A Definitive Investigation Into Who Won The Boy In ‘The Boy is Mine’
Brandy? Monica? 20 years on, it's time to settle this thing.
It was around this time 20 years ago that two of the top R&B divas of the era, Brandy and Monica, teamed up for one of the biggest pop hits of the entire decade.
‘The Boy is Mine’ has lived a thousand lives through ’90s compilations and retro nights at pubs. One thing that it’s never gotten, however, is closure — no-one seems to have a definite answer as far as who the boy belongs to. Both women are entirely convinced of their ownership, so it’s time to bring in an impartial third party in and get The Boy back to his rightful home.
Sure, The Boy is almost definitely a man now who is at least in his late 30s — but still, better late than never.
Brandy Norwood was a seasoned veteran by the time ‘The Boy is Mine’ dropped — and she was only 19, god help her. The single was a part of her third album, Never Say Never, which was recorded not long after she played the titular role in a Whitney Houston-produced TV version of Cinderella.
A co-writer, Brandy had originally cut the song solo before realising it would work better as a contrasting duet a la Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s ‘The Girl is Mine’. At the time, it was rumoured that Brandy was rivals with the singer Monica, despite the fact they’d only ever met in passing at a couple of functions.
To toy with this gossip, Brandy reached out to her supposed rival to play her literal rival in the song.
When 18-year-old Monica Arnold was called up for a guest spot with Brandy, she was still riding high on the success of her triple-platinum 1995 LP, Miss Thang. Spawning several big R&B hits of the era and then appearing on the Space Jam soundtrack — truly a sign of ’90s clout — the wunderkind talent had just as much momentum as Brandy going into ‘The Boy is Mine’.
It’s easy to see mirror images of the two in their careers: child stars of the early ’90s, growing up in public, inspired by Whitney Houston and carving out a name for themselves in the pop world while staying true to their R&B roots.
Brandy’s intuition to get Monica on the track was spot on, and their powers combined would allow both to go platinum with their follow-up singles ‘Have You Ever?’ and ‘The First Night’, respectively.
What We Know About The Boy
Surprisingly little. In the song’s intro, Brandy and Monica initiate a conversation. “Do you know somebody named…” Brandy begins to ask, before trailing off. “Well, you know his name,” she concludes. “Oh, I definitely know his name,” replies Monica. That’s all well and good for Brandy and Monica, but we the listeners don’t even know The Boy’s name.
The rest of the song doesn’t give us much to work with, either. We can assess that he was with Monica first, as per Brandy’s noting of Monica being “the past” and herself as “the future.” Monica also later sings to Brandy that she “can’t destroy this love I found.”
It’s also not made clear purely going off the song as to whether he has broken it off with Monica or is still trying to keep both romances alight. In addition, we have no idea if The Boy knows that Brandy and Monica are aware of one another. We’re not given heaps to work with, but let’s leave it to each woman to plead their respective cases.
Right from the get-go, Brandy seems to want to be diplomatic about the situation. “I think it’s time we got this straight,” she says. “Let’s sit and talk, face to face.” Brandy wants this situation sorted so that she and The Boy can continue living their lives together.
From her perspective, Monica is the jilted old flame that’s seeking revenge — and Brandy wants nothing to do with it. She’s imploring Monica to move on. When Monica snaps back, Brandy pulls out an ace. “I tried to hesitate,” she warns. “I didn’t wanna say what he told me — he said, without me, he couldn’t make it through the day.”
This is the only time in the entire song when either woman alludes to something The Boy has actually said — and given how little we actually know about The Boy, this is quite the development.
As previously mentioned, Brandy envisions herself as “The Future” to Monica’s “Past.” From her perspective, The Boy has unequivocally moved on from Monica. The sooner they are able to start their lives together in earnest, the better. Monica, from Brandy’s perspective, is a thorn in the side — pricking, insistent, relentless.
Perhaps the romance with Brandy and The Boy overlapped with the end of Monica’s relationship and Monica herself is having a hard time coming to terms with that. Whatever the case, Brandy is done being civil by the end. One of her final shots is a rhetorical question: “What makes you think that he wants you?”
Brandy sees Monica as entirely deluded — and it’s time for her to accept it and move on.
Monica is hella defensive from the off, promptly positioning herself as the innocent victim and Brandy as the homewrecker. There are no niceties when it comes to Monica’s side of things, and fair enough too — she truly feels as though she’s been shafted, and the only way that she can make her relationship with The Boy work is if Brandy is out of the picture.
She stumbles in the second verse when Brandy reveals what The Boy said to her, replying: “Well, maybe you misunderstood.” Not calling bullshit that The Boy actually said that, but saying that what he said to her was somehow misconstrued.
It feels like a slip-up, and it’s not one that Monica ever quite recovers from over the rest of the song. In the final verse, she does get a few last good sledges in against Brandy. She’s not going down without a fight, which she at least deserves a little credit for.
At the same time, it’s worth remembering that Monica literally named her next album The Boy is Mine. It feels like she was doing a lot more work than Brandy to convince people The Boy was indeed hers — and it’s safe to say convincing herself was a bigger priority than anything else.
The Winner: Brandy
Sorry, Monica, but the love you found has left. The Boy belongs to Brandy. He’s open with her, he’s ready to move forward with her, he’s over Monica’s high levels of drama and the nastiness she’s showing to Brandy.
Yeah, he probably messed up at some point along the way, but all three individuals deserve to move on with their lives and not get caught up in this petty warfare.
Monica, you need to give it up. The Boy and Brandy have had about enough.
David James Young is a writer, podcaster and a firm believer in the power of pop music from 1998. He tweets at @DJYwrites.