Brandy on Her Struggle with Child Stardom: 'I Felt Like My Mistakes Would Let Down Everyone'
Brandy knows all too well the struggles of child stardom.
Though she grew up with a strong foundation laid by mom Sonja and dad Willie, and with the friendship and support of brother Ray J, the R&B star says she still suffered in the throes of early fame.
"I've been through so, so much," says Brandy, 41, whose new album B7 is out now. In this week's cover story she opens up about her life's ups and downs and how she found joy after years of depression. "I've struggled with losing myself," she says, "in ways where I didn't feel like I could figure it out."
Brandy hit it big back in 1994 when she released her debut self-titled album with the hit "I Wanna Be Down" at age 15. She got even more famous in the following few years, with her wildly successful sophomore album Never Say Never, along with her popular coming-of-age show Moesha that ran for six seasons, that is now trending on Netflix.
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"It was a great time," she says of her earliest success. And when her idol Whitney Houston tapped her to play Cinderella in the 1997 ABC TV musical–making her the first Black woman to play the iconic princess onscreen–Brandy was on cloud nine.
"My childhood dreams were to be a singer, touch as many people as I could and to meet Whitney Houston, just meet her," Brandy recalls. "So to meet her, hang out with her and sing with her," she adds, "it was unbelievable. For her to cast me in such a role, the first Black princess, I don't know the words to really describe what that feels like."
But as Brandy matured and began to outgrow her princess image, she began to experience the downside of fame. "I struggled with being put in a box of perfection," she says. As a role model, especially to young Black girls, "I felt like my mistakes would let down everyone if I made them. I had to make the transition from being a teenager to a woman and figure out what direction I was going to go in."
She continues, "I felt like I didn't have the space to grow and to grow up in a safe way. I had to deal with so many other opinions about what I should do, how I should be and what I should look like. And that can get tough when you're trying to find your own voice."
Brandy became a mother at 23, when she welcomed daughter Sy'rai in 2002 with then partner, producer Robert Smith. "I did not know who I was," she says of that time period. "I had to figure it out. But it takes a village. I surrounded Sy'rai with good people to help me if I needed to go and work on myself or change some things in my life."
In the decades since she became a star, the singer dealt with public controversies, tragedy and multiple heartbreaks, all of which took a toll on her and her mental health, to the point where she once lost hope. "The place that I was in," she says, "it just felt like I wasn't going to make it through."
RELATED: Brandy Reveals Her Darkest Moment of Depression and How Daughter Sy'rai Saved Her Life
Now on the other side of depression, she has a clearer perspective on it all. "I've made so many mistakes — public mistakes," she says. "Nobody is perfect. That's not even something I try to be anymore. That's a prison in and of itself."
She credits her loved ones for helping her overcome and avoid other pitfalls of fame over the years. "My family is one of the main reasons I’ve been able to stay grounded to this day," she says.
These days fame isn't even on her priority list. Instead she's focused on family, her health and the music that helps heal her. "I'm appreciating the smaller things in life," she says. "I've endured so much, and I wouldn’t change it because I love who I am today. I love being me, finally."
RELATED VIDEO: Brandy: I Love Being Me – Finally
B7 is currently available on all music streaming services. For more on Brandy's life as a teen star and how she found peace after depression, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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