Boston groups New Kids and New Edition go head to head at AMAs
A bit of Boston’s musical history will be written at the American Music Awards on Sunday night, when two of the greatest musical groups in local history formally face off for the first time. These are the groups that put Roxbury and Dorchester on the map, respectively, that dominated the pop and R&B charts in the 1980s and put “boy band” in the lexicon: New Edition and New Kids on the Block.
“It will be an incredible landslide of talent, beauty and Boston pride,” promised New Edition’s Michael Bivins, interviewed via Zoom. “From the point of view of the new edition, I can say that we will get there hot, heavy and ready. There has always been a little friendly competition between us, but at the end of the day we are boys from Boston. His teammate Ronnie DeVoe added: “It makes sense to me. After all, Roxbury in Dorchester is only a 10 minute drive away.
“Talk about surreal,” said New Kids’ Donnie Wahlberg in a separate interview. “This is billed as the ‘Battle of Boston’, but for us it’s more of a brotherhood. There will be one element of us that will be quite impressed, ingrained for the new edition. We know that without these guys there would be no New Kids. “
Although the two bands never performed live together, they did most of the rest. New Edition was a guest on a track from the New Kids’ comeback album in 2008, and last year NE spin-off group Bell Biv DeVoe opened for the New Kids at Fenway Park. The roots of the bands are also intertwined, as they were both produced and discovered by Maurice Starr, who ran a pop empire in Roxbury in the ’80s – initially reuniting the New Kids after New Edition broke up. Even before that, Walhberg says he viewed New Edition as a role model.
“I went to Phyllis Wheatley Middle School in Roxbury, and my friends and I used to sneak out every morning to buy candy from the convenience store. It was just outside Orchard Park, and I knew these guys lived there – these famous guys lived right down the street from my school, and we would sing their song “Candy Girl”. I don’t know if it made me think I could get famous, but it let me know anything was possible.
Both groups have made comebacks in recent years. The New Kids embraced their boy band past and even had fun with it, writing self-referencing songs like the 2019 single “Boys in the Band” and touring with many of their pop colleagues from the years. 80.
“I like to think of it as a natural evolution in a very unnatural situation,” Wahlberg said. “When you step back and disconnect from the celebrity element, it all makes sense. When we were kids it was all one – ‘We’ll sing whatever song you like, let’s go!’ as we got older, we were so successful that we had to regain our autonomy.
Which I guess is what happens to everyone when you’re 19 or 20, you find out who you are and where you stand in the world. And now getting back together is a lot of fun, we take what we do seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously. I know our fans would rather see us step into a dance and laugh at each other than be the best choreographed band in the world. We are working class children and they can see us in us.
One of Walhberg’s most vivid memories concerns this diary. “I had to take a flight to LA and it was during the Big Dig, so I got stuck in traffic. I arrive at United Airlines, they close the door and I miss the flight. Someone catches me at the airport, holds up the Herald with us and Michael Jackson on the cover, and says, ‘Why don’t you have your own plane?’ This level of success seemed just beyond the reach of reality.
The history of New Edition has been a bit more eventful. Bobby Brown’s bad boy behavior became legend, and the whole group aired their ups and downs in the BET miniseries “The New Edition Story”. DeVoe said, “We wanted to be even more transparent than it was. We thought our lives were in the public eye for 35 years, everyone heard a different story. So we sat down at the table and poured our hearts out, and I think we made something revolutionary out of it. Bivins added, “It was therapy, with a lot of heated conversations. If you’ve ever been married, you know how it works – you look over the table and wonder how well you really know this person.
Bivins still lives in town and DeVoe says he has wanted to return for a long time. “I’m thinking of finding a spot on Commonwealth, I want to have the big doors and the No Parking sign. Maybe I should get Brady’s old place back.
The two groups will be on the road next year, and there’s a good chance they’ll do it together. “We would love to be on the same stage, and at some point a tour will come out of it,” DeVoe said. “If The Boss can do three hours, I’m sure New Kids and New Edition can do it at Fenway Park.”
The American Music Awards air Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.