Monica looks back at media-concocted Brandy battle: ‘Rivalries manifest themselves… and I hate that it happens that way’

Published On June 21, 2024 » By »
Brandy & Monica appear in the music video for Ariana Grande's "the Boy Is Mine."

Brandy & Monica appear in the music video for Ariana Grande’s “The Boy Is Mine.”

In 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, R&B superstars Brandy Norwood and Monica Arnold — aka Brandy & Monica, whose legendary duet “The Boy Is Mine” won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, stayed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 13 weeks, was the best-selling single of 1998, and is still the best-selling female duet of all time — came together for a much-hyped Verzuz battle.

Their reunion broke records and practically broke the internet, with more than 1.2 million fans simultaneously tuning in on Instagram alone. Their Verzuz racked a total of 6 million views across all online platforms, and even future Vice President Kamala Harris dropped in to surprise the women, telling them, “I just wanted to thank you ladies, you queens, you stars, you icons!”

Now these queens/icons are taking over the internet once again, first by starring as news anchors in the music video for Ariana Grande identically titled “The Boy Is Mine,” which is at 17 million YouTube views and counting, and then actually singing on that track’s just-dropped remix. But Monica told me in 2020, during an interview for SiriusXM, that she actually declined Verzuz’s invitation at first, because she feared the battle would restart the old, semi-manufactured feud between her and Norwood, with whom she had not spoken since 2012.

“When they initially came to me with the idea, I said no, only for one reason: I have felt that it was not OK that people feel like you have to ‘choose one.’ Everything is this consistent battle. And there’s no battle,” Monica insisted. “We are completely different. As women, as artists, the way we sing, the things we sing about, where we’re from, everything about us, we’re polar opposites. And that’s what made ‘The Boy Is Mine’ so great. And so, I didn’t want Verzuz to dredge up the comparisons again, because I love the fact that we were both in [our own] space at this point. Brandy’s voice, her incredible vocals, you know exactly who she is when you hear her — and the same applies for me. We paved ways for ourselves. I didn’t want [that rivalry] to happen again.”

Monica finally agreed to do Verzuz after the series co-founder, Swizz Beatz, assured her that he wanted their battle to be a celebration. “That’s why I signed on, because I love Brandy and the artist that she is, but you don’t have to bring my name up when you bring hers up,” she said. “We’re two different people that happen to have a great record. And so, I didn’t want those things to get misconstrued. But it worked out that we were able to celebrate. And the best part about Verzuz is that it allowed Brandy and I to go from not talking for eight years, to full-on open dialogue, talking about records, playing songs, and kind of removing what was created between us out of the way.”

Monica acknowledged that their Verzuz broadcast had some squirmy moments, some of which shady fans instantly turned into memes. But, she explained, “What you saw when you watched the Verzuz was two women that had not been in each other’s space in years, thrust right into this moment in front of the cameras. So, even though it may have had moments that felt awkward for other people, for us, we were thinking about each moment and what’s taken place and wanting to play the records that everybody loves. … Some of the best moments were off-camera and right after Verzuz, because it just opened up a gateway to our relationship.”

The alleged feud between Brandy and Monica was part of a long-running pattern of often media-driven rivalries between female pop artists (Debbie Gibson vs. Tiffany, Mariah vs. Whitney, Britney vs. Christina, Taylor vs. Katy, etc.). Monica admitted that in her and Brandy’s case, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, with reality eventually reflecting the “Brandy vs. Monica” narrative.

“Rivalries manifest themselves, and that’s why I’m so against them. You can’t hear that stuff for 20 years and then not create something. Even if it’s not something of merit that really has reason per se, it’s still something. And I hate that it happens that way,” Monica confessed. “I think our song contributed, for sure. I mean, if you listen to the song, it is kind of like a tug-of-war, but we tried to make sure that the video ended in us coming together. But that’s not the way it went in the media for quite some time. But it’s good to have it behind us. … And that’s why I told [Brandy] that I really hope a lot of people who have been put in that position, especially women, are able to talk about whatever it is and move on.”

“I’ve not figured out why that happens, though,” Monica continued, contemplating why the catfight storyline is so common in pop culture in general. “I don’t even like when two women wear the same jacket and the question will be ‘Who wore better?’ instead of ‘They both looked great!’ It’s something that happens all the time. … And a lot of that competitive nature, it can really manifest itself through what you’re reading and what you see. I don’t care for it, but it is definitely the way that it is, and I don’t see it coming to an end anytime soon if we as women don’t bring it to an end, if we don’t work together more, if we don’t do more together and openly say what we love about each other. That’s the only way that it could be halted.”

Now the two pop stars have forged a new friendship, communicating regularly about all of these issues, and Grande is introducing them to new audiences. “The pressure was off, and now we’re just talking and kicking it,” Monica said. “We’re being normal. We’re talking about what life is like to have teenage kids. We’re talking about what it’s like to be working on records and what it’s like to be adjusting to the changes in music. We’re just talking about the difference between then and now, and what it’s like really creating records, because no one knows what those times were like as much as she and I do. So, I’m glad that that awkwardness is gone.”

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