Ever since the Verzuz DJ battles launched in March, fans have clamored for one matchup above all others: Brandy vs. Monica, the R&B singers who spawned one of the biggest hits in history with 1998’s “The Boy Is Mine,” and have sparred off and on ever since. On Monday night, they finally got it — and fans responded by turning out in record numbers, topping 1.2 million, crushing all previous sessions, and even got a surprise virtual visit from Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris early in the show, who implored viewers to vote — a request that was seconded by Michelle Obama, a regular Verzuz viewer, in the comments section.
With an Instagram audience of 1.2 million and more on Apple Music, Brandy and Monica’s Verzuz “Battle” showed the enduring the love for ’90’s R&B. Such is the power of Verzuz and the captive audience it attracts, in election season, it was no surprise when Kamala Harris appeared virtually encouraging viewers to vote. The gravitas was continued when Monica mentioned the black icons — most recently Chadwick Boseman — who have passed away over the last few years and later in the evening when Brandy sang an acapella of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” in light of the current political unrest. Michelle Obama, a regular Vezuz viewer, also chimed in via message, urging people to vote.
Shot live from Tyler Perry’s film studios in Atlanta, the two former teen stars, (Brandy is now 41 and Monica 39) couldn’t have dressed more differently for the occasion. Monica was decked out in an elegant form-fitting Fendi outfit, hat and neat bob, while Brandy was in a bohemian patched jeans, multi-colored coat and long braids. She read several poems during the session as well, which amplified her hippyish vibe.
Unsurprisingly, considering their history, the rapport between the two singers was a little stilted at first, with Monica seeming reticent to come out of her shell and Brandy chatty and upbeat. However, they made clear from the beginning that this was a peaceful summit.
“I wanted to speak to you face to face,” Monica said. “The more we’re talked about, the more it came to be difficult, unnecessarily. And I really am a straight shooter and I really do admire what you’ve done musically and what you’ve had to endure personally.”
Brandy responded in kind, saying, “I have the utmost love and respect for you as well, for somebody to start at 12 years old. The longevity of your career — nobody [knows] what you’ve been through.”
And once Monica warmed up, the two often almost seemed to forget about the music, chatting away about their love lives (both are currently single), past beefs, moments from their careers. Brandy also dedicated “Missing You” to late icons, including Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant, Nipsey Hussle, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston.
As the event got underway, what was immediately apparent is just what great songs and phenomenal voices the two women possessed when they were barely teens — in fact, Monica revealed that she recorded most of her smash debut album when she was just 12.
Brandy kicked things off with electronic funk of the Rodney Jerkins produced “What About Us” from her “Full Moon” album. Monica promptly switched things up with the old school soul of “Everything To Me,” which borrows heavily from Deniece Williams’ “Silly.”
When Brandy came back with the smooth and melodic ballad “He Is,” produced by Warren Campbell, a precedent was set. Brandy’s songs such as the Mike City produced “Full Moon,” “Angel In Disguise,” “Almost Doesn’t Count” and breezy “Put That On Everything,” are soulful yet light and melodic, with shimmery, pop infused production. Monica’s material such as “So Gone,” “U Should’ve Known Better,” “Commitment,” and particularly “Sideline Ho,” grittier and more and more street oriented.
Monica also revealed that though she is best known for hip-hop/soul, she has always struggled to be seen in a more broader light musically. Enter David Foster and Dianne Warren, who, like Rodney Jerkins is a producer and songwriter that the two have in common. Monica’s inclusion of “For You I Will,” and Brandy’s “Have You Ever,” were nods to the cross over Warren/Foster power ballads that helped elevate their careers when the venerable writer and producer ruled the airwaves in the ’90’s. The two often ad-libbed harmonies or sang along during their own and each other’s songs — but not as often as it seemed the star-studded audience in the comments section, where exhortations and emojis from notables ranging from Lena Waithe and Queen Latifah to Nas and Snoop Dogg, to name just four, rolled by in rapid succession.
For reasons that weren’t entirely clear (but are likely due to licensing issues), some songs could not be played or even sung a cappella, including Brandy’s theme song from her ’90’s sitcom, “Moesha,” otherwise she’d “get sued.” After Monica played the remake of Midnight Star’s “Slow Jam,” on which she duetted with Usher, she revealed that recently asked Usher to sing on another duet with her and was turned down.
However, the pair each played several deep cuts, old and new — and Monica even dropped a new single, “Trenches,” during the session.
Of course, the event couldn’t be complete without songs from the debut albums that launched both artists’ careers: For Brandy it was, “I Wanna Be Down,” “Baby, Baby, Baby” and “Broken Hearted”; and for Monica, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Them Days),” “Like This And Like That,” and “Why I Love You So Much.”
The night was inevitably rounded off with a loosely performed duet of “The Boy Is Mine,” with social distancing ignored in the spirit of the moment as Brandy announced that the two would be touring. That may be quite a way off, in the meantime, this was a poignant reminder of their catalogs and undiminished talent.