If Leonardo DiCaprio is king of the world right now, you'd be hard pressed not to crown Brandy Norwood queen, or at least princess. All of 19, she stars in a hot sitcom ("Moesha") and won raves for her television movie debut as the title character in "Cinderella." With her own DC Comics book on the way, Brandy has also snagged a role in "I Still Know," the sequel to last year's horror hit "I Know What You Did Last Summer."
From all indications, Brandy's sophomore album, "Never Say Never" (Atlantic), will do big numbers this summer. After all, her self-titled debut -- which came out when she was only 15 -- went quadruple platinum. "The Boy Is Mine," the first single off the new album, has already gone platinum, even as a second single, "Top of the World" (with guest rapper Mase) dominates the airwaves. And there's more to come, including luxurious ballads like "Truthfully" and "Have You Ever?" (which is begging to be redone as a duet, perhaps with Usher?).
"The Boy Is Mine" is actually a testy duet with fellow teen diva Monica, who also made her platinum debut at 15 (her follow-up will be out next month). Over a mesmerizing pulse, the two become rivals fussing and feuding over a boyfriend. It's all caustically genteel, however, Jerry Springer without the chair-throwing and hair-pulling. The track with Mase is also hypnotic, though its theme -- life is hard, celebrity is harder -- is somewhat played out.
There are other songs here that rely too much on simplistic slogans rather than well-thought-out lyrics: "Learn the Hard Way" . . . "Almost Doesn't Count" . . . even the title track, "Never Say Never." Brandy is co-writer on six of the album's 14 songs and no matter their achievement lyrically, she herself sounds grown-up and confident, without taking any false steps toward the kind of sexually rooted "adult" sound that undermined Janet Jackson's most recent album.
Brandy's obviously not Moesha, but she lets some of that spunky character's personality infiltrate her role as a young singer who bemoans romantic confusion on the percolating "U Don't Know Me (Like U Used To)," the funky "Happy" and "Angel in Disguise," or who explores heart connections on "Truthfully" and "Have You Ever?," fragile ballads that bring out the warmth and suppleness in Brandy's voice better than the up-tempo tunes do.
The new album also includes the inspirational, gospel-informed "One Voice," the inevitable Diane Warren-penned power ballad, "Have You Ever?," and an unnecessary remake of Bryan Adams's blustery "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You." Those three tracks were cleanly and efficiently produced by David Foster, but the more engaging work on "Never Say Never" comes courtesy of producer Rodney Jerkins, who seems much more in tune with Brandy's soul and spirit. (To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.) CAPTION: Brandy brings some "Moesha" spunkiness to "Never Say Never," her new album. CAPTION: Brandy sounds grown-up and confident on her sophomore effort.