A Case for Boyz II Men

Last year my best friend was at a charity event and she put one of her tickets into the box for Boyz II Men tickets. A few days later she was walking through the hall at work and someone told her that an email had gone out and she had won. He was more than a little surprised when she was excited. Like…really excited.

I’m surprised that he was surprised…

From about fifth grade through the eighth grade, Boyz II Men was…well, my favorite. In high school angrier music started to take over: Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Hole. So when I joined Allison in Worcester last night to see the three remaining members of Boyz II Men, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I was so pleasantly surprised, I can barely begin to tell you. My first thought was that we’d be in a sea of 40-year-old black women. It seemed to me like that might now be Boyz II Men’s demographic; old enough to be turned off by today’s R&B music, but not so old that Boyz II Men wasn’t also a big part of their youth. But I was wrong…very wrong.

And this is why I might be so bold as to say Boyz II Men is one of the most important musical groups of the 1990s. The Hanover Theater was full with one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever seen.  While at first I assumed many of them men there had been dragged along by their girlfriends, I quickly learned I was wrong.

There was this one gentleman a row or two behind us in the next section over, who looked like he may be an extra on the Jersey Shore. He was very big, had on a pink Polo shirt, and had a blowout. And he was rocking out! When they sang “I’ll Make Love to You” he was literally in the aisle, singing his heart out. In other words, he was amazing. And when it came time for the guys to sing “Mama,” our Jersey Shore friend was up at the stage holding his phone up, presumably so his mother could hear. Shawn even grabbed a phone and talked to someone’s mother.

The show itself was surprisingly good, despite practically zero production value. I saw Boyz II Men at the height of their career at the Hartford Civic Center, during the tour for II. It was a huge production, but in the much smaller Hanover theater the guys had stools, a projection screen, and a C.D. playing music — no band. But they still had some serious moves… and of course their voices are still amazing.

And they spent a lot of time talking to the crowd, talking about the history of Motown music, and how Boyz II Men  refuses to change its sound to fit more in line with the sounds of today’s music. As they put it, they believe music should have lyrical content, be understandable, be danceable, and yes…make you want to “make love.” That little diatribe, along with the sight of an enormous man holding his phone up so his favorite group could sing to his mom, got me wondering just what happened to pop music.

When did we go from this…

to this auto-tuned mess?

Any individual member of Boyz II Men would sound better with laryngitis and a head-cold than Chris Brown does without the benefit of auto-tune. And for goodness’ sake…who wrote that awful song? Next time you get the chance, hit up a Boyz II Men concert and remind yourself that music doesn’t have to be that way…

Oh, and here’s my two cents as to how to make sure the wholesome Boyz stay relevant: a collaboration with The Roots. Philadelphia’s native sons can get together and make a record that draws on The Roots’ cool factor, and the raw talent of those Boyz II Men voices.

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