NEW ORLEANS — Don't let the fancy footwork fool you: Bobby Brown says it took him two years to get back enough "muscle memory" to pull off the smoove moves that earned his group, New Edition, a permanent place in the annals of boy bands.
OK, maybe not two years, but Brown — whose shirtless onstage dancing once got him arrested, during his '90s heyday, in the state of Georgia — admitted it took some time when we caught up with him and his bandmates at last weekend's 2011 Essence Music Festival.
"It didn't take two years, but it took a little while to get back into, you know, not moving the way I used to move and get the steps and start dancing back on my toes instead of flat-footed," the onetime R&B bad boy laughed as he demonstrated a little shuffle.
"Bobby got on shoes. Let me tell you, he ain't had shoes onstage for the last 20 years," group heartthrob Ralph Tresvant teased the sneaker-rocking Brown. "So that's a testament to his dedication."
"It's a lot of things that I'm capable of doing, but New Edition steps, whether you think so or not, they're probably one of the hardest things in dance that you could do," Brown added.
In the '80s, those steps, paired with soulful vocals, took five young boys from a Boston 'hood to music-industry superstardom. Now celebrating 30 years in the business, New Edition — Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Tresvant, Brown and Johnny Gill (the only non-Bostonian brought into the fold in the '90s to take over for Brown) — put their indelible street stamp on the boy-band hustle.
And their influence rolls on — whether the bubblegum pop of their 1983 Candy Girl debut or the boys-to-men songs of their classic Heart Break album. Case in point, sought-after producer Jim Jonsin told MTV News this month that he would reference the New Edition sound for Justin Bieber's next album.
Backstage at the Superdome, the still-dapper guys, now in their early 40s, chatted with their arms flung around each other. In three decades, they've endured more than a few ups and downs — self-imposed hiatuses, label changes and infighting — and even spawned successful solo careers and subgroups like Bell Biv DeVoe. But gathered on this Fourth of July weekend in the Big Easy, they found they could recapture that magic, reducing grown women to squealing tweens.
"Through the love of just being around each other for many years and trusting that we were just gonna be there for each other, we were able to let [individual projects] go for a minute and jump out that car and jump into this one," Tresvant, in a stylish tan fedora, explained.
So could an album be in the works?
"We got a New Edition album in the making," Brown revealed. "We're thinking about it, we're talking about it, and it all starts with us, just thinking about making some good music together. ... I'm just glad to be a part of this and I'm proud to be a part of this."
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