Though this fall boasts no shortage of twentieth musical anniversaries (See: Nevermind, Achtung Baby, and Pearl Jam), Boyz II Men's birthday will inspire a particular wave of nostalgia among the many boy band and R&B enthusiasts of the early nineties. If you had a tape deck in 1993, you probably owned "End of the Road," and chances are it has sound-tracked a breakup or karaoke night for you at some point since. To mark the occasion, Boyz II Men today releases Twenty, a two-disc album that features ten new original songs, plus reworkings of classics like "On Bended Knee" and "MotownPhilly." Vulture caught up with Nathan Morris to discuss the anniversary, the band's upcoming Christmas collaboration with Justin Bieber, and how many children still know the words to "I'll Make Love to You."
Twenty is in honor of the band’s twentieth anniversary. Does it feel like a long time?
It feels like it's gone by really fast for us. We came straight out of high school. If you use me as an example, I'm 40 years old. Twenty years of my life was spent with my biological family, and the other twenty were spent literally on the road with my guys. So I've split half of my life with this group. For me, it's gone by pretty fast.
I'm sure you have a lot of people who have grown up with your music as well.
Yes. We get the prom dances, we get the "I lost my virginity," we get the, you know, "I got a lot of girls," we get
Do they tell you what song? What's the No. 1 "I lost my virginity" song?
Yeah. Well, again, honestly it depends. We were talking about this the other day; we feel like we're almost like Hallmark cards, because we've got a song for every opcasion. People will be like, yeah, well you know, my mom passed away, and I would play "Mama There." Then they'll say they played that song at a wedding, where my mom had the first dance. Or they'll say "End of the Road" when I broke up with somebody, or "I'll Make Love to You" when I lost my virginity. So it just goes on. There's always a special one for different people.
What's the weirdest situation that you've heard of?
You mean, like, comparing songs? Well, I'll tell you what, I don't know if there's a weird comparison song, but it's weird to watch old women get up — like when you play "Mama," and they'll be dancing and grinding, like that's not the right song that you should be doing that to. But they're in some kind of mood, you'll never understand it.
How about on “I’ll Make Love to You”?
Oh, yeah, we get underwear; we get bras thrown up on the stage. Luckily we don't — well, I can't even say, because we don't grab any of them, but some of them bring them in a bag, and some of them literally take them right off.
Wow. Well, that's kind of awesome.
I mean, it's okay. It's just the double Ds and triple D' are kind of tough to deal with. But other than that, I mean we work through it.
Do you have any thoughts on what happened to the boy band, or the R&B group? You guys are kind of the only ones hanging in.
I'll tell you what's weird, and I think a little bit deeper than most people so you gotta follow me for a second. But I believe our turn to the information age has forced us into what we call the era of the individual star. And every person wants to be successful themselves. So there's no unity and no togetherness. And that's why there's American Idol, and there's this, and there's that. Everybody's doing their own thing. So no one wants to be in a group. Everyone wants their own celebrity, and wants to be successful themselves because nowadays they can be. They can just take a video of themselves, and put it on YouTube, and be successful. So now, why do I need three or four people to make me do that? We're in an individual age, which really, really sucks, because it causes a lot of people and artists to be selfish.
So it's always been the group dynamic for you?
I started this thing in 1985. Even before these guys were in this group. I started the group, me personally, because I'm not an up-front guy. I sing some of the leads, but if those two guys were not up there with me, it's not something I'd consider doing. I started the group literally because I wanted to be able to hide in the back behind the other guys.
You're not doing that much hiding. But it's more of a collaborative effort?
I mean, when I can, I can. Yeah, it's definitely a collaborative effort. But if it was my choice, I'd be hiding somewhere.
Speaking of collaborations, obviously I want to ask you about the Justin Bieber Christmas album. What was it like in the studio with him? Did you have any words of wisdom for him?
Well, we always talk to him on a lot of different cases. Because being in the spot that he's in, there aren't many artists who get there. Especially artists his age. He might've only been looking at someone like Michael Jackson who's experienced that. So even with us giving him information, it's still not exactly what he's experiencing, but it's enough to give him an idea of what he needs to deal with. The whole thing is pretty much stay focused, and try to always keep honest and prize the people around you, and be open to constructive criticism. Because it's very easy to lose your head as a solo artist when everyone's telling you everything you want to hear.
Is the Bieber demographic a new one for you?
For us, our demo is from 75 years old, to about anywhere from 7 to 10. But our 7 to 10 fan base is sporadic. They come in here and there, and some of them know the lyrics, some of them don't. Some of them come with their parents and they become fans. In Justin's case, he dips a little bit lower than 9, than 7, than 8. It made sense for us because it just broadens our fan base. There's not many artists that can say they can get a fan base from 3 years old to 75. And literally say that is a target audience.
Sure. A friend was asking how many kids know all the words to songs like "I'll Make Love to You." Do you see 10-year-olds
Oh man, you would be surprised. I mean, we are surprised.
They still do?
Yes. And we point them out. Because they come in every now and then, and we can find where the kids are. And they're standing up, singing, and they're clapping, and dancing. And we'll hand them a microphone and let them sing to the audience and it's actually incredible.