Right now, if we were to play a game of pop-culture free association beginning with the ever-infamous name Bobby Brown, our minds would probably wander off in the following direction: Whitney Houston, cocaine, reality TV.
However, there was a time, circa 1989 (an era of Brown's life also known as pre-Whitney), when the ex-New Edition member and King of New Jack Swing possessed a certain kind of pure untouchable fame. Sure, Bobby was bad. He was even diabolical. But his name still hadn't been tainted and twisted by non-stop tabloid scrutiny, the machinations of the 24-hour celebrity news cycle, and dangerous, self-destructive craziness.
In other words, as the '90s hit, Bobby Brown was so damn fly that he could rock a flattop, Malcolm X glasses, and a leather bodysuit without anyone even daring to hate on him. He could release a single called "Humpin' Around" and watch it scream toward the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
But now 42 years old, divorced from Whitney, and nearly two decades away from his last true chart-killer, is it possible that Bobby Brown's just as diabolical as ever? "I don't know how to answer that one. I'm still Bobby Brown, you know," he says. "Yes, I am 42 and the things that I do onstage are still 17. So you gotta think about that."
And it's true. Every time Brown stutter-steps and groin thrusts out into the spotlight, his fans collectively expect him to somehow morph back into his nasty, gap-toothed teenage self. It's impossible. But since he's currently touring as part of the trio Heads of State with a couple of other New Edition grads, Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill, and running through all the old '80s hits ("With You All the Way," "Cool It Now," "Every Little Step," etc.), Bobby does his best. He struts and sweats like a lady slayer on speed. He screeches and squeals and howls. He maniacally flicks his tongue, miming cunnilingus. But every few minutes, Bobby's gotta pause and wipe his face clean with a little white workout towel.
No doubt then, Heads of State is a reunion act. But it's a welcome one. And for two and a half years now, Brown's been hitting the nostalgia circuit with this newest New Edition, alongside Tresvant and Gill, looking to satisfy all those old-school R&B boy band fans. "We'd just been wanting to work together for so long and we finally got a chance because New Edition was off at the time," Brown says. "All of us were basically just at home, chillin'. So we decided, 'Let's go out on tour. Let's go make some money. Let's go entertain."
Of course, it's tough to ignore the fact that Brown, Tresvant, and Gill account for only half of New Edition's total membership. And any '80s obsessive with a full cassette collection of classics like Candy Girl and Home Again will naturally wonder: What are the chances of a real-deal reunion with Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, and Ronnie DeVoe?
"Well, we are in negotiations right now to bring New Edition back to the public," Brown says. "The one thing that we lost being in a group was friendship, because business came first. But we're becoming better friends right now, which is everything. We talk three times a week. On Sundays, we pray together. We're ready to move. And by next year, you will see New Edition again."
So while the '80s may be over, Bobby Brown's still here. And he's still diabolical. Like he growls on the new single "Get Out the Way," off his upcoming, decade-in-progress album titled The Masterpiece: "The trend is over/[But] I'm everlasting, never fading/Not trippin' on what they're sayin'/No, 'cause that shit don't apply to me!"
Bobby Brown with Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill as part of Jazz in the Gardens. Saturday, March 19 at SunLife Stadium, 2269 Dan Marino Blvd., Miami Gardens. The concert begins at 3 p.m. and one-day tickets cost $45 to $70 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. Visit jazzinthegardens.com.