NEW YORK (Reuters) - In the spirited video of “Put it Down,” the lead single from Brandy’s new album “Two Eleven,” she struts and dances, seductively inviting potential suitors to “Play your cards right, maybe we can fall in love.”
But it wasn’t so long ago that professional and personal setbacks caused the 33-year-old R&B singer and actress to lose confidence and seriously question her future in music.
The well-received album, which in its first week hit the No. 2 spot on iTunes, has the former teen idol poised for a return to the top.
Billboard magazine declared “Two Eleven” “Brandy’s most focused album since 1998’s ‘Never Say Never,’” her breakout and best-selling album, while The Washington Post praised it as “a testament to the fact that despite whatever trends are happening in popular music right now, a good voice always shines through.”
And while many artists bristle at the term “comeback,” Brandy is happy to have it applied to “Two Eleven.”
“I am definitely calling it a comeback,” she told Reuters in an interview. “I know for a fact that I’ve been gone for a while and I couldn’t find my way. I couldn’t get it together.”
The album title has a great deal of significance for Brandy. Not only is it her birthday, February 11, it is also the day her friend, mentor and musical idol, Whitney Houston, died earlier this year.
“It was a tough decision,” she said of the title choice.
“I didn’t want people to think - you know, negative people - that you’re trying to use the passing of Whitney Houston to sell records, and that’s not the case.
“I need for everybody to know that if it wasn’t for Whitney Houston, there would be no me,” she continued. “Because she was the possibility for me. She was the vision of my dreams actually coming true and she meant everything to me.”
CAR WRECK A LOW POINT
Despite being relatively absent from the recording studio, Brandy hasn’t been out of the spotlight in recent years.
In 2010, she competed on the hit television show “Dancing With the Stars” and starred in the VH1 reality series “Brandy & Ray J: A Family Business,” but behind the scenes, she was struggling.
Six years ago the singer was involved in a multi-car crash on the Freeway in Los Angeles in which one of the drivers was killed. Brandy said that was a low point and caused her to lose her bearings for awhile.
“Everybody knew about the terrible accident that I went through and everybody else involved in that,” she said.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I’m a good person, so I’m like, ‘Why is all of this stuff ... what’s going on? This is a whirlwind,’ you know? And then I don’t have a connection with my music. It was like a storm.”
Two years later, she released her fifth album, “Human,” but sales were disappointing and she and Epic Records parted ways.
“I didn’t know if I was going ever get the chance to share my music the way I had shared it before - with a team behind me, a major label push and a direction,” Brandy said. “I stopped believing in myself. I thought it was over.”
She credits her 10-year-old daughter with providing her inspiration.
“I felt like I wasn’t being a good example to my daughter. I wanted to make her proud,” she reflected.
“Two Eleven” is the result of a new deal with RCA and the singer’s collaborations with a dream team of writers and producers including Frank Ocean, Sean Garrett and Bangladesh.
“For my fans to really embrace my new album and to give it a chance ... it’s such a blessing,” she said.
Now Brandy is in a good place both artistically and personally. She has found happiness with her boyfriend of two years, music producer Ryan Press, and says she has also managed to satisfy her toughest critic -- herself.
“I felt like I had something to prove to myself,” she said about going back into the studio, but once she was back in her groove, it became clear.
“I was like, ‘OK. I can do this again. This is what I’m supposed to do.’” (Editing by Chris Michaud and Gunna Dickson)
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