Brandy. That six letter name carries the best childhood and teenage memories for any Black girl who grew up in the ‘90s. Remember the excitement as you rushed to the television when you heard “Mo-to-the, E-to-the,” or laying across your bed thinking about your crush as the 1995 chart-topping hit “Sittin’ Up in My Room” blasted from your stereo?
You may have even sat through hours of excruciating pain as the girl in your neighborhood or—if you had a few extra dollars—the diaspora-born sisters in the braiding shop gripped your hair and pulled your head in every direction imaginable so that your box braids were perfect just like Brandy’s.
Many of us grew up knowing that being a Black girl was magical before the evolution of hashtags simply by watching Disney’s first Black Cinderella do everything with such style, grace, talent and realness.
Star creator Lee Daniels was also impressed by Brandy after seeing her perform on Broadway. The singer received a call from Daniels on a Tuesday and by Thursday she was on set filming her first scene, which happened to be with two other icons behind the mic and in front of the camera—Queen Latifah and Patti LaBelle.
At the start of season 3, Brandy, who plays Latifah’s onscreen younger sister, Cassie Brown, became a series regular. ESSENCE caught up with the “vocal Bible,” as she’s called by fans, shortly after the Fox hit’s mid-season premiere when she talked about everything from the life-changing advice she received from Queen Latifah and her moments of insecurities to her rumored lace-front wig braids and her next major project.
ESSENCE: Having accomplished so much at a young age, has it been easier or harder to decide what Brandy, the accomplished, experienced, been-there-done-that woman, will take on or turn down?
Brandy: I’m just a little bit more involved now than I’ve been in the past. I try to stay in the moment as much as possible and be thankful for everything that I’ve been able to accomplish. And I think in being thankful, I’m being blessed with other opportunities, more challenging opportunities. Especially when it comes to acting because as a child, I never wanted to be an actress at all. So, the acting doesn’t come as natural as the singing, but I still try. And now, it feels like I’m a new person, a new artist, a new everything because my whole life has changed.
You’ve been blessed to work with so many of our cultural icons. How does it feel that many people now look at you in that same light?
I have, but Whitney [Houston] was it for me. She was the one. She was the possibility of it all. For anyone to look at me that way is so sweet and also weird because I’m me, everyday me. I’m very, very shy, so when people lose their minds seeing me and say stuff like that, I’m still like, ‘Oh my God, thank you.’
So, this season on Star, there’s a lot of drama. There’s also a lot of drama in the music industry. Has anything happened on Star that has mimicked anything that you’ve experienced being in the industry since 1994?
Yes! The whole story is so true, you know? People trying to make it, people trying to own labels, people trying to get the best spots for their artists. In the show, you see the group Take 3 just starting off, but they have personal problems that hold them back. That’s a real issue in the industry. Real artists go through that exact thing. What you see on the show, in many ways, mirrors the industry. It’s very true to how the industry is, but the industry is even worse.
The good part of the industry brought you close to Queen Latifah, who plays your sister on Star. You guys have deep history working together since your career started. What have you learned from Queen Latifah that you always keep with you?
She always tells me…when you do anything, don’t forget to breathe, and that’s huge for me to hear because I’ll find myself not breathing and getting scared because there’s some really tough scenes and I’m working with A-list actors, and I’m like, oh my god, am I doing the right thing? So, I have a lot of different doubts about if I’m doing the right thing. I’m really tough on myself, but I’m not mean to myself.
That’s important for you to say and for all Black women, young and older, to hear that someone like Brandy, who has accomplished so much, still has insecurities. How do you deal with them?
I’m not insecure. I feel insecurities. It’s important for people to know that there’s a difference. So, I separate myself from the insecurity. But I can recognize that something is troubling me. I’m bigger than my insecurities, and I prove that every time I walk on a stage. So, if it doesn’t cripple me then I’m in charge. I’m running it.
I didn’t love myself when I was in myBrandy Norwood
so calledprime. I used to think my life was a gift and a curse…I didn’t find my way until recently at 39 and now 40.
How have you been able to sustain and continue to love Brandy, the person?
I didn’t love myself when I was in my so called prime. I used to think my life was a gift and a curse. But then as the years went by and I went through more crazy things and really on a search for God, I finally found my way. But I didn’t find my way until recently—at 39 and now 40.
So, I’m sure that you’ve heard all the noise about your iconic braids being a lace-front wig, but we haven’t heard from you.
[Hysterically laughs] Oh no, lace-fronts wasn’t even in at that time. That was just all my baby hair pushed forward.
What, if anything, do you have to say the lace-front theoritsts?
Watch what you say. [Laughs]
What’s next for Brandy?
I want to do a musical in film. And not that I didn’t do Cinderella before, but it’s not my story. I want to play myself. If I can’t play myself and tell my own story, how can I play Eartha Kitt. I need to do what I’m about to do because of the higher work that I’m about to do.
Is this in the works?
It’s all in the works. Yeah, it’s inspired by my life and we put songs to it. I did Broadway and I fell in love with it. I want to feel what that’s like again in my own story.