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POP MUSIC

Diversified, and Then Some

You have to move fast to keep up with Brandy, who's at full production with a hit sitcom, a film sequel and a No. 1 record.

June 07, 1998|Marc Weingarten | Marc Weingarten writes about pop music for Calendar

'Ricky, we're No. 1, baby!"

Brandy is psyched.

A little less than an hour ago, while filming a scene on the set of her first feature film, "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," the multimedia phenom learned that her new single, a duet with Monica called "The Boy Is Mine," entered the national pop charts at No. 1.

And now she's letting everyone know about it, from colleagues on the sound stage at Sony Studios in Culver City to any friends she can reach on her cellphone.

Currently, singer-producer Ricky Bell is on the line.

"Ricky, I can't believe it!" the teenager screams into the receiver, while getting her makeup freshened in her trailer between scenes of the sequel to last year's smash horror film, "I Know What You Did Last Summer."

"I'm so excited about this. I'll call you when I get home."

Click.

But Brandy's not done yet. Turning to her longtime makeup artist, she peals off a schoolgirl squeal and does a little victory dance in her chair. "This is, like, so cool!"

Even for someone whose first album (1994's "Brandy") sold 3 million copies and produced three Top 10 singles, the new numbers are impressive--and reassuring.

Though Brandy has gone back into the studio a couple of times over the past three years (to record "Sittin' Up in My Room" and "Missing You" for soundtrack collections), some in the record industry have questioned whether she was sacrificing her pop momentum by not returning to the studio more quickly to record a follow-up album.

That's because she's been in front of either movie or TV cameras, from starring in ABC-TV's successful version of "Cinderella" to her own popular UPN sitcom, "Moesha."

The public reaction to "The Boy Is Mine"--and the 1.5 million advance orders for her new album, "Never Say Never" (see review, Page 78)--should put those industry concerns to rest.

It has also assuaged the youngster's own fears.

"I was scared to sing again, 'cause I went through this phase of thinking people wouldn't accept me as a singer," she says on the set. "I was doing the TV show and it was doing well, so I thought, 'I'll just act and go to school' . . . and that way I wouldn't have to sing again.

"I felt that some fans were starting to degrade me. I remember I did this one concert two years ago and I saw this girl in the audience cursing me and saying all these foul things about me. From that point on, I've been scared to perform."

With the album due in stores Tuesday, Brandy is brimming with confidence again.

"It's always been my dream to make music that everyone can relate to," she says, still on an adrenaline high. "I'm very grateful . . . I don't take any of this for granted . . . I feel like I've just won the lottery."

Brandy's humility is matched only by her ambition: She wants nothing less than the kind of mega-star ubiquity reserved for only a chosen few.

"When I walk into a bookstore, I want to see my picture on the cover of every magazine, like Leonardo DiCaprio," she says while applying mascara to her leonine eyes. "He's, like, everywhere, and I'm not tired of him. I think that would be fun."

That determination is obvious to anyone who spends time around her.

"Brandy has relentless drive and love for what she does," says Atlantic Records Executive Vice President and General Manager Ron Shapiro, who has worked closely with the performer since she was signed to the label in 1994. "More so than just about every other artist I've worked with, she's indefatigable, yet does everything with incredible grace and class. If I did an eighth of what she did, I'd wear myself out."

Ever since Brandy burst upon the scene four years ago, this Mississippi-born and Carson-raised artist has become one of the most wildly popular teen stars of the decade, a pixieish, girl-next-door type whose parent-friendly image has garnered her massive success beyond her core audience of adolescent female wannabes.

Just consider the fact that when she played the title role in "Cinderella"--the TV movie that co-starred her idol Whitney Houston--more than 60 million viewers tuned in. Or that her sitcom "Moesha" is the highest-rated comedy on the UPN network--an estimated 4.3 million weekly viewers.

"I just look at her and see the quality of a star," says Brandy's theatrical agent, Eddie Yablans. "She works very hard, but she comes off as being totally effortless. She's just a natural-born actor. And the best thing about her is she's in it for what makes her feel good. It's been very exciting for me to represent her."

But time has a funny way of turning teen icons into has-beens over night, and no one is more aware of that bitter truth than Brandy. Which is why, with the release of the new album, she's trying to shed some of that doe-eyed innocence of yore with a more sophisticated, mature approach.

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