Brandy Rayana Norwood (born February 11, 1979), known professionally as Brandy or Bran'Nu, is an American recording artist and actress. Born into a musical family in McComb, Mississippi and raised in Carson, California, Norwood enrolled in performing arts schools and was first exposed to singing competitions as a child. She first appeared in a supporting role on the short-lived ABC sitcom Thea in 1993. She went on to star in the successful UPN sitcom Moesha in 1996, which lasted for six seasons and resulted in roles in the 1998 horror sequel I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, the TV films Cinderella (1997) and Double Platinum (1999), and recurring roles on series such as Drop Dead Diva and The Game.
In 1993, she signed a recording contract with Atlantic Records, releasing her self-titled debut album a year after, which was a commercial success with two number one singles on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart—"I Wanna Be Down", and "Baby". She went on to release the widely successful single, "The Boy Is Mine", a duet with singer Monica, and her multi-platinum second album Never Say Never in 1998. Norwood garnered critical acclaim with subsequent albums Full Moon (2002), Afrodisiac (2004), Human (2008), and Two Eleven (2012), though experiencing career and commercial turbulence throughout the 2000s. Within pop music, she has become known for her distinctive sound, characterised by her peculiar timbre, voice-layering, throaty riffs, and beat-driven R&B. She has since been signed to both Epic Records and RCA Records, where she has acquired a catalogue of hits, with singles such as "What About Us?", "Full Moon", and "Put It Down" being her most successful.
Apart from her work in music, Norwood is widely known for her reality series Brandy: Special Delivery (2002) and Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business, co–starring her younger brother Ray J, as well as her roles a judge on the premiere season of America's Got Talent and a contestant on the eleventh season of Dancing with the Stars. She has sold over 8.62 million copies of her first five studio albums in the United States, and over 30 million records worldwide.
Themes and genres
Norwood, stylistically, has evolved since her 1994 start in music, at the age of 15. With her mother as her manager and stylist, she developed a “good girl” image and a “hip-yet-wholesome” appeal. At the start of her career, she often cited Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey, as her biggest musical inspirations, with Houston being her most prominent and personal influence. Her current vocal influences are Sade, Kim Burrell, Enya, and her father Willie Norwood.
Norwood’s initial sound was contemporary R&B, heavily rooted in gospel and soul music. Her lyrics described various types of love, from casual and friendly love, to romantic and spiritual affairs. Influenced by Houston and Carey, she incorporated a ballad-heavy style and an adult contemporary feel into her urban-pop sound, for her second studio album, Never Say Never. Her third studio album, Full Moon, saw Norwood abandon her teenage appeal for a more adult and sensual edginess. Along with her image, her voice had gone through a major change, losing the "girly-rasp" that she once had, for a now deeper and warmer voice, that had acquired a scratchy, evocative edge. The music also reflected the change, as songs like "When You Touch Me" and "Like This" explored more adult, sexual topics, and a sound that blended her previous urban-pop sound with heavy influences of UK garage, funktronica, and progressively futuristic tones. In 2004, her recent motherhood, life experiences, and growing affinity toward English rock band Coldplay, caused her to shift toward a more matured outlook and raw nature with her fourth studio album Afrodisiac, a venture into the organic sounds of soul blues, ambient music, and the nostalgic street-wise sound of 1990s hip-hop. A four year hiatus, and a few life-changing occurrences caused Norwood to return to the music scene, in late 2008, with Human, her fifth studio album, which lyrically discussed topics of spiritual love, genuine heartache, and universal honesty, and musically explored combining her urban pop sound with elements of country and inspirational pop. Experiencing a career and personal rejuvenation, Norwood was eager to scale back on her previous pop venture, and return to her authentic R&B sound on sixth studio album Two Eleven. The album was an embrace of both Norwood's now-classic urban pop template and the bass heavy trends of post-2000's contemporary hip-hop.
