Not since a young Madonna declared that she wanted to rule the world has there been a pop ingenue as brazenly ambitious as Brandy, who brought her first headlining tour to the Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday night. At 20, Brandy wants it all right now, regardless of whether she's developed the skills to deserve it.
Taking the stage to a deafening and blinding blast of pyrotechnics, Brandy raced through such early hits as "I Wanna Be Down," "Baby" and "Sittin' Up in My Room," speaking very little to an audience of young parents, preteens and Nickelodeon tykes, and leaving them little time to applaud. When she finally spoke, she offered such platitudes as "I'm a real person" and "Thank you for making my dreams come true."
Though she's consistently likable as an actress and has mastered a pleasing melancholy croon as a recording artist, Brandy has never been a strong live performer. Her only expressions are an unbecoming sneer and a goofy look-at-me face. Even while performing such potential crowd-pleasers as the soggy smash "Have You Ever" and the plaintive "Almost Doesn't Count," she was unable to connect emotionally with the audience.
The show, sponsored by Cover Girl cosmetics, was marred by an unrelenting promotional push designed to turn young girls into brand-loyal makeup addicts. Product reps trolled the crowd, passing out ads disguised as Brandy pictures and applying fake tattoos with silver mascara.
And that wasn't the only cross-promotion: Brandy's opening acts, Silk and 702, are managed by Brandy's power-mom, Sonja Norwood. Dressed in white suits and performing tightly choreographed moves, Silk modeled itself after acts like the Temptations and the Dells. And while its performance lacked the discipline of those classic soul groups, the vocals more than lived up to the tradition, with falsetto highs on "If You" worthy of the Stylistics or even Prince.
Also impressive was the young girl group 702, which has a Top 5 pop hit with "Where My Girls At," produced by Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott. Even missing Lemisha Grinstead, who had a baby last week, 702 still managed a short, yet spirited, set powered by the unwavering, gospel-schooled voice of 21-year-old Kameelah Williams. Like Lauryn Hill when she was with the Fugees or Coko from SWV, Williams is on the short list of budding R&B vocalists to watch.