Brandy’s comeback trail begins on reality TV

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

LOS ANGELES — It’s only after performing a small set of hits in front of a packed house at West Hollywood’s
Key Club that Brandy appears nervous. Standing in front of the crowd,
R&B singer Tank, who played host for the headlining gig, proclaims
Brandy as the “best female R&B singer in the game.”

A bold proclamation given that her last album,
“Human,” was in 2008. Although the release — her debut on Epic after
leaving longtime home Atlantic — garnered mostly positive reviews, it
opened at No. 15 on the U.S. Billboard 200 after logging fewer than
100,000 copies, becoming the singer’s lowest-charting opening since her
debut nearly 16 years ago.

Her nervousness may be warranted: The current crop of female R&B singers, including Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna and Alicia Keys, doesn’t seem likely to step aside any time soon. So, it’s no surprise that at a time when even seasoned veterans such as Mariah Carey and Toni Braxton struggle to push album sales, Brandy just “wants to win.”

And she might be on the path to victory. The 31-year-old singer recently reintroduced herself to fans with a new VH1
reality show, “Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business,” where along with
reality star brother Ray J and their parents, the family offers viewers
a first-hand glimpse into their home life as the siblings try to
jump-start their singing careers.

As an added bonus, “The Boy Is Mine,”
Brandy’s Grammy-winning duet with another R&B veteran, Monica,
recently got the “Glee” treatment when the song was featured on an
episode and live tour of the hit show.

The singer admitted that she was apprehensive about
jumping on the reality show train with “Brandy and Ray J,” which she
co-executive produces (though she made appearances on both seasons of
her brother’s “For the Love of Ray J” and even chronicled her pregnancy
in MTV’s “Brandy: Special Delivery”). VH1 has
become a destination for more mature reality shows featuring musicians,
including Fantasia, Pepa (from Salt-N-Pepa), Chilli from TLC and Jessica Simpson.

“I was very hesitant. (People) can tell if you’re
‘putting on’ or if you are being very real or fake. This show was more
polished,” she said.

In the show, which airs its season finale on June 27,
Brandy deals head-on with some of the issues that have plagued her
career — including a 2006 car accident that left a woman dead and
Brandy facing multiple lawsuits.

There was also the aforementioned commercial failure
of “Human.” On the show, it appears she placed the blame on frequent
collaborator Rodney Jerkins. But she is quick to correct that.

“It was lacking my belief in it. It lacked my
vision. Pretty much bottom line, if you don’t believe in something it’s
not going to go,” she said. “Do I believe that ‘Human’ was as creative
as ‘Never Say Never’ and ‘Full Moon’ (previous albums largely produced
by Jerkins)? No, I do not.”

She’s not afraid to discuss industry politics, either. Fans of the singer cried foul when Jennifer Lopez released “Louboutins,” the first single from her forthcoming album, a
song originally meant for Brandy. The song was given to Lopez after
Brandy parted ways with Epic.

“There are things that happen that I don’t even know
about. But a lot of things are political. That’s why it’s so important
for me to find the right home for my music and surround myself with
people who understand that. I haven’t found that place. I have a few
deals on the table, and I’m leaning toward one,” Brandy said.

With Season 2 of the reality show officially
confirmed, Brandy hopes to show the process of recording and prepping
her next album, and as evidenced by Monica’s recent No. 2 debut on the
Billboard 200 charts (impressive given that her last album was in
2006), no doubt a major thanks to her own hit BET show, Brandy is hoping for success. But she realizes that it will take more than having cameras following her around.

“At this stage in my career … I want to go all
around the world and share my music with everybody but I can’t do that
without the right team. I think at this point, where the music industry
is, you get afraid to spend more money (on promotion),” she said. “I
just feel like for me, I just really wanted to win. I still want to
win, but that’s just not the way the universe works sometime.”

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