What About Us? (Brandy song)
|"What About Us?"|
|Single by Brandy|
|from the album Full Moon|
|B-side||"I Wanna Fall In Love"|
|Released||January 1, 2002|
|Brandy singles chronology|
"What About Us?" is a song by American recording artist Brandy Norwood. It was written by LaShawn Daniels, Rodney Jerkins, Kenisha Pratt, Nora Payne, and Norwood for her third studio album, Full Moon (2002), featuring main production by Jerkins. An offbeat, aggressive high-tech track, the song's development was motivated by the fact that the singer wanted something different – an aggressive, sexier and edgier sound with a message which would give women strength while also reflecting her own growth and maturity.
The song was released as the album's lead single during the first quarter of 2002. While "What About Us?" managed to enter the top twenty on the majority of the charts it appeared on, it reached the top ten in Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 2003, "What About Us?" was awarded a BMI Urban Award, while Steve "Silk" Hurley's remix version of the song received a nomination for the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical.
The accompanying music video was directed by Dave Meyers and filmed in Culver City, California in November 2001. It premiered on MTV on January 10, 2002. Primarily shot in front of a greenscreen, the highly animated, futuristic video introduced a sexier image of the former teen singer, portraying her as a male-ruling character in an alternate universe. It was nominated for the Viewer's Choice Award at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.
Background and recording
After the end of her promotional touring for her album Never Say Never (1998), the end of her UPN sitcom Moesha and a flurry of tabloid headlines discussing her nervous breakdown in November 1999, Norwood went on a lengthy hiatus to reflect and take some introspective looks. In mid-2000, she started reconsecrating herself on her musical career, contributing songs to albums such as Urban Renewal (2001), which introduced a scratchy, evocative edge to Norwood's voice, now having a deeper and warmer tone with a textured lower register and notably stronger falsetto. In fall 2000, Norwood finally began conceiving ideas for a third studio album with the Atlantic label. While Rodney Jerkins, the main producer of her previous album, and his team, had been working on several new songs for the singer's upcoming project in hopes of recreating the winning chemistry of Never Say Never, Norwood wanted to make sure that she was gaining more creative control over the project and thus, arranged meetings with all her writers and musicians to discuss the lyricals topics and sounds she wanted for the album.
"What About Us?" was one of a couple of new tracks Jerkins worked on while he was putting the finishing touches on Norwood's Full Moon album in Los Angeles, California. After playing it to her, enthusiastic Norwood asked Jerkins to save the "offbeat, aggressive high-tech track" for the album: "I was like 'Oh my God, Rodney, this is it", she said in an interview with MTV News the following year. "This is exactly what the industry needs. We can maybe change the game with this.' He said, 'Yeah, this is what I'm going for'." The singer eventually consulted longtime collaborators LaShawn Daniels, Nora Payne and Kenisha Pratt to re-write several lyrics in the song. "I told them what I wanted to talk about. 'This is an aggressive record – it's edgy, it's sexy. I wanna sing about something that's sexy and edgy.' I revisited my past in my mind and kind of told them what I wanna talk about."
Norwood has noted that it took the team a while to get it because she didn't want "that sound that’s already saturated the industry. It’s important to me to be a trendsetter and change the game. It was a great feeling to see Rodney soar like that." The song's protagonist describes the aftermaths of an untrue love, facing would-be Mr. Right with the current point of the one-sided attachment. "It was about being in a relationship that's not working anymore," Norwood said in a 2005 interview, adding: "'What About Us' was a little more aggressive and different for me. I'd say it was a little bit ahead of its time..."
"What About Us?" received a mixed to positive response from music critics, who complimented its production and compared it to Janet Jackson's breakthrough single "Control" (1986), which Norwood has cited as an influence on the song. Chuck Taylor from Billboard magazine felt the track was "so striking [that] it's destined to one of those marked hate-it-or-love-it songs". While he criticized Norwood's "generic voice" over the track, he commended the complex but instant structure of the song, writing that "certainly, this is an effective way to let the world know that this charmer as returned and it's destined to be a monster at radio." Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine wrote that the song was "lifting Brandy's typically schmaltzy brand of pop-R&B to a new, edgier plateau [...] With offbeat "What About Us," an assessment of post-break-up collateral damage, [producer] Rodney Jerkins dresses up his signature bass-heavy production in gritty, oft-sadistic outfits." In his album review of Full Moon, Arion Berger declared "What About Us?" the "bright spot" on the album "with its awkward, chopping pace and snarky sound effects mugging in the background".
