Jenna discovers that she’s pregnant and reveals it on “Next Teen Star,” a nationally televised youth singing competition. Fiona descends into alcoholism as a coping mechanism to survive the grips of her abusive boyfriend. Adam switches high schools, seeking refuge from transphobic bullying, only to die from injuries from a car accident.
This is the tip of the iceberg for the drama in season 10 of “Degrassi,” aptly referred to as “Degrassi: The Boiling Point.” Season 10 was split into two chapters: the first 24 episodes, dubbed “The Boiling Point,” adopted a telenovela format while the final 12 episodes of the season were called “In Too Deep.”
But one hit song from 2009 — and one carnival-themed music video — served as the backdrop for all of the drama: V.V. Brown’s “Shark in the Water.” Released on May 21, 2010, the promo for “The Boiling Point” was its own event in the “Degrassi” franchise. Annually, it circulates on Twitter as one of the most beloved and iconic promos in television history. However, the British voice behind it rarely gets her shine.
Born Vanessa Brown to two Caribbean educators in Northampton, England, V.V. Brown, 38, has been in the music industry since she was 17. With songwriting credits for the Pussycat Dolls, Sugababes and Fantasia under her belt, Brown has modeled, pioneered a lifestyle brand and more. Now juggling a family in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, the multi-hyphenate seeks to be a renaissance woman.
“People tend to know me from the period at which I did ‘Travelling Like The Light,’ which was the album that ‘Shark In The Water’ was on,” Brown said. “But I actually had a record deal before that, where music never saw the light of day. So between 17 to 23 or 24, I was grinding away trying to make it.”
When Brown made ‘Travelling Like the Light,’ she was at her wits end. She had been dropped by her label, she was losing money and was struggling in Los Angeles. “When I made this record, I think everything in me, especially that moment, went into this record,” Brown said.
As she balances forthcoming projects, Brown reflects on the legacy of “Shark in the Water” with fondness and awe. She never anticipated the single being such a “silent success.” At the time, the song just ticked a box for fulfilling her then-representative’s desire for a radio-ready pop track.
“He told me to go in and write with these amazing Swedish writers. When I was in the studio, we were obviously writing lyrics about the classic concepts: love, deception, boyfriends, betrayal,” said Brown. “But trying to come up with something that was a bit more ambiguous than the norm and find a sort of quirky type of lyric that was really original, unique and people hadn’t heard of. It was unassuming.”
Akin to Shakespeare’s wordplay, Brown said that the inception of the phrase “shark in the water” was an attempt to create her own lexicon and a tagline of sorts. A testament to the scheming, secrecy and scandal that transpired during Season 10 of “Degrassi,” it certainly stuck. The song reflects Brown’s lived experiences as a vulnerable, sensitive young adult navigating the callous world of dating.
“The whole album was actually based upon a guy that I used to date who was from Germany who moved to Los Angeles, and he was so mean to me. I remember the time he made me clean his bath,” said Brown. “The lyrics are open to interpretation as well. ‘Maybe there’s a shark in the water,’ could be about a loved one or a family member that’s hurt you, or if you’re at work and you’re finding that you don’t trust someone. It’s about trust in general, and you can kind of interpret it and project what you want onto it in whatever way works for you.”
Inspired by the reinvention of David Bowie, Brown is a genre-bender who resists being put into a box. She sees herself as an ever-changing musician. Oscillating between indie pop, R&B and soul, she said her albums serve as “sonic photographs of my life in those moments.”
But Brown’s earliest introduction to music was through her upbringing in the Pentecostal Church with her youth gospel choir.
At 14 years old, Brown was the lead of the choir, leading them in competition. Eventually, she sang for her choir director’s funk band. Her mother would drive her weekly to the studio for rehearsal and there, Brown honed her craft.
“I was getting more into my teens learning about different kinds of music other than just gospel and R&B,” she said. “I was ‘Afropunk’ back then … and feeling quite alone in that because in the U.K., there wasn’t a lot of Black artists wanting to step out of the box of what the industry was trying to put them into.”
