Words by Isoul H. Harris | Photography by Shxpir | Styling by Mario Wilson | Beauty by Renny Vasquez | Hair by Tim Wallace| Nails by Angel Williams
SHOT ON LOCATION AT THE SKYLARK IN NEW YORK CITY
“I have never seen this Brandy before, I am just meeting her,” Brandy Norwood says firmly. She is speaking in third person, but it’s not in the obnoxious fashion one might expect from a celebrity of her stature. She has achieved a remarkable career: 20 years of acting, singing, dancing, modeling and more. In an Insta-era where “icon” status is easily attainable with the borrowing of a Léger dress and the purchasing of a booty to match—Brandy is certainly deserving of what the title once meant. But, shockingly, despite her enviable resume, the superstar feels as if she is only now discovering who she is. “I know exactly who I am now and what I’m supposed to do,” she says with a determined stare. “I know my purpose.”
Brandy is sitting on the sectional in her sizable, sauna-warm suite in Midtown Manhattan (having to perform at her optimal eight times a week, she avoids air conditioning). The soundtrack of gorgeous classical music from the Oscar-winning film The Theory of Everything plays softly in the background (it’s the only music she listens to in her suite; it clears her mind and prepares her for all she needs to tackle). Her face is makeup free, a smooth and tawny delight with enviously sharp cheekbones, which, along with her Michelle Obama guns-a-blazing arms, are the result of daily boxing, circuit training and cardio. She lives only minutes from Broadway’s Ambassador Theater where she has been lighting up the stage with her well-received portrayal of Roxie Hart in Chicago since late April. But on this warm and slightly muggy spring day, the multihyphenate entertainer looks nothing like Bob Fosse’s desperately sexy murderess.
Dressed in a flowing top, loose ripped jeans and flat sandals, with a paisley scarf covering her head, her easy Bohemian chic is reminiscent of a Molusson gypsy from 1940s Gitanes ads. And just as the lore of gypsy life involves uprooting, Brandy leaving her comfortable existence in Los Angeles for the hectic and unpredictable life of New York City has seemingly contributed to this shift. “I’m curious, I’m adventurous, I’m spontaneous and that’s what New York is for me,” she says. “And I’m here doing something that I’ve never done and it’s given me so much purpose. It’s just given me this energy to just be. I like the movement in my life now.”
Brandy, 36, relishes the current movement in her life because earlier this year she felt stagnant. The actress had wrapped filming in Atlanta for the ninth and final season of the popular BET series The Game, where she was a fan favorite as the lovable, hood bartender turned football wife Chardonnay Pitts (for which she won a 2014 NAACP Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy). But once back in Los Angeles, Brandy began feeling anxious and unsure. She found herself questioning her future. Unfortunately, this feeling of insecurity was not new to her. After a parade of hit songs, multi-platinum albums, hit movies, a lucrative Covergirl contract and even a Mattel Brandy doll in the 90s, her career took an unfortunate turn in 2004. Her fourth album, Afrodisiac, a creative collaboration between her and super-producer Timbaland failed to catch fire. Then her life completely spiraled: while driving home on the evening of Dec. 30, 2006. Brandy’s Range Rover struck a car on L.A.’s 405 Freeway resulting in the death of the woman driving it. She was not charged for the crash, but she did reportedly pay settlements to the family of the deceased woman and other drivers. Because of the incident and the uncertainty of the situation, she was replaced by Sharon Osbourne for the second season of America’s Got Talent. After the accident, Brandy fell into a deep depression. “I was asking what have I done wrong and what am I not doing?” Brandy remembers. “When you are at that type of low your whys come in a lot of different ways. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to do anything. I really stopped dreaming.” When she began to experience similar feelings of doubt and symptoms of depression earlier this year, she knew something had to change. And those who know her well knew it too.
“I told her, ‘Bran, you just have to do the work,’” says Keisha Epps, wife of actor Omar Epps and a former member of 90s Bad Boy Records R&B group Total. She has known Brandy for nearly a decade and is one of her closest friends. “There is nothing to analyze. Just do the work.” Talking over the phone, Epps says Brandy repeated her advice out loud, and told her, “I am going to do the work,” and then hung up. The work included daily spiritual, mental and physical practices. “I made up my mind to be the best version of myself and I kept affirming every day that I’m getting ready for something,” Brandy recalls. “I did not know what it was, but I knew God had something for me that I’m getting ready for.” A few months after Brandy’s decision to move forward and focus, her agents called asking if she was interested in starring in Chicago.
Pony skin corset by The Blonds; Skirt by Cheng; Sandals by Prada; Rings by Mike Nekta and Leon Diamond; Gold fingernails by Erica Diggs