The New Edition Story: Bobby Brown Reveals ‘No Regrets’
Who didn’t love the baby faces of New Edition growing up in the 1980s? It was a golden era of R&B music, bringing another wave of young singers in as Disco was moving out and the Jackson 5 was entering adulthood.
The Boston natives tugged at our heartstrings with their break-out indie hit, ”Candy Girl,” in 1983. They were signed to MCA Records where they released their first album, dominating the radio airwaves with “Cool It Now,” “Telephone Man,” and “Lost in Love” in 1984.
As time went on, we grew up rocking with Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie Devoe as their careers skyrocketed and their stars rose. But as they grew as R&B mega-stars, so did the growing pains of the music business.
Founding member Bobby Brown left the group to pursue a solo career, leaving the four to maintain the New Edition brand. In 1988, R&B artist Johnny Gill joined the NE family. Often compared to Teddy Pendergrass, Gill was a Washington, D.C., native who had garnered a modest following as a solo artist before joining the group.
With the release of Heartbreak Hotel, it relaunched the group to another level, produced by platinum selling producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album went on to sell over 4 million copies, sprouting out singles “If It Isn’t Love,” “Can You Stand the Rain,” and “N. E. Heart Break.”
Eventually, each member branched off to jumpstart their successful music projects, including solo albums from Ralph Tresvant, Bell Biv Devoe and Johnny Gill.
Over the next 10 years, they would enjoy the fruits of their solo careers, with Bobby Brown selling over 14 million albums and marrying music icon Whitney Houston.
As the group went through various changes in both their professional and personal lives, so did the music business.
In the last few years, NE has reunited, putting aside their differences to tour and bringing each of their individual styles and branding to their shows.
During this time, long-time friend and colleague Jesse Collins felt there was a story that should be told — in their words.
With a great deal of conversations and meetings, and the commitment of all six members, Collins and the team began to produce The New Edition Story. About 10 years from the inception, he says, the first conversation began with Michael Bivins and the rest of the guys.
The biopic chronicles the musical journey of the members from their humble beginnings in Boston throughout their triumphs and challenges. The three-part miniseries runs on BET Networks on Jan. 24, 25, 26.
As one of the producers, Bobby Brown wanted to set the record straight with their fans. “We want the story to be told right since we’re here and we’re all alive. It’s important the truth is told. It’s a little mixed up that all of us riff. Basically the best part of this film is that it’s the truth. We’ve been to hell and back, but we’re still here to tell the story,” he said. “I think that’s the best part, that we’re here to tell the story.”
Collins, a music industry veteran, want people to take away more than a Cinderella story about a group of Black kids from the projects who made it big — it was much deeper.
“It’s a story about brotherhood. These guys became brothers during the process of forming this group. It’s that brotherhood that’s kept them together, whether they wanted to be together or not through all that’s led to today. These six guys are like your family. You got some cousins that drive you crazy and you have some uncles and some aunts. At the end of day at Christmas, you come together because you love each other.”
Having all of the members participate in the process and tell their stories was key in bringing the truth to screen.
Collins says, “The movie would never have happened if the six wasn’t involved. It was really interesting because I think it allowed them to feel some old things. There was a lot of things that you don’t really talk about it, you just remember you were mad at someone but never had the conversation to talk it through. The script forced those conversations. It was really great for everyone.”
Bobby Brown felt the same way. “I produced it along with my bandmates. We were on the set with the actors and gave them a chance to nibble on how we actually are. They made it authentic.”
Diversity of Talent
The biopic includes a diversity of rising talent that viewers will be familiar with from their past stellar credits.
Woody McClain (Bobby Brown), Bryshere Y. Gray (Micheal Bivins), Elijah Kelley (Ricky Bell), Algee Smith (Ralph Tresvant), Keith Powers (Ronnie Devoe) and Luke James (Johnny Gill).
For singer and actor Luke James, portraying Johnny Gill has become a dream come true.
“This whole film has been a divine kind of of thing — how everyone was casted as well as our own backstories about learning about New Edition. I used to mimic Johnny when I was a kid. I used to mimic his voice and listen to all of his music. Fast forward to here I am, so it wasn’t hard for me to interpret him singing-wise,” he said. “As far as acting, I just wanted to be honest in telling his story and how he felt and certain situations. It took some hanging around the fellas and around him, texting and asking some of the questions, researching myself and watching ”Unsung.“
For Brown, this film is about setting the record straight on many fronts, and he feels his image and his bandmates can at times be misinterpreted in the wrong light.
“There’s been a lot of false statements about each individual including myself. When they see this movie, they’re going to see the joy and pain that we had to suffer to get where we are to be here today. You’ll see the reasons why we are still here. We have strong parents, mothers,” Brown adds. “We had a set of values that we followed all throughout our careers that helped us. Our training, our everything for this business. We gave our lives for this business.”
Working with the other cast members on this film gave James a small slice of what an artist must have gone through on a major label. As an R&B artist, he found similar challenges in his own career.
“It’s not that different. I think everything is trying to get believers. Trying to get people to believe in your vision as an artist. NE had a vision for themselves. It gets kind of molded into what other people should be when they see kids. Let’s continue doing pop, you guys should shave your beards. When you’re 19 and progress as an artist, you evolve every day. That’s a struggle all artists have to go through, especially trying to sell yourself but at the same time staying true to your artistry.”
For the film’s soundtrack, they brought back the producers who created all of the beautiful magic from the beginning, —Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Kenny ‘Babyface” Edmonds.
Collins says, “Jam and Lewis did everything that they produced for NE — The Heartbreak album and Home Again album. Kenny did all of the early stuff. He did “Cool It Now,” “Candy Girl” and the Johnny stuff like “My My My.” Same with “Can You Stand the Rain” — it doesn’t get any better than to have Jam and Lewis.
James says the actors had one month to learn everything from the choreography in Brooke Payne’s boot camp — NE’s first manager and choreographer — to recording the songs in the studio. Although most of the production was filmed onset in L.A., there will be familiar exterior scenes from the group’s hometown of Boston.
As the 47-year old singer Bobby Brown reflects on the rollercoaster journey of six Black men, he shares no regrets of the ride. If he was to do it all over again, he would share a couple of things with his “younger” self.
“I would tell myself to be careful and not to party so much. I partied a lot in my life and thank God, I have a great woman in my life right now. My family keeps me grounded. My children. I don’t have any regrets because I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t do the things that I’ve done.”