In 1998, the song of the summer was “The Boy Is Mine,” an instant-classic duet between Brandy and Monica about two women vying for the same man. The accompanying video even showed the two singers in neighboring apartments arguing over who deserves the attention of actor Mekhi Phifer.
Over 20 years later, Monica and Brandy are reuniting for Verzuz, the web series which sees industry titans facing off in a friendly battle of music dominance, on Monday, August 31. Of all the songs fans are requesting, "The Boy Is Mine" comes with the most history between the two singers.
“When we did the song, we didn't overthink it,” Monica tells ET's Nischelle Turner now, adding that she saw the duet as an opportunity to expand as an artist and push her sound beyond what she previously cultivated with hits like “Don't Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days).”
However, no sooner did the song blow up than did fans, the industry and media alike perpetuate a real-life feud between the two R&B songstresses, leading to long-lasting tensions and lines drawn in the sand. “It was not something that I would say was anyone's fault,” Monica says now, admitting, “We all added to it and after a while it became real.”
But as they’ve gotten older, Monica says “it gets a little bit frustrating for both she and I when it becomes, ‘No, I like her better. Well, I like her better.’” And now that they’re in their 40s, they’re less interested in engaging with the feud that threatens to outshine the legacy of the song. “We don't have to do that [now].”
It’s also worth noting that the two reunited again in 2012 for “It All Belongs to Me,” but that still hasn’t tempered the rumors. The singer adds that she doesn’t like “the idea of our issues overshadowing how great of a song it really was and how much of a blessing it was for both of us to be a part of it.”
Now, the two R&B powerhouses will battle it out for the next installment of Verzuz. And according to Monica, the feud will at long last be put to bed.
“We've long removed ourselves from the dramatics of it but we're gonna have a very in-depth conversation that may possibly be shared even with the audience because there's a lot that happens, the fans have no idea what really took place, what really caused the initial friction,” she reveals.
Once she speaks with Brandy one-on-one, behind closed doors, the two will decide how much of that they want to share with the public. Hopefully, “then we'll share some things with you guys,” Monica says.
And if there’s any moral in this feud that drove these two hit singers apart -- a common trope in the industry when there are similar young female singers sharing the same musical space -- it’s that it’s better to rise above it all and stick together. “Hopefully, we can help some of the younger artists avoid doing the same thing because we did a whole lot more together than we did apart,” Monica adds.
When it comes to the face-off on Verzuz, it’s not about finding out who’s better than the other as much as it is about showcasing how much these two singers have grown up personally and professionally. “We share a lot in common. And then at the same time, we’re completely different,” Monica says. “We're different in the way that we dress and the things that we've experienced and where we grew up and I think those differences are what made ‘The Boys Is Mine’ so special.”
For Monica, the 22 years since the release of the song has involved many personal ups and downs that have played out in the press as well as continuing to release new albums including 2002’s All Eyez on Me and 2003’s After the Storm. Five years after the release of Code Red, the singer is back in the studio working on the upcoming album Trenches. She’s also actively involved in The BeHuman Foundation, which uses “music and poignant messaging to give our communities a platform to triumph over oppressive situations and inspire each other around the world to do the same.”
For her, the foundation was her answer to figuring out how to create a world of compassion that helps out with all issues, from breast cancer awareness to helping displaced kids of incarcerated parents to providing support during the coronavirus pandemic. “I can do so many things under the BeHuman umbrella,” Monica says. “That is what I loved about it most because there is no one thing that plagues our community worse than the others.”
Reflecting on her own growth, the singer says, “The level of gratefulness that I feel now at this age, it just surpasses anything else that I could even explain to you. I mean, I have a son that's driving so, you know, it's just so different.”
In the meantime, when it comes to Monday’s performance, Monica says she and Brandy are taking it one day at a time and making sure the whole event feels as organic as possible.
Will they perform “The Boy Is Mine” after all this? “I'll see what she wants to do when she finally gets to Atlanta,” Monica says. “We’ll sit down and figure out which direction we want to go and how we want to do it.”
No matter what, the singer promises, “We’ll make sure that it’s still fun and everybody is still having a good time because we want people to be at home jamming.”
“I just look forward to what Monday will be. It'll be a celebration,” she concludes.