’90s No. 1s Revisited: “The Boy Is Mine”
The one hundred twenty-first No. 1 song of the 1990s was “The Boy Is Mine,” a Grammy-winning duet by R&B princesses Brandy and Monica that spent 13 weeks at No. 1 and turned out to be the longest-running No. 1 hit of 1998, and the No. 2 song of the year, behind “Too Close,” the track it displaced at the apex of the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
“Boy” appeared on both singers’ multiplatinum sophomore studio albums: first on Brandy’s Never Say Never, then a few weeks later on Monica’s The Boy Is Mine. The success of “Boy” helped both those albums spawn a few more chart-toppers in the aftermath: Brandy with “Have You Ever?” and Monica with both “The First Night” and “Angel Of Mine.” Not unexpectedly, neither singer saw as much success after the ’90s, although each scored a Top 10 hit in the early 2000s: Brandy with “What About Us?” (No. 7, 2002) and Monica with “So Gone” (No. 10, 2003). About a decade after these hits, the pair would team up on a largely ignored but somewhat decent ode to materialism, 2012’s “It All Belongs To Me.” Both continue to create new music. In fact, as of this writing, each released new material in just the past couple weeks.
Prior to “Boy,” Brandy and Monica had both enjoyed a few years of mainstream commercial success, with almost eerily similar achievements. Both had released one studio album. Both had scored big hit singles right out of the gate, landing four Top 10s apiece, the peaks of which were almost identical: Nos. 2, 4, 6/7 and 9. And each singer’s biggest hit was about secluding herself from a love interest: Brandy’s “Sittin’ Up In My Room” off the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack (No. 2, 1996), and Monica debut, “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One Of Dem Days)” (No. 2, 1995). Because of these and other similarities — they were both cute, parent-friendly, mononymous African-American teenage girls — comparisons were made, and a perceived rivalry became a media narrative, setting the stage for “The Boy Is Mine.”
“The Boy Is Mine,” as the name implies, tells the story of a fight between two women over a man. On the track, each trades increasingly escalating barbs about how the other must be mistaken, jealous or delusional about her importance to the man in question (portrayed in the video by the handsome Mekhi Phifer). Because the singers take turns singing separately and also sing together in harmony, “The Boy Is Mine” serves to highlight the notable differences in their vocal characteristics — Brandy’s unique rhaspy whisper vs. Monica’s more classic gospel-inspired runs. It was, truly, a brilliant idea to bring these two together on this project.
By the way, by spending so much time hogging the No. 1 slot, “The Boy is Mine” denied two other other hits from reaching the top, most notoriously Shania Twain’s crossover mega-smash, “You’re Still The One,” which was locked out for eight weeks, as well as Usher’s “My Way,” for three.
Let’s prepare our necks to roll and our fingers to wag, and revisit “The Boy Is Mine”:
Great tune — a ’90s classic for sure. The internet tells us that the original plan for this song was to make it a solo effort by Brandy, who also is a co-producer. Thank goodness that didn’t happen because this song would be pretty ordinary if it weren’t a duet. By making it a lyrical ping-pong match, the track offers the listener humor, sass and wonderful karaoke inspiration. (Not that we’d know or anything.) In the tradition of many ’90s R&B songs, the final minute or so gets a little irritating with all the over-singing — and, in this case, it comes off as if the singers are competing, not cooperating. But we’ll forgive that as a sign of the times. This was an enjoyable track to revisit.
Does it hold up? It’s worth noting that at the time of its release, these types of duets weren’t particularly common. The pairing of two A-list singers was somewhat novel. Nowadays, the novelty is seeing any artist release something without teaming up with one, two, three or twenty-eight featured artists. So as far as the track being a collaboration, it holds up well. But as for the music itself, there’s admittedly something dated-sounding about the instrumental on “The Boy Is Mine,” as if the sound levels aren’t quite right. The overall effect comes off as a bit cheap.
Dopeness: 4 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?