In 2011, WE tv premiered its hit series Braxton Family Values, the reality show that gave viewers a glimpse into the personal lives of legendary singer Toni Braxton and her sisters – Traci, Towanda, Trina and Tamar.
Over the course of the show’s five seasons, Tamar’s candor and larger-than-life personality made her the show’s breakout star. High off the success of her show — she notched her own spinoff reality show with husband and music vet Vince Herbert, Tamar & Vince — Tamar revived her solo career with the release of her second studio album, 2013’s Love & War.
Fast forward to 2017, and the youngest Braxton holds three more albums under her belt, Winter Loversland, Calling All Lovers and her newest effort, Bluebird of Happiness, which the singer recently revealed will be her final album. Tamar shattered the hearts of fans when she announced her departure from music, though she says this isn’t her final goodbye.
“At the end of the day I have to do things that make me 150 percent happy, and if there’s a part in my life where there’s always an argument or an issue, let’s just eliminate that for now,” she tells Billboard. “Tamar’s not retiring and you have not seen the last of me — this is just the beginning. Right now, Bluebird of Happiness is my happiness and this is what I wanted everybody to focus on.”
Billboard caught up with Tamar Braxton to discuss her newest album and why she’s stepping away from music.
What’s the story behind the title Bluebird of Happiness?
Tamar: Well the title of my album, Bluebird of Happiness, originally came from the story of the bluebird. It’s really about the bluebird who woke up one day and realized that its life wasn’t fulfilled. You know, it had an amazing house — this beautiful oak tree house, but it just didn’t feel fulfilled. It didn’t feel fulfilled and went on a quest for happiness all over the world to so many places. It went to Paris where you have caviar and champagne and that was great, you know, for the bird for a while, but then the bird woke up one day and was like this is not fulfilling for me as well.
And then the bird flew to Jamaica and then got his reggae life on and was like, “Okay. This is cool, jerk chicken is amazing, but this is not fulfilling for me either.” The bird just kept flying and flying around until one day, it saw this tree, an abandoned tree and it had a house and everything the bird felt it needed at that moment. The bird really felt at home there and in the middle of the night, maybe a couple weeks later, the bird woke up and was like, “Oh my god, this is the same tree that I left, you know months and months ago when I went on my quest for happiness.”
For me, that story kind of resonated with me because when a lot of things weren’t going so positive in my life — nothing seemed recognizable to me, nothing seemed like there was a sense of home – I had to realize that that happiness lived inside of me this entire time. I had to take it with me this whole time on this rough patch of life and I had forgotten that it existed. So, Bluebird of Happiness is about recognizing your strength and understanding that we have to be okay with who we are. It’s about respecting yourself for who you are and basking in it and living in the moment of happiness and whatever that means to you, even if it makes somebody else unhappy. When you’re happy, you know that’s when you’re fulfilled.
What was the mission you set out to complete with this album?
The mission for me was just to be self-aware and to know that being happy is your birthright. I know we go through things in life that might make things look so grim and so unfixable, but it’s how you make it out of them that count.
What was the first record you recorded?
The process began a year ago and I think the first record that I recorded was “My Forever” — that’s the only record that I wasn’t a part of the writing process. When I first heard the record, it just, it just felt right. It set the tone for the project and that’s part of the reason why it’s the first track on the album.
What was your fuel for this album?
Well, it came from me not wanting to be put in a box, not letting people count me out, not letting people think that I feel a certain kind of way when I really don’t. You know, I definitely believe in myself. It took a long time for me to get here and I stand firm and proud of that. I’m not gonna let whatever people may think they see or read change how I really feel about myself on the inside. It took me a long time to try and figure out my self-esteem and be happy with who I am. All of those obstacles that I went through within the past year did not break me, it made me stronger, it made me even more of an amazing person and woman.
Talk to me a little about “Run, Run,” where you sampled Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam.”
First of all, I don’t know if everybody knows that I love reggae music, but I love to go to the islands and get my whine life on. When I heard [“Bam Bam”], I just felt connected to it. Everybody wants to be accepted, everybody wants to know they got that special thing that attracts that special person.
How did you get Yo Gotti on “Hol Up?”
I heard the beat and when I first heard the beat, I instantly thought of Gotti. Another thing I don’t know if everybody knows about me is that ratchet music is my favorite type of music of all time. [Laughs] It just felt like he was supposed to be a part of it, and when I called him and I sent the song, he was like, “Hell yeah!” He liked it. It was always designed for him to be a part of it because when I first heard the beat, I instantly heard him. I like a real cocky, confident man, especially in the rap world. He added something amazing to the record and has this cocky thing that only he possesses.
