(September 1, 2020). Sometimes two stars come into the same orbit and both can co-exist – each shining brilliantly without either one dimming the other’s light.
And occasionally those stars blend together to create the brightest light of all – at a time when we need it the most to drown out all the negative matter darkening our world.
The aligning of two legendary R&B superstars happened Monday night in the latest and most anticipated episode of “Verzuz,” the popular, live-streaming, song competition series created by R&B/hip-hop producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland several months ago to help get us through the pandemic.
It was Brandy vs. Monica – two ‘90s teenage divas and former duet partners seated side-by-side at one of Tyler Perry’s famous new soundstage studios in ATL, giving us the moment we all had been waiting for: a much-hyped Verzuz matchup for the ages.
Brandy v. Monica lived up to the hype!
The two singers, now navigating their 40s (Brandy turned 41 in February, Monica hits 40 in October), were just teenagers when they started banging out No. 1 hits in the mid 1990s. On Monday, they reminded 1.2 million viewers of the many great bops that made each of them fabulous and famous.
It was a battle of R&B titans in a matchup of epic proportions, with each artist putting up the best stuff from their considerable song catalogues. Nothing was really on the line for either of the two women – their reputations and legacies are firmly intact and they’ve got nothing left to prove to themselves or anyone else, and their sisterly banter quelled any notion of lasting beef between the two who were once rumored to be feuding back in the day.
But their very substantial and loyal fan bases? That was a different story. Stans took to social media with their opinions about everything from the legends’ songs to their outfits because, well, they’re stans – and stans had all things at stake, key among them being bragging rights.
Even Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris got into the moment, appearing via video feed as Brandy’s surprise guest to offer her support of the two stars, calling them “queens,” “stars” and “icons.”
As for their “competition,” there were 20 rounds (plus kind of a bonus) in which the two women were pretty evenly matched throughout (whoever created the individual song matchups deserves much kudos). Playful sisterly banter accompanied each match, with Brandy and Monica sharing anecdotes about the recordings of their classics as well as their mutual admiration for one another.
Of course, they made it clear that they’re no longer letting others dictate the terms of their friendship or their uncannily parallel career paths…their roads to success lined with so many similarities that they would require another 1000 words just to cover them in this blog space.
Suffice it to say that Brandy and Monica knew this shared moment was bigger than any song battles. With their convincing BFF vibes and strong messages of unity throughout, the two legends transcended whatever negativity that surrounded their earlier years, with both professing that no love had ever been lost between them, even when – as Brandy pointed out during one part of their sisterly discourse – it might have seemed otherwise.
But the two superstars did get in a few friendly jabs here and there, which might have hinted at some unresolved issues between them if we hadn’t already heard their declarations of mutual love and respect for one another.
For instance, Brandy noted early on that the two of them hadn’t been in the same room together in eight years. She also joked that she was on the receiving end of Monica’s “kicking down doors” phase in the ‘90s, which Monica immediately denied. As Monica – seemingly hurt – continued to push the issue, Brandy finally submitted an apology while noting she was still working on her humor.
Later, after the second or third utterance of “New Monica!,” the hype phrase popularized by Missy Elliott in the intro to songs she produced for Monica, Brandy sheepishly remarked “old Brandy” as she prepared to introduce one of her counter-tunes.
Shade isn’t thrown much more subtly than that, unless you count the white shoes Brandy rocked with her jeans and multi-patterned hippy-chick ensemble. The shoes were seen by some as a dig at Monica, who has had to endure teasing for a quarter-century about the white, open-strapped, square-heeled shoes she wore in the video for “Before You Walk Out of My Life” in 1995.
But there were just as many compliments shared between the two as there were barbs.
For instance, Monica highlighted Brandy’s outstanding harmonies and ad libs (and her falsetto), attributes that Brandy regularly had on display as she sang along to many of the songs she played, imploring Monica to join in at some points.
Monica eventually joined the singing fun when she belted out an a cappella finish on the chorus to her Round 6 entry: “U Should’ve Known Better.” But her reluctance to later join Brandy during an impromptu a cappella rendering of Sam Cooke’s civil rights classic “A Change is Gonna Come” was dismissed as her allowing Brandy to “have her moment.” It was our loss as Monica clearly still has the chops.
Brandy complimented Monica’s outfit (it was fire!) and her beauty, as well as her realness, which Monica herself acknowledged several times throughout the event.
