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May 1, 2024

‘Behind The Music: Bell Biv DeVoe’ on Paramount+

‘Behind The Music: Bell Biv DeVoe’ on Paramount+


Opening Shot: New Edition are singing and fronting as precocious/adorable teenagers in Members Only jackets. “We were supposed to be the second coming of the Jackson 5,” Michael Bivins says of his old group.

The Gist: “Supposed to be” being the operative phrase. In 1983 and ‘84, smash singles like “Candy Girl” and “Cool it Now” brought the members of New Edition boy band levels of fame. “We looked good, we was fly, and we was different,” Bivins says of those early days in Behind the Music: Bell Biv DeVoe. But bad contracts they signed as kids caused friction on the money side, and personalities in the combo were pulling it apart. First, Bobby Brown left. Then lead singer Ralph Tresvant threatened to leave. Then Johnny Gill was added. And finally, New Edition became more like Done Edition.

Enter Bell Biv Devoe. With a boost from producers Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad, whose work with Public Enemy was the late-eighties rage, former New Edition backline guys Ricky Bell, Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe became BBD, whose debut 1990 single “Poison” was and is an utter banger. (The “Poison” beat is forever, says Vibe Magazine editor Datwon Thomas. “It takes over every barbecue to this day.”) Fueled by hip-hop but “smoothed out, and on the R&B tip” – this became the BBD mantra – “Poison” established the aggressively catchy sound known as New Jack Swing. The success was great, and their egos got huge. But Ronnie DeVoe says what should have been their ticket to sustained superstardom only came crumbling down.

This is the typical arc of Behind the Music episode – all the bad stuff hits at the bottom of the hour. As hip-hop’s influence on popular music continued to evolve, Bell Biv Devoe grasped at how to grow with it. Squabbling within the trio, a faltering sophomore album, a tumultuous tour with a reunited New Edition in 1996, and then an indefinite hiatus. What happens to your personal identity when what has defined you and brought you adulation since your teenage years is suddenly long gone? Each member of BBD had to sort that out for himself before finding a way back to their group dynamic.

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