February is a month devoted to cherishing real love, expressed most vividly on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, Americans are bombarded with narratives illuminating the prevalence of betrayal, envy and malice. Brandy Norwood’s “Best Friend” (1994) can be viewed as a robust attempt to revive a commitment to valuing true friendship and love. She uses a discourse about friendship in the song, which is a tribute to her brother, Ray J, that can be interpreted as an endeavor to help her listeners usher in a new global milieu governed by love. Brandy highlights how true friendship and love emanate from a spirit of selflessness. The artist embraces a notion of friendship and love that features at least two individuals enjoying mutual benefits. Norwood is not simply looking for what her friend can do for her; she longs for her friend to “call on me when you need a friend.”
The endearing relationship Brandy has with her brother allows her to understand what an effective friendship looks like in praxis. One could deduce from the central role her brother plays in the song’s development and execution that an effective friendship mirrors the essential characteristics and qualities of successful familial relationships. The song seems to posit that one’s true friend is adopted physically, emotionally and spiritually into his or her biological family.
“Best Friend” recognizes that no person is an island to himself or herself, and that we all need a quality friend. The song, therefore, appears to champion a wholesome idea of friendship that promotes community, community guided by an unconditional love. The love that the artist refers to is unconditional because it endures “Through the good times and the bad ones.” In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson asserts that postmodernism, the historical and cultural epoch in which we reside, is characterized by a “waning of affect,” that is, a flattening of emotion (p. 54). The song can be understood as an effort to parry the “waning of affect” Jameson argues defines postmodernism. Although Brandy and Ray J are biologically sister and brother, and it may be taken for granted that they have a healthy and loving relationship, many mainstream and independent media sources proffer stories depicting vexed family relationships. At the center of many of those relationship problems is a failure to commit to friendship, love and community within the family.
With February being the month in which Americans celebrate black history, a serious reflection on “Best Friend” can be useful in reminding us how central friendship, love and community were to the movements for freedom, civil rights and equality of the revered black leaders we pay homage to this month. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fervently advocated for “the beloved community” throughout his sundry ingenious speeches and writings. For Dr. King, “the beloved community” would not materialize without a shared global commitment to friendship, love and community being embraced. While a superficial reading of “Best Friend” may lead one to believe that the song concerns itself only with the friendship and love of Brandy and Ray J, a more sophisticated reading of it can unveil how it seeks to promote a notion of authentic friendship and unconditional love on a global scale—just as Dr. King’s popularization of Josiah Royce’s coined term, “the beloved community,” does.
Brandy Norwood’s “Best Friend” seems to be an apt song to listen to and contemplate on Valentine’s Day. The song can be useful in facilitating renewed purpose and power for the Valentine’s Day holiday. Although “Best Friend” may not be considered by some as a traditional love song, people are able to employ it as a love song to instigate critical reflection about the love they maintain for their friends and other loved ones.
-Antonio Maurice Daniels
Antonio Maurice Daniels is a Research Associate and Ph.D. student in Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He blogs regularly for his cultural commentary blog, Revolutionary Paideia. His works have been featured widely in academic journals and popular online publications, including Mused Magazine, Up 4 Discussion, From Ashy to Classy, The Black Man Can, Healthy Black Men Magazine, and Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @paideiarebel.