New Edition talks NKOTB, returning to the stage and gaining new young fans

Exclusive: Bobby Brown and Johnny Gill spoke with theGrio before New Edition's forthcoming AMA performance with New Kids on the Block

Back in 1987, New Edition won their very first award, an American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo, or Group. Over the years since, they’ve become an R&B and pop institution, piling up hits like “Mr. Telephone Man,” “If It Isn’t Love,” “Can You Stand The Rain” and “Candy Girl.”

On Sunday, the boys from Boston will make their return to the stage at the AMAs, performing live as a full unit for the first time in four years. But they won’t be alone. For the first time ever, they’ll be performing alongside New Kids on the Block, another Beantown-based boy band with a long list of hits, including “Step By Step,” “Hangin’ Tough,” “The Right Stuff” and “Please Don’t Go.”

New Edition members Bobby Brown and Johnny Gill spoke with theGrio about this monumental occasion, as well as the prospect of performing together again after so many years and how grateful they are to still be in the heart and minds of fans after nearly four decades.

New Edition
Original members of New Edition perform onstage at 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images )

The joint performance of New Edition and NKOTB has been a long time coming. Both quintets were initially mentored and produced by musician and songwriter Maurice Starr. Although they’ve never shared a stage before, their paths have crossed quite a bit over the years.

So much so that they recorded a song together in 2008 for NKOTB’s album The Block. Gill recalls the studio session for the song, “Full Service,” and meeting one of the co-writers, who went on to become a pop superstar herself.

“It was funny because we walked in the studio and I think Red One and Donny [Wahlberg] was there, and there was a little lady by the name of… I forgot her name, [Stefani ] but she ultimately became Lady Gaga,” Gill told theGrio. “I know at the time they kept saying, ‘Oh, she’s going to be huge. She’s going to be huge.’ But that was the first time that it was just we got our feet wet and collaborating. But we’re looking to do something in the near future where, you know, it’ll be completely everybody at once.”

Together, New Edition and NKOTB are taking part in the AMA’s new performance segment, ‘My Hometown.’ The segment features select artists talking about their native cities and acknowledging how the city and past mentors help to mold them and their success. Brown said that Boston is still significant to New Edition, no matter how far away they may be or live.

“Well, you have to be proud of where you’re from. And we take it really personal with our sports teams, with everything being from Boston. You know, you have to be Boston proud,” Brown told theGrio. “Boston has had our back throughout the whole thing. So, you know, we’re really excited to be able to represent Boston in its fullest form.”

New Edition has had quite a long layoff. The last time all six of them were on stage together was when they received their Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 BET Awards, performing a medley of their hits. After so much time, Brown says that “practice” and “loving what we do” was the key to getting back in shape, while Gill says that their years of experience will take care of the rest.

“We’ve been doing this for so many years that, you know, you kind of know the routine, you kind of know what you’re going to do and when and how to pace yourself and and and getting back to in action,” Gill said. “We’ve been doing this almost over 40 years almost, you know. Nothing is new to us that we haven’t seen before. We understand what our challenges are as we get older too as well. But it’s like a fighter that gets older. You pick and choose your shots where you go put the pedal to the metal.”

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New Edition performs onstage at 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images )

Since their last performance, New Edition has seen a revival in culture thanks to BET’s The New Edition Story and The Bobby Brown Story. Not only have old fans been re-invigorated, but a new crop of younger fans has also emerged as well. Brown is grateful to them, especially given that he and his bandmates have small kids of their own.

It’s an honor, it’s a privilege to be able to see these young kids appreciate our music,” Brown said. “I have young kids, myself. Ronnie has young kids. Johnny has young kids and, you know, to see that generation, accept what we’ve done in the past is just beautiful. We always talk about longevity. And it’s the highest form of a compliment that we can ever accept by seeing the youth accept our music for what it is.”

To further capitalize on their renaissance, Brown says that there are big plans for New Edition in 2022.

“Well, we’re looking forward to touring this year coming up and we’re looking forward to a residency in Vegas. So there’s a lot in the makings for New Edition in the near future.”

The AMA’s air live on NBC on Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Rap star Cardi B will host.

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