The Allure of Toni Braxton’s “Secrets”
A sultry declaration and an undeniable iconic R&B album
Every musical era brings a reintroduction of an artists’ evolution and no one was as smooth as R&B legend Toni Braxton.
“Can you keep a secret?”
Draped in a form-fitting white catsuit against a blue background in the “You’re Makin’ Me High” music video as she seductively purred her sexual fantasy unashamed. It was a new Toni, unearthing another layer to her persona and artistic appeal, and besides Janet Jackson, was a prominent Black female artist who was confident in her sexuality.
“Light my fire/blow my flame/take me, take me, take me away.”
June 18 marked the 25th anniversary of R&B icon’s 1996 sophomore album Secrets — remaining a staple of pure ’90s R&B — and cemented the singer’s presence in music.
The album went on to sell 15 million copies worldwide and peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 200 charts where it stayed for 92 weeks.
In a 1996 interview with MTV News, Braxton shared the inspiration for the album’s title that was based on a true story around one of the tracks, “Talking In His Sleep.”
“While I was in college, my gentlemen friend I was dating, he was talking in his sleep, he was on a chair like this, and he fell asleep. And he was talking about someone else and her name wasn’t Toni. So, he revealed all of his secrets,” she said. “I mean, not to mention, he was really stupid.”
The moment the singer captured the public’s attention in her first live performance in 1992 with BabyFace on the Arsenio Hall Show, the then 25-year-old’s trademark husky and sexy voice, and appeal set her apart from other females R&B singers.
Braxton’s 1993 debut, Toni Braxton, reached number one and stayed on the Billboard charts for 96 weeks, with timeless songs including “Breathe Again,” “Seven Whole Days,” “Another Sad Love Song,” and “Love Shoulda Brought You Home.” The question was, could she do it again?
She elevated beyond the dreaded “sophomore jinx” — something she said frightened her in an interview— and delivered songs of heartbreak, love, longing, adultery; healing after being broken in “Let It Flow,” from the Waiting To Exhale soundtrack and the butterflies of a friendship turned romance in “I Love Me Some Him.”
The graceful ballad “How Could an Angel Break My Heart” featuring saxophonist Kenny G., showed the purity of her voice singing of the heartbreaking realization of watching your lover fall in love with someone else.
“I heard he sealed it with a kiss/he gently kissed her cherry lips/
I found that so hard to believe/Because his kiss belonged to me.”
The album produced number one hits, “You’re Making Me High” and its juggernaut with “Un-break My Heart” written by Diane Warren, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide and 3 million in the United States alone.
It remains one of the best-selling singles of all time — and Braxton’s signature song — winning her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1997. (Fun fact: the song was originally meant for Celine Dion).
Revisiting the album after 25 years, the BabyFace-produced album has aged like wine with thoughtful lyrics that still resonate and raised a standard. Growing up during this era, she was to me as a young girl, the beautiful woman with the velvet voice that all of the older girls I looked up to listened to. Secrets personify the ultimate “grown woman” album with subjects that simply hit differently that speaks into the experience of women coming to their own, and oftentimes the growing pains.
What makes her and this project so special is her ability to reach the listener heart-to-heart. “Let It Flow” is a song I hold near and dear to my heart as it was the narrative for the lives of Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin from Waiting To Exhale, which encouraged me during my struggle with depression.
“If it brings you pain in your life, don’t be afraid to let it go…everything’s gonna work out right, you know.”
Now at 30, living, growing, unlearning, and now listening to this album with a new perspective, I walk away feeling, “Damn, Toni gets it.”