You also worked with the legendary Gladys Knight on the “Makings of You.” What did her contribution on your album mean to you?
Gladys has been such an amazing role model for my family. I remember when my parents got divorced, she used to call my mom all the time and just talk. For me, it just meant a lot that I could put a throwback like that on my record and in her throwback greatness. Had we not been allowed to use this sample, I wouldn’t have used it at all because I didn’t want to change it and I didn’t want to fabricate the amazingness of that record and what that record meant to my mom back in the day. “Makings of You” represents the strength of a woman and it comes from a movie called Claudine. Claudine had six kids and she raised them by herself and through it all, she figured out her life.
When you’re in the studio, how do you get into that headspace to pour out all your emotions into songs?
As a songwriter, it’s easy for me to go there because I’m already in my feelings. But really, I’m not ashamed, I’m not ashamed about the things that I’ve been through. I’m not ashamed about my heart being broken, I’m not gonna carry the shame and guilt of not being loved when I wanted to or expected. So it was really easy for me to go there and its actually easy for me to go there because I just feel like once you take the shame out of the situation, there’s room for growth. All of these things really did happen to me in my life and it really did make me a stronger person. It is what it is and I cant change it. The only thing I can change is my perception of it and that is to look at it in a different light.
How do you remain positive and stay focused in a world where people can easily break you down and throw insults at you on social media? How do cancel out the outside noise?
Anything’s possible because it’s a choice, you know? You can either look at Instagram and let people dictate your life or make you feel undeserving and not appreciated, or you can look at it as this is the best life that I’m living and this is the life that I’m choosing — I’m choosing to live. So, the choice is yours every day and being positive is a choice. You can get up every day and just wander around depressed and hold your head down, or look at every day is another opportunity to make something happen.
It’s been four years since you released Love & War. How have you evolved as an artist from Love and War to Bluebird of Happiness?
As an artist, I’m secure in what I want and who I am. I love advice and I’m a great listener and I think that’s part of being a great artist. However, you know, I’m not a puppet and I’m not a robot and I’m not getting ready to do what anybody wants me to do because they feel like that’s the right move for me. If it doesn’t feel right in my spirit, if it doesn’t feel right morally, if it doesn’t feel right as far as my fans are concerned and what I think that they want to see and feel and hear from me, I’m not gonna do it. I’m a little more mature.
You tweeted that Bluebird of Happiness is your last album. Why are you stepping away from music?
Honestly, it just feels right. I’m a very, very blessed woman and I could have been gone a long time ago — as a matter of fact, I should have been gone a long time ago, especially when I had those blood clots and when everybody was throwing darts at me and said whatever they wanted to say about me. At the end of the day, I have to do things that make me 150 percent happy and if there’s a part in my life where there’s always an argument or an issue, well, let’s just eliminate that for now. Tamar’s not retiring and you have not seen the last of me — this is just the beginning. Right now, Bluebird of Happiness is my happiness and this is what I wanted everybody to focus on.
How excited are you to hit the road with Xscape and Monica this fall?
We haven’t even started yet and I’m having the time of my life. It’s something like a three-month slumber party. Nobody has any issues, nobody wants to have any issues with each other, everybody wants to go out and have a good time. Everybody wants to put on the best possible show they could put on, you know? Everybody wants to make their family and their friends proud and themselves proud. We are going to have the turn-up of a lifetime and I’m telling you if you miss this tour, you have missed your life! It’s gonna be a good time.
What do you wish people would understand about Tamar Braxton the person?
Here’s the thing — I made a promise to myself and I actually made a promise to myself a couple times, but I really made the real promise to myself yesterday that I am going to stop trying to change people’s minds about me, you know? How you think of me is how you think of me. I can’t change that about me. What you want to think about me is how you are going to perceive me, no matter how kind I am, no matter when you meet me. I’m completely different than what people have said about me, you know what I mean? No matter how you’ve already fabricated in your mind about, “I’m a diva, and I’m alive, and I’m extra, that I like a lot of attention” or whatever the hell it is, I can’t change that, you know? Only you can change that. I can be responsible and happy about myself when I close my eyes at night and when I look at myself in the mirror, and that’s it.