NME writer Peter Robinson praised the uptempo track and wrote, "Brandy’s been off the scene for a while but ‘What About Us?’ rattles her back to life with the force and devastation of a tortoise being plucked from the airing cupboard and set on fire: this rocks hard, it’s the tippest of the top, it gets better with every single listen, and it might well be Rodney’s best work since ‘Say My Name’." Somewhat critical with the track, his colleague Piers Martin found that "What About Us?" was "a slippery, twitching slab of computer funk that thrusts Brandy, fleetingly, into the 21st century, while Devon Thomas The Michigan Daily called it "guaranteed mainstream club play". Allmusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine ranked the song among his three favorite tracks on the Full Moon album along with the title track and "He Is". In 2003, "What About Us?" was awarded a BMI Urban Award, while Steve "Silk" Hurley's remix version of the song received a nomination for the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Remixed Recording, Non-Classical but lost to Roger Sanchez's remix of No Doubt's "Hella Good".
Release and performance
AOL Music hosted the exclusive global premiere of "What About Us?" starting January 2, 2002. The full song was first made available for streaming on-demand in its entirety with a special recorded introduction from Norwood on the AOL service at AOL Keyword: First Listen, across AOL's Web Properties including Netscape, AIM, ICQ and CompuServe, as well as on its international services in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, and the United Kingdom. The song was streamed more than 750,000 times in one day. "What About Us?" was remixed by several producers and DJs, among spawning versions with rappers Nas and Joe Budden each. Instead of the original version, the Simon Vegas Remix was played on radios and television in some countries, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Darkchild signee Fats was supposed to appear on the album version of the song.
"What About Us?" debuted in the week of January 26, 2002 on the US Billboard Hot 100. Opening at number 42, it was the Hot Shot Debut of the week and marked both, Norwood's first entry of the decade and her first appearance since 1999's "U Don't Know Me (Like U Used To)". Norwood's seventh top ten entry, it peaked at number seven, staying on the Hot 100 chart for 18 weeks, and would remain 2002's highest debut on the chart. On Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, the song debuted at number 44, while reaching number 39 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. It eventually peaked at number three on the former chart, on which it became her highest-charting track since "Have You Ever?" (1998). In addition, "What About Us?" peaked within the top five of the Rhythmic Top 40 chart, and the top twenty on both the Top 40 Mainstream and Top 40 Tracks charts.
The song's music video was directed by Dave Meyers and produced by Ron Mohrhoff. It was entirely filmed at the Ten 9 Fifty Studios in Culver City, California on November 29–30, 2001, and features close shots and dance sequences using greenscreen technique. The video does not have a substantial plot but focuses on capturing Norwood's "moments as a performer," dealing with "different set-ups" and "beauty, fashion, edginess, hip." To that end, she added in an interview with MTV, it speaks for all girls who've been wronged by selfish, evil lovers. "The hurt and the pain songs really, really work," she observed, articulating the pain of "women, from 15, or 13 on up [...] they have crushes and they get hurt." The video was all about "showing the world a new side of me," she added.
Set in a science fiction world, the video opens with a digitized long shot of Norwood standing atop a pyramid of kneeling, taut men, which PopMatters described appearing like "tragically punished human in Greek mythology", all holding up Norwood on her pedestal. The camera closes on her, and depicts Norwood placing mementos of her now-dead relationship in a chest, including a promise written on parchment, a watch on a chain, a teddy bear. From here, the scene switches into a futuristic wind tunnel, where she wields a bat against cell phones, two-way pagers, and a flying male, whose sunglasses she grabs off. While the video among intercuts scenes of Norwood performing on a platform with two black-painted men in collars and leashes, it ends with her sitting in the passenger's seat in a lowrider, amid a sea of lowriders. The final scenes feature cameo appearances by Rodney Jerkins and Norwood's younger brother Ray J.
The final edit of "What About Us?" worldpremiered at the end of its Making the Video episode on MTV on January 10, 2002. It debuted on the network's Total Request Live top ten video countdown on January 25. The video entered the MuchMusic Countdown in Canada in the week ending February 8, and it peaked at number seven in the week ending February 22. The video generally mixed reviews by critics, who called it "a surprisingly hard, ostensibly angry, and not very adventurous video" and compared it to Norwood's Matrix-influenced remix video for U Don't Know Me (Like U Used To)". It was nominated for the Viewer's Choice Award at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards but lost to Michelle Branch's video for "Everywhere".
Formats and track listings
12" vinyl single
*sales figures based on certification alone
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- Brandy music videos – watch "What About Us?" at LAUNCHcast