Whether you were on #TeamBrandy or #TeamMonica coming into this Verzuz battle, you’d have to admit that both singers brought their “A” games and each had us bobbing our heads and singing along to this great Verzuz playlist.
Here now is the round-by-round analysis and DJROBBLOG’s projection of the winners, along with an overall tally at the end.
Round 1: “What About Us” – Brandy vs. “Everything to Me” – Monica. Brandy went straight to the first single from her best album, Full Moon, while Monica went the ballad route with her most recent No. 1 R&B single from 2010, which she dedicated to her kids. Winner: TIE
Round 2: “He Is” – Brandy vs. “A Dozen Roses (You Remind Me)” – Monica. Brandy explained her song’s meaning as being about either a significant other or God, minus certain lyrics about kissing him on the lips. Monica’s tune is a Missy Elliott production that samples an old Curtis Mayfield classic, “The Makings of You.” Winner: MONICA
Round 3: “Full Moon” – Brandy vs. “So Gone” – Monica. The two hosts started letting loose in this round, in what was probably the toughest match of the night. When Brandy brought out the big guns with the title track from her flyest set, several people hoped that Monica would counter with “So Gone” – and she did. Glad she’s over that kicking-in-doors phase though. Winner: TIE
Round 4: “I Wanna Be Down” – Brandy vs. “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” – Monica. This was the battle of début singles, another great matchup that could’ve gone either way. Brandy came loaded with a Queen Latifah remix and a touching story of how she first bumped into Tupac Shakur at a premiere for the movie “Set it Off.” But Monica’s sample of LL Cool J’s “Back Seat of My Jeep” still slams. Winner (by the slightest of edges): MONICA
Round 5: “Baby” – Brandy vs. “Like This and Like That” – Monica. Brandy’s second single in 1995 vs. the B-side to Monica’s second single that same year. Both women exercised their vocal chops in this round, with each singing along to their hits and Brandy especially favoring those as libs she’s been known for forever. Monica noted that she first recorded “Like This” at the age of 12 before she was discovered by Dallas Austin. Damn, why these women making it so tough? Winner: BRANDY (again, slightly)
Round 6: “Angel in Disguise” – Brandy (w/ Joe backing vocal) vs. “U Should’ve Known Better” – Monica. The ladies kept up the singing in the studio with Brandy still hitting those ad libs dead on. But Monica hit us with a 30-second a cappella solo at her song’s chorus that reminded us why she’s had half dozen No. 1 R&B singles and boatloads of other hits. Still, the vote goes to the better song here. Winner: BRANDY
Round 7: “Missing You” – Brandy, Tamia, Gladys Knight & Chaka Khan vs. “For You I Will” – Monica. Both ladies went to the movies for this round, with Brandy reminding Mo of the many women with whom she’s collaborated over the years. Brandy fittingly dedicated her Set it Off song to the late Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Chadwick Boseman, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson – all gone too soon. Monica’s Space Jam entry gets the slightest of edges here. Winner: MONICA
Round 8: “Almost Doesn’t Count” – Brandy vs. “Why I Love You So Much” – Monica. Brandy had the most creative lead-ins for her songs as she introduced this one and several others with spoken-word poetry that placed her songs in broader context. Monica’s single was the only one of her first seven singles not to go platinum. It stopped at gold in 1996, which was still nothing to sneeze at. Winner: BRANDY
Round 9: “Broken-hearted” – Brandy w/ Wanya Morris (of Boyz II Men) vs. “Love All Over Me” – Monica. Nice point-counterpoint in this round. Brandy’s biggest ballad from her debut album laments a love gone bad from a teenage perspective, while Monica’s hit was recorded “from the depths of love.” Monica said she was pregnant when she recorded “Love All Over Me” in 2010 (when she was 29). Nostalgia says pick Brandy’s tune, but this Monica track was fire. Winner: MONICA
Round 10: “Anything (To Find You)” – Monica ft. Rick Ross & Lil Kim vs. “Top of the World” – Brandy ft. Mase;. The two singers switched order in this round, with Monica and Brandy both bringing big guns to the table. Whatever happened to Mase anyway? Winner: BRANDY
Round 11: “Still Standing” – Monica ft. Ludacris vs. “Borderline” – Brandy. Monica reminded us of the family tie between her and rapper Ludacris (he’s her cousin). Brandy’s tune is from her latest release b7, an album on which she says she did a lot of purging (she didn’t say what though). Brandy’s background vocals game is tough to beat in any setting, it’s clearly something she loves doing (heck, she said so). Those harmonies take this one hands-down. Winner: BRANDY
