It is hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the monumental duet that was “The Boy Is Mine” was riding high at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart.
During the week of June 22nd, 1998 Brandy and Monica were in the middle of what would ultimately culminate to an impressive 13-week streak at number one.
Nowadays, it’s rare for a pure R&B song to rise to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. The current musical landscape has become so dominated by Hip-Hop and Pop that traditional R&B has almost faded from view when looking at songs that have reached number one.
With “The Boy Is Mine”, Brandy and Monica came together to create the highest selling song of 1998, the uncontested song of that summer, and the biggest hit of both their careers.
SETTING THE STAGE
In order to understand why this song was so special and why it still matters so much, it is essential to understand what was going on in music at the time. In the mid-90s there was a sudden onslaught of teenage R&B female singers who were making major waves on urban radio. During a prolific span of 15 months between 1994 and 1995, three of the most successful teenage acts at the time made their successful debuts. Aaliyah burst onto the scene in the spring of 1994 with her debut album “Age Aint Nothing But A Number”. Brandy’s self-titled debut arrived not long after in the fall of 1994. By the summer of 1995, Monica knocked down the door with her self-assured debut “Miss Thang”. Each singer was only 15-years old at the time of their debut and managed to score significant R&B hits. Although Aaliyah, Brandy, and Monica were each undeniable R&B sensations, none of them had managed to grab the elusive top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. As a result, they were pigeon-holed into the realm of R&B and not yet considered “pop stars”.
From the beginning of their careers, Brandy and Monica were always plagued with rumors of an intense rivalry with one another. Although Aaliyah managed to stay out of the fray, the media played up speculation about heated tensions between Brandy and Monica and always eluded to a chart competition between the two. Looking back at this time, these rumors were probably nothing more than sexist rumors playing into the common misconception that women are always catty and can never get along. By all accounts at the time, there was very little to substantiate these rumors. At the time of their debut albums, Brandy and Monica had only seen each other in passing at awards shows but there was no true friendship or feud to speak of.
HOW IT CAME TOGETHER
In 1997, while both singers were hard at work on their sophomore albums. Brandy was working with her then-producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Monica had reconnected with her producer Dallas Austin. Many people don’t know that “TBIM” was never intended to be a duet. Brandy and Darkchild originally wrote and recorded “The Boy Is Mine” with lyrics that were loosely inspired by the Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney song “The Girl Is Mine” which was released in 1982. After listening to the finished track with just Brandy’s vocals, legend has it that Darkchild suggested “TBIM” might work if there were another singer to go toe-to-toe with Brady on the verses. Darkchild thought that duet would better serve the song’s feisty lyrics and would pay homage to the Jackson-McCartney song that inspired it. Due to the rumors that were already rampant, Monica was considered a natural fit for the song.
Once Monica agreed to come on board and Clive Davis gave her green light, Monica travelled to LA to record her vocals for the song. Although there was no real rivalry prior to recording “TBIM”, many people involved with the production of the song have said that they two singers did not get along well during the recording process. Sources say that tensions were high throughout the recording session and there was a lot of tension about which parts would be sung by whom. Dallas Austin had Monica re-record some of her vocals back in Atlanta and care was taken to make sure the arrangement did not favor one singer over the other. The song went through countless mixes before both parties were happy with the final product. As they say, the rest is history.
THE SONG OF THE YEAR
The song would serve as the lead single both Brandy and Monica’s sophomore albums. The iconic video was shot by Joseph Kahn (He who would later go on to direct other iconic videos such as “Britney Spears’ Toxic, Destiny’s Child’s Say My Name, or anything by Taylor Swift recently) and starred hunk-of-the moment Mekhi Pfifer (long before he would star with Eminem in 8 Mile). The song debuted on May 19, 1998. It entered Billboard Hot 100 on May 30th at a respectable number 23. On June 6, during its second week on the chart, it jumped to the coveted number one spot on the Hot 100. It became the first certified pop hit for both singers and was the first female-lead duet to reach the top spot since Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand joined forces for the 1979 disco hit, “No More Tears”. By late-June 2018, it was clear “TBIM” would be the song of the summer. It remained at number one for a total of 13 weeks and did not relinquish its reign until September 5th, 1998.
Brandy and Monica were launched into the pop stratosphere and rumors of their rivalry only grew stronger with the song’s success. Monica was upset that Brandy performed the song solo (singing Monica’s part as well) during an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Brandy also cried foul when Monica chose to name her sophomore album “The Boy Is Mine”. Due to their feud, Brandy and Monic only had one televised live performance of “TBIM” which occurred at the MTV Movie Awards in September of 1998.
Due in large part to the success of Brandy and Monica, record labels were finally convinced that teenage chanteuses could create pop hits on a massive scale. They earned a Grammy For Best R&B Duo. Not long after “The Boy Is Mine”, record labels started pushing a wave of teen pop singers (i.e. Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson). I think the success of those singers owe a great deal to Aaliyah, Brandy, and Monica who helped break the ground for teenage girls in the music industry.
Many have tried to duplicate the female-female duet since “The Boy Is Mine” but none have come close. Vocal titans Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey came together for “When You Believe” but the song was too saccharine and barely impacted radio. Britney Spears and Madonna’s “Me Against The Music barely cracked the Top 40. Beyonce and Alicia Keys came together for “Put It In A Love Song” and we all know how that turned out. Even Brandy and Monica tried to recreate the magic with “It All Belongs To Me” but the song paled in comparison. To say that their relationship has been rocky over the years would be putting it mildly. In recent years we have seen Brandy and Monica feuding over the legacy of Whitney and take verbal jabs at each other over social media.
Ultimately “The Boy Is Mine”, and the huge success it garnered, has been a gift a curse for its two creators. On one hand, “The Boy Is Mine” allowed Brandy and Monica to achieve a level of success that few artists are able to accomplish. On the other hand, because the biggest hit in each of their careers was a duet, it means that their careers and legacy will forever be intertwined.
Whatever the case may be, “The Boy Is Mine” has earned its place in music history and will probably serve as an inspiration for many to come.