What About Us? is the lead single from Brandy's third studio album "Full Moon."
The single was released on January 1, 2002. The song was written by LaShawn Daniels, Rodney Jerkins (who also produced the song), Brandy Norwood, Nora Payne & Kenisha Pratt.
The song's development was motivated by the fact that Brandy wanted something different; an aggressive, sexier and edgier sound with a message which would give women strength while also reflecting her own growth and maturity.
"What About Us?" was one of a couple of the new tracks that Rodney Jerkins worked on while he was putting the touches on Brandy's album "Full Moon" in Los Angeles, California.
After playing the song for Brandy, she enthusiastically asked Rodney to save the song for her.
According to Brandy in an interview with MTV News the following year:
"I was like 'Oh my God, Rodney, this is it.' This is exactly what the industry needs. We can maybe change the game with this.' He said, 'Yeah, this is what I'm going for'."
Brandy eventually consulted longtime collaborators LaShawn Daniels, Nora Payne and Kenisha Pratt to re-write several lyrics in the song.
"I told them what I wanted to talk about. 'This is an aggressive record – it's edgy, it's sexy. I wanna sing about something that's sexy and edgy.' I revisited my past in my mind and kind of told them what I wanna talk about.'"
Brandy noted that it took the team a while to get it because she didn't want "that sound that’s already saturated the industry. It’s important to me to be a trendsetter and change the game. It was a great feeling to see Rodney soar like that."
The song's protagonist describes the aftermaths of an untrue love, facing would-be Mr. Right with the current point of the one-sided attachment.
According to Brandy in a 2005 interview:
"It was about being in a relationship that's not working anymore. 'What About Us' was a little more aggressive and different for me. I'd say it was a little bit ahead of its time..."
The song's music video was directed by Dave Meyers and produced by Ron Mohrhoff.
It was entirely filmed at the Ten 9 Fifty Studios in Culver City, California on November 29th and November 30th and features close shots and dance sequences using greenscreen technique.
The video does not have a substantial plot but focuses on capturing Brandy's "moments as a performer" dealing with "different set-ups" and "beauty, fashion, edginess, hip."
She added in an interview with MTV that the song speaks for all girls who've been wronged by selfish, evil lovers, saying, "The hurt and the pain songs really, really work."
She observed, articulating the pain of "women, from 15, or 13 on up [...] they have crushes and they get hurt."
The music video was all about "showing the world a new side of me."
On January 10, 2002, the final edit of "What About Us?" world-premiered at the end of MTV's "Making the Video."
Set in a science fiction world, the video opens with a digitized long shot of Brandy standing atop a pyramid of kneeling, taut men, which PopMatters described appearing like "tragically punished human in Greek mythology" all holding her up on her pedestal.
The camera closes on Brandy and depicts her placing mementos of her now-dead relationship in a chest, including a promise written on parchment, a watch on a chain and a teddy bear.
From here, the scene switches into a futuristic wind tunnel, where she wields a bat against cell phones, two-way pagers, and a flying male, whose sunglasses she grabs off.
While the video among intercuts scenes of Brandy performing on a platform with two black-painted men in collars and leashes, it ends with her sitting in the passenger's seat in a lowrider, amid a sea of lowriders.
The final scenes feature cameo appearances by Rodney Jerkins and Brandy's younger brother Ray J.
The video peaked at number one on MTV's "Total Request Live" top ten video countdown on January 25, 2002 & remained on the countdown for twenty-five unconsecutive days.
It also entered the MuchMusic Countdown in Canada in the week ending February 8th and it peaked at number seven in the week ending February 22, 2002.
The video generally mixed reviews by critics, who called it "a surprisingly hard, ostensibly angry, and not very adventurous video" and compared it to Brandy's Matrix-influenced remix video for "U Don't Know Me (Like U Used To)."
It was nominated for the Viewer's Choice Award at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, but it lost to Michelle Branch's video for her song "Everywhere."
On January 2, 2002, AOL Music hosted the exclusive global premiere of "What About Us?"
The full song was first made available for streaming on-demand in its entirety with a special recorded introduction from Brandy on the AOL service at "AOL Keyword: First Listen" across AOL's Web Properties including Netscape, AIM, ICQ and CompuServe as well as on its international services in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Argentina and the United Kingdom.
The song was streamed more than 750,000 times in one day.
It was also remixed by several producers and DJs, among spawning versions with rappers Nas and Joe Budden each.
Instead of the original version, the Simon Vegas-Remix was played on radios and television in some countries including Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Darkchild signee Fats was supposed to appear on the album version of the song.
"What About Us?" debuted in the week of January 26, 2002 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Opening at number 42, it was the Hot Shot Debut of the week and marked both, Brandy's first entry of the decade and her first appearance since 1999's "U Don't Know Me (Like U Used To)."
The song peaked at number seven, becoming Brandy's seventh top ten entry and would remain the highest debut on the chart in 2002.
On Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart, the song debuted at number 44, while reaching number 39 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart.
"What About Us?" eventually peaked at number three on the former chart, on which it became Brandy's highest-charting track since "Have You Ever?"
In addition, the song peaked within the top five of the Rhythmic Top 40 chart, and the top twenty on both the Top 40 Mainstream and Top 40 Tracks charts.
"What About Us?" received a mixed to positive response from music critics, who complimented its production and compared it to Janet Jackson's 1986 breakthrough single "Control" which Brandy cited as an influence on the song.
Chuck Taylor from Billboard magazine felt the track was "so striking [that] it's destined to one of those marked hate-it-or-love-it songs."
While he criticized Brandy's "generic voice" over the track, he commended the complex but instant structure of the song, writing that "certainly, this is an effective way to led the world know that this charmer as returned and it's destined to be a monster at radio."
Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine wrote that the song was "lifting Brandy's typically schmaltzy brand of pop-R&B to a new, edgier plateau [...] With offbeat "What About Us," an assessment of post-break-up collateral damage, [producer] Rodney Jerkins dresses up his signature bass-heavy production in gritty, oft-sadistic outfits."
In his album review of "Full Moon," Arion Berger declared "What About Us?" the "bright spot" on the album "with its awkward, chopping pace and snarky sound effects mugging in the background."