August 8, 2022

In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my manner up into the current.

At one level, singing a Diane Warren music meant that you simply have been severe. That has modified, although Diane Warren hasn’t stopped writing songs or something. Nowadays, she appears to get nominated for the Finest Authentic Tune Oscar each single 12 months, normally by writing a ballad for some film that no person’s ever heard of. (This 12 months, the courtesy Diane Warren nomination was for a music that she wrote for 4 Good Days, which is outwardly a movie the place Mila Kunis performs an addict who has to go reside together with her mom Glenn Shut. No person on Earth has ever watched this film.) Warren has 13 nominations, and he or she’s by no means gained. We’re gone the period when a Diane Warren music represented a form of pop-chart cheat code.

Between 1987 and 1999, Diane Warren wrote 9 completely different songs that reached #1 on the Billboard Scorching 100. These songs, nearly all ballads, had a flattening impact. It didn’t matter if Warren was writing for Milli Vanilli or Aerosmith; her songs would all the time carry the identical form of sentimental grandeur that radio ate up. Lots of Warren’s hits have been collaborations with David Foster, the adult-contempo overlord producer who had his identify on eight completely different chart-toppers. These two actually had their arms within the primordial gloop of pop balladry for some time there. Sooner or later, although, the world modified, and other people received into completely different types of gloop.

Collectively and aside, Diane Warren and David Foster have been accountable for some good songs; I’m not going to take a seat right here and entrance on “Un-Break My Coronary heart.” However Warren and Foster didn’t precisely carry a variety of pleasure to the pop charts. I actually don’t miss their complete model of obscure, platitudinous slow-dance fare, and when the zeitgeist moved on, I used to be solely cool with that. So it brings me no small satisfaction to report that “Have You Ever?,” the second and ultimate chart-topper from the teenage R&B phenom Brandy, is the final time that this column should grapple with the intertwined legacies of Diane Warren and David Foster, barring some form of miraculous and implausible comeback.

Brandy Norwood was severe. Within the late ’90s, Brandy flirted with America’s-sweetheart standing. In 1997, she was Kobe Bryant’s promenade date. “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy’s blockbuster duet with Monica, topped the charts for the whole summer season of 1998 and arrange a bizarre little pro-wrestling feud that saved operating for many years. On the identical time, Brandy was the star of Moesha, the most important hit on the largely hit-free UPN community. Within the fall of ’98, Brandy additionally received in on the entire self-aware teen-slasher boomlet, starring in I Nonetheless Know What You Did Final Summer time, her character even surviving. The film was unhealthy, nevertheless it made cash.

Along with her sophomore album By no means Say By no means, Brandy and ascendant producer Rodney Jerkins received into the glossy textures and futuristic time-warp drum-programming of R&B’s latest wave. Brandy took an lively function within the album’s improvement, co-writing and co-producing a lot of the songs. However Brandy additionally hedged her bets, loading the album’s second half up with conservative ballads and dealing with David Foster on bullshit like a canopy of Bryan Adams’ “(Every part I Do) I Do It For You.” A kind of protected decisions made all of it the way in which to #1 early in 1999.

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It didn’t need to be that manner. The second single from By no means Say By no means was “High Of The World,” a breezy and streamlined team-up with Mase, who briefly dated Brandy proper round then. I bear in mind “High Of The World” as a real hit that was in every single place that fall, however my expertise was not common. “High Of The World” solely made it to #44 on the Billboard Radio Songs chart. Possibly the music’s lack of traction on pop radio was the explanation that it by no means formally got here out as a single, which meant that it by no means made the Scorching 100.

“Have You Ever?” was a unique story. Diane Warren wrote “Have You Ever?” on Christmas Day, presumably in 1997, and he or she recorded her personal demo for the music. Brandy favored the demo, and the music grew to become one of many three By no means Say By no means tracks that David Foster produced. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard E-book Of #1 Hits, Foster sounds a bit stuffed with himself when he talks about what a very good job he did with the music: “I really like the texture of it; there’s nothing on there that’s not crucial and nothing on there that doesn’t add to it. It was some of the good tracks I’ve ever finished.” Positive, buddy.

By the corroded requirements of David Foster productions, normally so filled with orchestral crescendos and smooth-jazz sax-tootles and no matter else, “Have You Ever?” actually is fairly spare. Foster had evidently absorbed a minimum of a bit little bit of the spaciousness that was coming to outline industrial R&B, or possibly he simply discovered himself in a comparatively ’80s zone that day, placing the precise degree of echo on his drum-machine cracks. There’s some open area within the music, and veteran session guitarist Michael Thompson, who Foster singles out for reward within the Bronson e-book, does some good click-squelch accents all through. Foster additionally pulls the trick of opening the music with the refrain, sung a cappella, and I like that. However “Have You Ever?” doesn’t precisely have a complete lot of life to it. As a substitute, it unfurls with the leaden assurance of so many comparable ballads. By 1999, that form of factor already appeared like a throwback.

Diane Warren’s “Have You Ever?” lyrics concern a well-recognized situation. Brandy’s narrator needs to know whether or not you, the listener, have any expertise with unrequited love: “Have you ever ever looked for phrases to get you of their coronary heart?/ However you don’t know what to say, and also you don’t know the place to start out?” On the bridge, that narrator makes it clear that she’s not asking a rhetorical query. As a substitute, that is all her manner of confessing huge emotions: “What do I gotta do to get you in my arms, child?/ What do I gotta say to get to your coronary heart?” We by no means get a decision to that query, and we shouldn’t get a decision. The music features effectiveness by leaving these questions hanging within the air.

