite scene?
I love the beginning, "All That Jazz," with Velma and all of the company. That number is amazing. For Roxie, I love the Roxie monologue into the "Roxie" song with all of the guys. That’s one of my favorite moments.
Are you big into musicals otherwise?
I haven’t seen a whole bunch. I just saw the Color Purple, and I thought that was brilliant. I was crying every other five minutes. I was so moved by Cynthia Erivo and Jennifer Hudson.
I feel bad that I've never seen Jennifer Hudson live.
What’s wrong with you? Buy you a ticket for tonight.
Have you seen Hamilton yet?
I tried, but it’s booked up for like a year.
We’ll never get to see Hamilton.
We will, just later. Probably.
Broadway aside, what new stuff are you listening to now that you're making new music of you're own?
I'm bad with that. I don't really know what's out there right now. The things that I’ve heard all sound the same. Adele is out of the box, and her stuff connects, and her voice is powerful. Stuff like that stands out to me.
You talked about being unhappy, and about breaking through unhappiness. Fans often romanticize sadness and depression as a wellspring for great music. Do you buy that at all? Do you relate?
It depends on your track record. If that’s something that people have seen happen, and it’s a pattern, then you can see why people say that. But Pharrell was in a happy place when he made “Happy,” and that went to the stratosphere.
When I’m honest in my music—when I’m completely honest in recording a song—it has always registered. For me, it’s when I wasn’t really connected to the songs or wasn’t really sure about what I was saying, or when I really didn’t like the song but did it anyway, is when I disconnected.
What’s your most honest song? One where, if we went back and listened to it right now, here at this table, you’d sit back and tell me, "Whew, boy, I was going through it!"
There’s a lot of those. Right now, I’d say it’s the new one, "Beggin & Pleadin." That song moves me. It’s honest, and I’m singing like it’s the last song I’m ever gonna sing. That’s how it sounds when I play it back.
How hard is it to be honest with yourself when you’re writing songs about love?
I don’t think it’s hard to be honest. I think it’s just hard to be a type of honest. It’s hard to tell the whole truth. You know? You’re telling the truth, but not the entire truth. It’s hard to break through and just say everything. I think that’s what’s hard.
You want to keep something for the vault. That’s where you start to question whether you want people in your business like that. You don’t want to be judged. You don’t want to care about what people think. You don’t want to get human. But, once you get over that, you just tell the truth.
If you gave me studio equipment and told me to sing about my exes, I would lie. All my exes would be wrong.
Music is therapeutic. You have to be honest. You are the artist, and that’s the way you get through stuff. For me, the highest expression is to sing what I’m going through. You know other people are also going through it, so it’s relatable in a way that the person who hears you doesn’t feel alone. And then you (the singer) don’t feel alone.
Have you heard my song?
What did you think?
I like Two Eleven, and "Beggin & Pleadin" is very different from that. There’s a lot going on with that beat. It was hard for me to take that, as the single, and imagine what an album built around that might sound like. I kept thinking about it, though, and the song held my imagination for a moment.
That’s a good thing for me.
I had that experience recently with Mike WiLL Made-It, who made a song for Young Thug called “Pacifier.” I like to think of it as a Maroon 5 single with trap booms.
So it’s hard for you to accept change.
But six months later...
—you love it. So I’ve got a chance. I’ll give you three weeks.