For the past 15 years, VH1’s “Behind the Music” has chronicled the ups, downs and back ups of countless musicians’ lives and careers. The show has traced the roller-coaster of fame rides by the likes of everyone from Aerosmith to Vanilla Ice, Mötley Crüe, Milli Vanilla, Madonna, 50 Cent and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The formula is beyond predictable by now: wide-eyed musician(s) with prodigious talent has meteoric rise to fame, tragedy strikes in the form of drug addiction/death of close friend/label rip-off/career tank or any number of other obstacles, but not before said artist manages to rise above and make it back to the spotlight. Except when they don’t, as in the case of such tragic figures as Aaliyah, the Notorious B.I.G. or Rick James.
But this week VH1 brought us the story of Brandy Norwood, the world-beating 1990s star whose resume of drama made for one of the most quintessential episodes in the show’s long history. And, in another of the show’s impressive traditions, Brandy opened up about some major issues that have never been dealt with in public in quite this way.
Like Missy Elliott revealing her serious health issues last year or Nas providing the most detail to date about his failed marriage to Kelis, Brandy put all her cards on the table, revealing for the first time that she hid her teenage affair with Boyz II Men singer Wanya Morris from her family and fans for years, struggled with anorexia and bulimia as well as talking about her fake marriage to music producer Robert Smith that was concocted to cover up her out-of-wedlock child. The latter, she says, almost destroyed her career for good. She also discussed her reaction to the death of mentor and good friend, Whitney Houston, who died on Brandy’s birthday in February, just days after Houston had given Brandy words of encouragement about her revived career.
The capper was her emotional discussion of the December 2006 car accident she caused on a California highway that took the life of a 38-year-old mother of two. “It was just one of those experiences you wish would never happen to anybody,” she said. “That was one of the worst times of my life … someone lost their life and now everyone is saying that I’m to blame.” Though she escaped a manslaughter prosecution in the case, the incident clearly had a profound effect on the singer and her reaction provided one of the most emotional moments in the series’ history.
“Still to this day people … they know that that’s a button,” she said tearfully. “They know that they can call me a murderer, or call me someone that killed someone … they know that that is a button for me.”
This season has already seen a return to the tragic death of Aaliyah in a plane crash, Nas’ struggle to deal with the death of his mother and the dissolution of his marriage, T-Pain’s heartbreaking battle to break free of his domineering father, Akon’s controversial car-boosting past and The Game’s battles with his label and former mentor 50 Cent.
But of all the classic tragic stories of rappers and rock bands tested by death, drugs and disorder (Pink Floyd, AC/DC, Metallica, T.I., Motley Crue, Leif Garrett, Def Leppard and DMX), Brandy’s stands out as one of the most emotionally wrenching stories of the modern pop era. And, thankfully for her, with a new album on the way and a steady relationship, as well as another hit single with pal Monica, Brandy’s story appears to be conforming to the formula just fine.