Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Boy Band Battle Royale: Boyz II Men

As last week's episode of Community reminded us, there was a time when Boyz II Men took over the entire world. People played them at every wedding, bar mitzvah, and high school dance. Everyone a half-generation above me had their first slow dance to these guys. For at least 5 years, nobody could touch them. They fall out of the specific time frame I use for the Boy Band Battle Royale, but it's impossible to think about the boy bands of the late 90s without considering the musical and cultural juggernaut. 98 Degrees and Backstreet Boys wouldn't have existed without Boyz II Men creating the link between 80s R&B groups like New Edition, which mostly enjoyed black audiences, and a more pop-friendly sound.  

Maybe because of the sick moves on the dance floor that we still do to this day.

Boy Band: Boyz II Men (Boyz 2 Men)
Members: Wanya Morris (tenor), Shawn Stockman (tenor), Nathan Morris (baritone), and Marc Nelson (bass)
Reign of Terror: 1991-1996. They're still recording and performing, but it's not the same. 

Boyz II Men started out as members of the East Coast Family, a Michael Bivins (of New Edition, then Bel Biv Devoe) project. In fact, fully half of the lyrics in their first hit, "Motownphilly," are about their ECF membership. The other half is about their humble beginnings in Philadelphia and how much they like Philly cheesesteaks, which you can't really blame them for. Their next hit, however, is the one that rocketed them way past the rest of the East Coast Family and basically any other recording artist at the time - "End of the Road."  This song broke all the records, won all the Grammys, and changed all the lives. From then on, they were a harmonizing, hit-making machine.
From left: Wanya, Nathan, Shawn, and Marc.
For my money, the music videos were crucial to enjoying Boyz II Men. Outfits like tipped cardigans, bow ties, and sideways baseball caps (see above) are best appreciated in motion, and the wildly varied personalities of Wanya, Shawn, Nathan, and Mark really shine through on camera. 

I'll always think of Wanya as the squirrelly little mascot. You could always count in his excessively expressive face, whether he's cheesin during an up-tempo number or literally sobbing in the rain during a ballad. YMMV with this one, depending on how much over-the-top emoting you want from your 90s R&B. 
He just stubbed his toe.
Shawn Stockman, who rather looks like a stretched out Mr. Incredible, was the stable romantic of the group. He displayed this trait mostly by soulfully patting his chest and closing his eyes, a pretty classic boy band ballad move. My favourite Shawn moment is in the "On Bended Knee" video. Each member sings about his lost love - Wanya's Lisa Turtle yelled at him for flirting with another woman, and both Marc and Nathan's girlfriends left because their men were too focused on their art. But Shawn...based on the plot of this video, he meets a nice lady in the park, and then is devastated when she briefly walks to another area in the park. Seriously, watch it and you'll see what I see. 

Nathan and his enormous jaw didn't bring a lot of personality to the table, as far as I'm concerned. Maybe it was his glasses, or the fact that I can't remember him ever smiling. Maybe he just stood next to professional focus-puller Wanya too often. But I never really felt it in him. In fairness, people might say the same thing about Marc "Bass" Nelson, but I have to argue that Marc and his exceptional bass really anchored the whole group. He could be counted on to deliver the climactic spoken-word bridge in every ballad, usually starting with "baby." His grounded presence really balanced out Wayna's cartoonishness. 

As far as musical influence goes, Backstreet Boys' "I'll Never Break Your Heart" sounds exactly, but exactly, like "End of the Road." And while BSB started out marketing exclusively towards teenage girls, they ended up following Boyz II Men into adult contemporary as they got older. And as far as sartorial influence goes...

Linen. Linen everywhere.
Unfortunately, by 1997 their star had faded. I have a feeling they became victims of their own success, and people had reached their saturation point with the extremely emotional and always coordinating quartet. They're still recording to this day, though Marc left the group due to his nearly crippling scoliosis. Still, they left the world a little more mature, expressive, and outlandishly dressed than they found it. 

Final Tally: 
  • Sex appeal/charisma: 4/10. I wouldn't date any of them, except maybe Marc, because he seems fun.
  • Cheesiness: 10/10, just because of Wanya.  
  • Dance moves: After "Motownphilly" they really stopped dancing, choosing instead to walk slowly on sidewalks and stand on staircases. 
  • Music: 11/10
  • Post-band success: Wanya, Nathan, and Shawn are still recording and performing as Boyz II Men. For my money, their best album is Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, which is their a cappella renditions of hits like "Ribbon in the Sky" and "Easy." They even have a version of "End of the Road" with Brian McKnight, which really ups the emotional ante. They also got a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2012. 

1 comment:

  1. you're an idiot....hahaha. "marc 'bass' nelson".....get with the program.