We’re living in uncertain times — again. Is it just me, or are we here a lot? Considering how much uncertainty we deal with — whether it’s cultural upheaval or a public health crisis — we should be getting more comfortable with it by now. But that’s just not the reality.
Anything that can soothe my mind these days is welcome. Lately, I’ve been turning to some good old-fashioned pampering. Drawing a hot bath, throwing on some good music, and blocking everything else out has been a soul elixir for me.
To keep it fresh, I’ve come up with my own little musical ritual: Every day, I either listen to a new album I haven’t heard before or I return to one from my past. I recently revisited the “Waiting to Exhale” soundtrack to mark its 25th anniversary. After bopping to the timeless Brandy track “Sittin’ up in My Room,” I realized that I had never truly explored the effervescent joy that is Brandy’s music.
I knew her top songs but was unfamiliar with most of her discography, especially her ’90s albums “Brandy” and “Never Say Never.” How dare I call myself a fan all this time without truly knowing her deep cuts? The shame! So, I started at the beginning. I went online and found her debut album, “Brandy” (the one with the cover photo of her sitting with her legs crossed, wearing an all-white ensemble), and dived into her world.
When I hit “play” on the first track, “Movin’ On,” I immediately felt a rush of sweet, warm, and cozy nostalgia wash over me, even though I’d never even heard the song before.
I let the next track play. And then the one after that. And the one after that. I rode an unabashedly joyful collection of love songs, from stunning ballads like “Brokenhearted” to mid-tempo jams like “I Wanna Be Down,” with more runs than you can possibly count.
The album is essentially broken up into three sections, with interludes entitled “I Dedicate.” On each interlude, she sings of her inspirations, looking back at the music that raised her while facing the looming unknown of adulthood.
I sat there, experiencing Brandy’s crushes, best friends, and sunny days over stripped-down beats and heavenly layered harmonies. From start to finish, the album just made me feel good listening to those classic Brandy vocals.
I was born in 1995. As was the case for many people my age, one of my first introductions to Brandy was the classic 1997 Cinderella film adaptation, in which she starred alongside the late, great Whitney Houston. To the 2-year-old me, Brandy was an actor who occasionally sang. Of course, I missed her early ’90s stardom and the joy she brought to the culture. Now, as I reintroduce myself to her through her early music, it serves as a time capsule, taking me back to my teen years.
We need teen stars — and, more specifically, Black teen stars — for this reason precisely: to remind us of the purity and simplicity of life when everything feels chaotic. Take the latest album by Chloe x Halle, “Ungodly Hour.” Although they’re not teens anymore, their perspective feels fresh and pure.
Their themes are similar to those on “Brandy”: young crushes, parties, and broken hearts — things we can all relate to, no matter what age. And the focus? Still on the joy and the feel-good vocals, connecting us to these rising stars in an immediate way. It’s no wonder Halle will soon follow in Brandy’s footsteps by playing another iconic Disney princess, Ariel.
In a time that can make me feel nervous about who I come in contact with or overwhelmed by the constant attacks on Blackness, giving myself time to revel in the beauty of Brandy’s music has lifted me up. As I listen to that young Black teen sing her face off, it’s as if we’re simply sittin’ up in her room, gushing over those pure and simple things: boys, parties, and our teenage dreams.
It’s comforting to think that, right now, there could be others who are returning to or discovering for the first time their own Brandys who inspire hope, joy, and healing nostalgia. Brandy was and always will be our R&B princess.
Jared Alexander is a writer and actor, living in New York City. When not curled up with a good book, you can find him on Instagram, Twitter, listening to the latest pop music, or bingeing any and all iterations of “The Real Housewives” franchise.