Round 12: “Commitment” – Monica vs. “Love Again” – Brandy & Daniel Caesar. Monica noted that “Commitment” was her first No. 1 on an Indie label (released on her own Mondeenise Music, it topped the Billboard Adult R&B chart in July 2019). The most memorable line, “I need good sex and commitment,” is very direct without being WAP-ish. Nice entry by Brandy also, but nothing trumps beats good sex. Winner: MONICA
Round 13: “Slow Jam” Usher ft. Monica vs. “Put It Down” – Brandy ft. Chris Brown. Both these tunes are burners. But who can forget that intro to “Put It Down” (plus Brandy’s falsetto game is clicking here). Winner: BRANDY
Round 14: “The First Night” – Monica vs. “Who Is She 2 U” – Brandy. That Diana Ross “Love Hangover” sample is why we made this song a No. 1 smash in 1999. It’s why the song is a no-brainer to win this match almost 22 years later. Winner: MONICA
Round 15: “Knock Knock” – Monica vs. “Best Friend” – Brandy. “New Monica!” Monica’s followup to “So Gone” from her 2003 album All Eyez on Me has a good groove, but the gimmicky phone effects detract slightly. “Best Friend” on the other hand was easy breezy cool as a dedication to her little brother and ride-or-die Ray J. This one was easy. Winner: BRANDY
Round 16: “Before You Walk Out of My Life” – Monica vs. “Sittin’ Up In My Room” – Brandy. Memories of 1995 abounded with this matchup. Monica acknowledged the white shoes saga generated by her song’s video, while Brandy recalled being invited to provide a song on the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. When Monica grieved about not being asked to do the same, Brandy tried to console her by reminding her that she had only just come out with “Just One of Dem Days” a few months earlier. Brandy, on the other hand, had been out a full year. Winner: BRANDY
Round 17: “Everytime Tha Beat Drop” – Monica ft. Dem Franchize Boyz vs. “Talk About Our Love” – Brandy ft. Kanye West. Remember when we loved nearly everything Kanye touched? This was one of those things we loved. Winner: BRANDY
Round 18: “Sideline Ho” – Monica vs. “Put That On Everything” – Brandy. The ladies cut loose in this round, with Monica expressing much love for her 2006 entry. Did you catch the number of times she playfully sang the word “ho” in this segment? They were trippin’ indeed. Brandy pulled a deep mellow album cut from her biggest album, 1998’s Never Say Never. Winner: BRANDY
Round 19: “Trust” – Keyshia Cole ft. Monica vs. “When You Touch Me” – Brandy. Monica told a touching story of how her collabo with Keyshia Cole came to be. Cole was on top of the R&B world at the time and Monica’s career received a shot in the arm as “Trust” became her first top-10 R&B chart hit in five years. Brandy didn’t play fair as she dropped a reminder of who her biggest collaborator was when she mixed in a snippet of “Impossible” – her duet with the late Whitney Houston from the Cinderella redux – to introduce “When You Touch Me.” Winner by a hair: MONICA
Round 20: “Just Right for Me” – Monica ft. Lil Wayne vs. “Have You Ever?” – Brandy. Brandy brought out her last big gun with this former No. 1 Hot 100 tune, from that huge Never Say Never album. Monica apparently lost track as she saved her last No. 1 pop hit for the next round – which really wasn’t a round. Winner: BRANDY
Extra Credit: “Angel of Mine” – Monica vs. “The Boy Is Mine” – Brandy & Monica. Technically speaking, I guess this could be considered a battle between Brandy and Monica. After all, as Brandy made very clear, “The Boy Is Mine” was her song (she co-wrote it) and it was her idea to seek out Monica to form the duet. Oddly enough, it was Monica who decided to name her second album after the song. Either way, both songs are winners, so by default, Monica gets two W’s for this one – one for each song – while Brandy gets one.
So, the tally is as follows:
So Brandy emerges on top, but neither singer is a loser here. It’s all about the matchups. Switch some of them around, and we could have had a different outcome.
Or let a different blogger do the judging, and you could also have a different result.
Both Brandy and Monica deserve credit here for putting on a night to remember. As one fan stated, it’s hard deciding who should win when you love “boffum.”
Call it a win for the culture.
DJRob is a freelance blogger from Chicago who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.
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