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Brandy sings her personal backup vocals on “Have You Ever?,” and I feel I like her backups higher than her lead. Within the Bronson e-book, Foster says that he wished to get the identical backup singer that Brandy used on “Sittin’ Up In My Room,” her #2 hit from 1996, and that he was shocked when he realized that the backup singer was Brandy herself. (“Sittin’ Up In My Room” is an 8.) On “Have You Ever?,” Brandy’s backup vocals have a pleasant pillowy impact. Along with her lead, she goes the pleading-through-melisma route. Her voice is appealingly susceptible, however all of its theatrics are rote and predictable. We all know how the one huge money-note will sound lengthy earlier than she truly sings it.

There’s nothing mistaken with “How You Ever?” It’s a wonderfully serviceable piece of pop craftsmanship, and it a minimum of makes an attempt to specific a tangible emotion. However I discover the entire thing hole and programmatic. There’s no life to the music, no power. Brandy was by no means precisely a difficult artist, however she sounds a complete lot extra engaged with a number of the different songs from her album. Within the Bronson e-book, Brandy praises David Foster’s potential to attract huge notes out of her, like he’s much less artistic skilled and extra vocal coach. She additionally says, “Diane Warren is so humorous. She has this little chicken she carries on her shoulder on a regular basis, and he or she’s all the time speaking backwards and forwards to the chicken.” This complete Jafar-and-Iago tableau simply additional proves my concept that Diane Warren the individual is a complete lot extra fascinating than Diane Warren the songwriter.

Brandy launched the “Have You Ever?” single in October 1998, and the music steadily gained steam for a few months. In January 1999, Brandy co-hosted the American Music Awards with fellow teen-sitcom star Melissa Joan Hart. In the course of the present, Brandy sang “Have You Ever?,” and the music reached #1 later that week. “Have You Ever?” was truly the primary #1 hit shortly that hadn’t been bought as a reduced single, and it was by no means the biggest-selling music on the charts, however radio made up for that shortfall. “Have You Ever?” received play on R&B and adult-contemporary stations in addition to pop ones, and that’s precisely what it was speculated to do.

By the point “Have You Ever?” reached #1, the By no means Say By no means album was already triple platinum, and it could go on to promote one other two million copies within the US. Brandy adopted “Have You Ever?” with “Virtually Doesn’t Rely” — one other ballad, however one which was extra in tune with the skittery R&B of the day. That one peaked at #16. Later in 1999, Brandy performed Diana Ross’ daughter within the TV film Double Platinum, and he or she additionally carried out on VH1’s second Divas Dwell particular, the place she sang “Have You Ever?” once more.

Brandy, who was presumably busy doing Moesha stuff, didn’t observe up By no means Say By no means till 2002, the 12 months after the present’s run ended on an unresolved cliffhanger. Her third album Full Moon went platinum, and the funky and off-kilter lead single “What About Us?” peaked at #7. (It’s a 7.) For 2004’s Afrodisiac, Brandy lastly set to work with Timbaland, the producer she’d wished for By no means Say By no means. Afrodisiac is an effective album, nevertheless it stalled out at gold, and its lead single, the Kanye West collaboration “Speak About Our Love,” solely made it to #36. (Timbaland and Kanye West will each seem on this column in time.)

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Brandy additionally grew to become a mother within the early ’00s, giving beginning to a daughter together with her longtime boyfriend and frequent collaborator, the producer Robert “Large Bert” Smith (not the man from the Treatment). Shortly thereafter, Brandy left Atlantic and he or she’s been bouncing from label to label ever since. She saved appearing, popping up often on TV exhibits, and he or she was additionally one of many judges on the primary season of America’s Bought Expertise in 2006. Her time on that present ended after a lethal automobile accident on the finish of 2006. Driving on the 405 on Los Angeles, Brandy rear-ended one other automobile, and its driver, a 38-year-old girl, was killed. Brandy was by no means charged with against the law, however she settled a number of wrongful-death lawsuits with the lady’s household.

Brandy’s profession remains to be going. She’s touring and recording, and he or she launched an album known as B7 two years in the past. However she hasn’t been on the Scorching 100 since 2012, when her Chris Brown collaboration “Put It Down” peaked at #65. Brandy’s nonetheless appearing, too. She’s been on a bunch of cancelled TV exhibits and within the Tyler Perry film Temptation: Confessions Of A Marriage Counselor. She starred in Chicago on Broadway for a short time. Final 12 months, she was a mentor on The Voice, and he or she additionally starred alongside Eve on Queens, an ABC drama that received cancelled final month, when its first season ended. Earlier this 12 months, there was a complete web storyline about Jack Harlow, a person who will ultimately seem on this column, being insufficiently conversant in Brandy, and that led as much as final evening, when Brandy upstaged Harlow on the BET Awards. Brandy remains to be within the combine, and her identify nonetheless rings bells, however she’s a protracted methods away from the highest of the pop charts.

Brandy turned 20 a couple of weeks after “Have You Ever?” reached #1. Similar to Diane Warren and David Foster, Brandy can be well-known without end, and he or she’ll hold getting work. Nevertheless it’s received to be bizarre to peak professionally earlier than you’re sufficiently old to legally drink. At her greatest, Brandy was a ray of brightness, a relatable determine who had each music and appeal that got here via whether or not she was singing or appearing. Brandy’s greatest hits had an actual exploratory playfulness to them. “Have You Ever?” wasn’t a kind of hits, nevertheless it wasn’t horrible, both.

GRADE: 5/10

BONUS BEATS: Right here’s Kiana Ledé, a singer and TV actress similar to Brandy, singing over a sped-up “Have You Ever?” pattern on her 2020 music “Trustworthy”:

The Quantity Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The Historical past Of Pop Music is out 11/15 through Hachette Books. You’ll be able to pre-order it right here.