Party Like It’s 1999: Brandy’s “Have You Ever?”

In Party Like It’s 1999, I’m marking my birthday June 25th by reviewing every Billboard Hot 100 #1 hit from my birth year 1999 along with other notable hits from the year.

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Brandy- “Have You Ever?”

HIT #1: January 16, 1999

STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks

If there’s one thing that sells in pop music it’s melodrama. In relationship songs, a breakup or rejection is often treated with end of the world levels of heartbreak. Of course, it’s not that in real life. Even when you’re in this position all crushed, you often move on to the next partner and so on. Not having been in a relationship myself yet, I often roll my eyes when I hear songs like this. But more often than not, some songs manage to sell that heartbreak even if it doesn’t do much for me. 

“Have You Ever?” came from legendary songwriter Diane Warren, the songwriter behind many big #1 hits for acts including Celine Dion, Aerosmith, Starship, Toni Braxton, and many more. Speaking to Fred Bronson in Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits, “I like to write on Christmas. I’m Jewish. I remember being in the studio and coming up with the idea and thinking it was so real. Because “Have you ever loved somebody so bad” is real. I thought it was a hit.” She brought the song to producer and collaborator David Foster, the man behind many big #1 hits for Chicago, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, and Peter Cetera among others. (He was also for a time the stepfather to the supermodel sisters of Bella and Gigi Hadid.)

Upon listening to Warren’s demo, Foster was a fan, “Diane had done an excellent demo. It was effortless to do the track, especially once Michael Thompson put on the guitars. I love the feel of it—there’s nothing on there that’s not necessary and nothing on there that doesn’t add to it. It was one of the most perfect tracks I’ve ever done.” 

Warren soon asked Foster if he could give her song to Brandy, the teenage R&B diva who Foster was working with at the time, and got what she wanted. By early 1999, Brandy was coming off the biggest success of her career. (The #1 song in America the week of Brandy’s birth: Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” After spending a few years in the ‘90s landing constantly in the Top 10, Brandy finally got her big smash with her collaboration with fellow teenage R&B diva Monica in “The Boy Is Mine” topping the charts for 13 weeks in the summer of 1998. (It’s a 7.) Both artists scored more hits on their own in the immediate wake of “The Boy Is Mine” and Monica will be appearing in this column soon enough. 

For “Have You Ever?,” Foster wanted to replicate the backing vocals on Brandy’s #2 hit from 1996 “Sittin’ Up in My Room.” (It’s a 6.) When he wanted to find out who did those vocals he was amazed that it was Brandy who did all the vocals, “I’ve never worked with anyone who could do backgrounds so easily. She could double it perfectly. It only took two hours and then she did a great job on the lead.” For her part, Brandy enjoyed the song saying to Bronson, “I love doing backgrounds. I love hearing my voice back about 45 times. He (Foster) brought a lot out of me. He said, “You have to hit the money notes.” Those are the notes that make you jump out of your seat. He brought me the money notes out of me on “Have You Ever?” 

Lyrically, “Have You Ever?” deals with Brandy being all in love with a guy who doesn’t love her back. Feeling all upset, Brandy spends most of the song relating to the audience asking you if you’ve ever felt the same feelings she’s feeling. On the bridge, Brandy lets it all out wondering what does she got to do to get this guy to love her, “What do I gotta do to get you in my arms baby/What do I gotta do to get to your heart.”

Musically, “Have You Ever?” definitely sounds like the work of professionals. It fits right in with the late ‘90s R&B slow jam. I especially like the liquid phaser guitars that come in and out and the twinkling electric pianos. The melody goes along smoothly underneath the heartache and desperation in its sleepy nature. It all sounds good but it doesn’t leave much impression after listen.

Same thing with Brandy’s singing. You can tell she’s giving it her all in conveying the feeling of heartbreak and sadness. While it’s all impressive, it doesn’t linger with him the way it should. After listening to the song a few times, I still get nothing out of it and it evaporates in my mind when I’m done. It still a fine enough song so it could be worse.

“Have You Ever?” would wind up being Brandy’s final #1 hit. She would continue putting out music but wouldn’t have the same level of chart success she had in the late ‘90s. Since 1999, Brandy’s had only one Top 10 hit, 2002’s “What About Us?” which peaked at #7. (It’s a 3.) She’s still putting out albums including one coming out this July. She’s not the only one in her family who’s had an impact on the charts. She’s the cousin of rapper Snoop Dogg and her brother Ray J would land a few major hits in the next decade. (His highest-charting hit, 2008’s “Sexy Can I” with Yung Berg, peaked at #3; it’s another 3.) 

Outside of music, Brandy has also been busy with TV. During the height of her chart-success, Brandy was a major actress playing the titlular character on the sitcom Moesha which aired on the now-defunct UPN network from 1995 to 2002. She’s also done reality shows and TV appearances. And in real life, Brandy was involved in a major accident when in December 2006 she crashed into a car on an LA freeway killing a driver. She wasn’t charged but settled lawsuits from the victim’s family. 

GRADE: 5/10

BONUS BEATS: In 2007, the Irish boy band Westlife released their version of “Have You Ever?” Here it is: 

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