Brown was discovered by a record label in the rehearsal room at that studio the following year. However, at age 15, her Jamaican mother, who was a headmistress, said that she was too young and needed to finish school first. Two years later, she completed secondary school early. So Brown, at 17, cut a deal with her parents: “Give me a year to try and get a record deal and if I don’t, I’ll go to university. I’ll go to Oxford.”
Brown successfully did it, first signing with Polydor Universal Music Group in 2002. However, it was during her time at Universal Island Records that Brown’s crossover appeal grew, later connecting her to Capitol Records in the U.S. After years of label-hopping — and even recording a full album that was never released — she said that the success of “Shark in the Water” felt like an out of body experience.
“It was just so overwhelming. I’m from a small town in Northampton, and all these things are happening,” Brown said. “If I can be honest, I didn’t realize how iconic ‘Degrassi’ was because being a British girl, we didn’t have ‘Degrassi.’ I think I was more excited about the fact that Drake was a part of the previous series.”
“I loved and love Drake,” she continued. “I did some research, then I started to realize how iconic it was. Then I felt quite precious, and that I needed to be very respectful about that journey.”
At the time, Brown was living with a relative of her manager in Los Angeles. She recalls filming the Season 10 promo video in Toronto in March 2010, before the May promo was released on television. As a burgeoning 24-year-old musician, she was mesmerized by the set. Compared to the coldness of syncs, in which music is merely put over video, there was a warmth to the process, from the theme the “Degrassi” crew constructed to the cast members she met, Brown said.
“The set was just so beautiful. I remember walking on set and thinking, ‘Wow, they’ve done so much to accommodate the song.’ It was just so wonderful that they didn’t just create a promo and stick a song on top,” she said. “They’d actually really thought about the song and had such a dedication to the actual soundtrack. ‘Degrassi’ was unique, where they were creating the visuals with and for the song.”
In 2011, after a year of nonstop touring with Maroon 5 and other acts, Brown returned to London. The success of “Shark in the Water” — her first single to chart in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #67 — was steady, said Brown.
“Degrassi” served as a catalyst, propelling “Shark in the Water” across oceans and radio waves into the core memories of franchise fans. She said the opportunity was exactly what she needed at the time and allowed for consistency and longevity in her career.
In this chapter of her life, Brown said she doesn’t want to do anything unless she’s giving back, from supporting and teaching rising artists to the messages in her music. With three released studio albums ― “Travelling Like the Light,” “Sampson & Delilah” and “Glitch” ― Brown has another album on the way in 2023.
“This next record is unapologetically Black. I say that, meaning that I am talking about my experiences as a Black woman in a way that is way more open,” Brown said. “For me, I’m so excited about the sound. If I had to think of a word [to describe it], it would be ‘activism’ and an album that is unafraid.”
Activism is not a hashtag or a fleeting moment in time for Brown. From the values her parents instilled in her, Brown’s entire life and upbringing has been about activism behind the scenes. Growing up, she remembers walking through the streets with her mother and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” as neighbors hurled racist slurs at them.
In 2015, Brown released a video to accompany her single “Sacrifice” in which she was depicted as a white woman and took off a mask to reveal her true self: a Black woman. She said it was a commentary on the “double consciousness” Black people must invoke to survive and cope.
Her forthcoming album is a continuation of that journey, not merely reveling in Black pain but the depth of her experiences.
“I used to go to record company meetings and play them songs about my Black experience, and the label would turn around and tell me, ‘We can’t put that out.’ [‘Sacrifice’] was like you’re hearing a window into me trying to go down that road. This record is definitely that,” said Brown.
Brown expressed immense gratitude and respect for the love fans have showed “Shark in the Water” and its video over the years — and hopes to replicate that in the upcoming “Degrassi” reboot that will air on HBO Max in the U.S. in 2023.
“I think it’s such a collective sense of shared happiness and joy that we all share together and it’s really, really lovely. I’m talking to someone at the studio that’s making the new series, and I really would love to do a revamp of it for the new one coming out,” she said. “I have reached out to them on email and had a lovely email back where they seem to think it could be a good idea, but they’re just waiting for a music supervisor to come on board to solidify. But I’m going to be quite persistent.”
Her message to “Degrassi” fans: “I’m fighting for you. I’m so grateful and so thankful.”