Voice and timbre
Norwood possesses a deep contralto vocal range that has often been described as soft, raspy, and husky by music critics and Norwood herself. Music critic and Slant Magazine writer Andrew Chan describes Norwood's vocal tone as having "an unusual mix of warmth and cold, hard edges." He further goes on to describe her vocal abilities, saying "Like little else in pop music singing, Brandy's subtle manipulation of timbre and texture rewards close listening [...] her main claim of technical virtuosity has always been her long, cascading riffs, a skill many R&B die-hards revere her for." Norwood is also noted for her use of multi-track recording toward creating intricate vocal arrangements and layering. Terry Sawyer of Pop Matters Online writes on this skill, commenting "While it's been said that Brandy's voice isn't exactly a barn burner, it's not mentioned enough that she does more than enough with what she's got. She never leaves her voice hanging in spotlit scarcity, folding it variegated terracing, whispering out the lead track, shouting in the back-up, and piling each song with enough interlocking sounds to create the tightly packed illusion of vocal massiveness."
Since her 1994 debut album, Brandy has won over 100 awards as a recording artist. In 1999, Billboard ranked Norwood among the top 20 of the Top Pop Artists of the 1990s. In 2010, Billboard included Norwood in their Top 50 R&B and Hip Hop Artists list of the past 25 years.
Norwood's vocal stylings have had a significant impact on the music industry, most notably with Contemporary R&B, pop and gospel genres, where she is often subjectively referred to as the "Vocal Bible". Many of Norwood’s peers also cite her as their single most favourite singer and vocal inspiration. Barbadian singer Rihanna revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that her 2007 album, Good Girl Gone Bad, was primarily influenced by Norwood. In the interview she stated, “[Brandy] really helped inspire that album, I listened to [Afrodisiac] everyday [while in the studio]. Eight-time-Grammy-nominée Jazmine Sullivan named her among Stevie Wonder, Kim Burrell and herself as one of the four greatest artists of all time. Canadian songstress Melanie Fiona lauded her as a vocal inspiration and influence and hails her as the "Queen of Harmonies" and mentioned that only Prince and her would make her starstruck. Kelly Rowland cited Brandy, who also wrote and produced for Rowland's debut album, as one of the inspirations for her second studio album Ms. Kelly (2007). Rock musician John Frusciante, former guitarist of legendary rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers praises Norwood, calling her voice “multi-dimensional” and “inspiring”. In describing her voice and signature sound he said, “You can't hear [the elaborate harmonies] with your conscious: you have to hear her voice with your subconscious.” He also mentioned that Norwood was the “main inspiration” behind the guitar work on the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s 2006 album, Stadium Arcadium. Rapper and producer Kanye West mentioned that Brandy has a "classic voice". Roc Nation artist Bridget Kelly named Norwood, next to pop and R&B singers Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, as her biggest musical inspiration.
However, on many occasions, Norwood has been thought of as merely a talented muse, that music producers and songwriters have used to exercise their own artistic and creative energies.
List of television credits
||Rhythm & Jam
||"Kiss of the Spider Man" (Season 3, Episode 24)
||New York Undercover
||"Digital Underground" (Season 2, Episode 5)
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Performance in a Youth/Children's Series or Special
Nominated—NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001)
Also producer (22 episodes)
||"A Tale of Two Tails/Hair Ball" (Season 2, Episode 6)
||"Scary Kim" (Season 2, Episode 7)
||Maybe It's Me
||"The Quahog Festival Episode" (Season 1, Episode 20)
||"Long Shots and Short Skirts" (Season 3, Episode 1)
||"DNR" (Season 1, Episode 9)
||One on One
||Season 5; 4 episodes
"Tijuana Break Up?" (Season 5, Episode 15)
"Dump Me? Dump You!" (Season 5, Episode 16)
"I Love L.A.: Part 1" (Season 5, Episode 21)
"I Love L.A.: Part 2" (Season 5, Episode 22)
||"I Want You to Be with Me" (Season 4, Episode 12)
||"Party Politics" (Season 4, Episode 5)
"Benefit of the Doubt" (Season 4, Episode 6)
"It's the Great Masquerade, Naomi Clark" (Season 4, Episode 7)
"Vegas, Maybe?" (Season 4, Episode 8)
"A Thousand Words" (Season 4, Episode 9)
||Drop Dead Diva
||Recurring (Season 3—present);
"Ah, Men" (Season 3, Episode 11)
"Bride-a-Palooza" (Season 3, Episode 12)
"Change of Heart" (Season 3, Episode 13)
"Winning Ugly" (Season 4, Episode 4)
"Rigged" (Season 4, Episode 6)
||Recurring (Season 5); 12 episodes
Series Regular (Season 6– )
||The Rickey Smiley Show
||Recurring (Season 2)