Toni Braxton: Still Makin' Us High
BY Jase Peeples
January 21 2014 7:00 AM ET
More than 20 years have passed since Toni Braxton gave a voice to a new generation of heartache with her first solo single, “Another Sad Love Song.” But it was more than a sultry sound and a soul-filled track list that made the singer’s self-titled debut album an instant classic. Her down-to-earth, easygoing personality, coupled with live performances that proved Braxton could slay with the ferocity of a lioness on stage, turned the siren into an instant R&B icon. That killer combination also endeared Braxton to a legion of loyal LGBT fans who not only gravitated toward the artist’s strong sense of self, but made us feel like she was the type of girl we could hang out with and gab about dating drama over a couple of cocktails after a show.
Six Grammy awards and seven albums later, the 46-year-old is still the same approachable artist who stole hearts in 1993 – one who isn’t afraid to forgo the usual fluff and speak her mind.
“I have a very androgynous look,” she says when asked about her longtime LGBT appeal. “Don’t get me wrong, I think of myself as an attractive woman, but it’s in a boyish way. However, I’m very comfortable with it and that makes it very easy to emulate Toni Braxton on both sides. Over the years I think that might be one of the reasons my gay and lesbian fans have connected with me. I am who I am. I’m an androgynous artist and I’m comfortable in my own skin.”
Nevertheless, Braxton admits she hasn’t always felt like the powerful personality she projects in her performances. Before she began work on her upcoming eighth studio album – an album comprised solely of duets with Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds titled Love, Marriage & Divorce – the commercial disappointment of her previous two efforts, being diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, and a failed marriage had all left the singer feeling her music career was coming to an end.
“I was in a really dark space and was thinking about retiring,” Braxton says. “I wasn’t feeling great about myself. From being diagnosed with lupus and thinking I wouldn’t be able to work anymore to problems in my relationship – I was just falling prey to the negativity I had around me and in my life at that time.”
That’s when Braxton says a phone call from one of the men who helped shape her career pulled her out of her downward spiral. “Babyface called me up one day and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you retiring? You can’t do it. I’m coming over.’ So we talked and after a few therapy sessions with him he finally told me, ‘You can’t retire. Everyone has been there, but your problem is you forgot to be an artist. You’ve gotten caught up in the music business and it’s suppressing you from the reason you originally set out to do what you do. You’re an artist. You need to put it to music.’”
What followed is what Braxton calls “one of the greatest collaborations of her career.” But one the artist says also took some time before it found its creative footing. “Babyface and I had a difference of opinion on relationships at first,” she says. “He had gone through a divorce before and I was going through one at the time. I remember he would say things in our sessions like, ‘The man works to take care of his family and the wife doesn’t appreciate it,’ and I was like, ‘No, what about the girls that work to take care of the family? It’s not just one side. There are so many different types of relationships.’ And finally, he said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ So once we opened that window up we became a lot more creative with the album.”