En Vogue’s last studio release was the 2004 indie album Soul Flower. Remarking on the group’s creative mind-set after a yearslong recording hiatus, original founding member Ellis remarks with a laugh, “It was Lord, have mercy! We finally got the right partnership/distribution deal and the right combination of songs. Then we finally had the opportunity to do this the way we wanted to without others getting in the way of our creative mix.”
Initially planned as an EDM record, Electric Café wound its way through other routes that fellow founding member Herron-Braggs describes as “electric soul” and “punk soul.” In addition to Ne-Yo and Sauce, the group worked with artist/writer/producer Raphael Saadiq, producer Dem Jointz (Rihanna, Janet Jackson) and songwriter Taura Stinson (also up for a best original song Academy Award with Mary J. Blige and Saadiq for “Mighty River” from the film Mudbound). But the “signature EV sound,” notes Herron-Braggs “remains the through line.” And that’s thanks to the group’s longtime producers/mentors, Denzil Foster and Thomas McElroy, whose contributions include the album’s opening songs, “Déjà Vu” and “Blue Skies.”
It was Foster and McElroy who held auditions in the late ‘80s for a potential girl group, part of a three-act deal the pair had with Atlantic Records. At the time, there were only a few female groups of note like Exposé, the Jones Girls and Sweet Obsession. While the producers originally envisioned a trio, Foster and McElroy changed their minds once they heard Ellis, Herron (Braggs), Maxine Jones and Dawn Robinson.
After making their debut on the producers’ own 1989 album FM², the group charted a year later with its own aforementioned No. 1 R&B/No. 2 pop hit “Hold On” from debut album Born to Sing. Counting Electric Café, their discography totals seven albums and additional hits like “You Don’t Have to Worry,” “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” “Free Your Mind,” “Whatever” and their guest feature on Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man”—which in turn helped garner seven Grammy nominations and seven MTV Video Music Awards.
A trio now with the departure of Robinson and Jones, the current lineup includes longtime associate Bennett. A former Mouseketeer with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, Bennett’s first stint with the group began in 2003. She’s been a permanent member since 2012. Of the new album, she notes, “I hope fans will listen and just go ‘wow. It feels good and it sounds like they had a good time recording it.’”
Averaging between 60-70 dates a year, En Vogue begins the second leg of its European tour on April 2 in Dublin, Ireland. That will be followed by shows throughout the U.K., Holland and Germany. Then it’s back to the U.S. to perform on syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner’s 2018 Fantastic Voyage cruise (April 29-May 6) along with the O’Jays, Babyface, Anita Baker, Chris Brown, Tamar Braxton, SWV and more.
Jazzed by the re-emergence of ‘90s peers such as Xscape3, 112, After 7 and Bell Biv DeVoe plus the artistry of contemporaries like Bruno Mars, Kendrick Lamar, Ledisi and Chance the Rapper, En Vogue doesn’t foresee a reality show or biopic in its immediate future. However, declares Ellis to the others’ laughter, “We are open to the right un-ratcheted situation.”
In the meantime, the ladies’ cultural influence is being displayed another way. The red gowns worn in the video for “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” are currently on loan to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture—the only girl group to be so featured thus far.
As for how En Vogue would like its aural legacy to be remembered, the members agree with a list that Ellis ticks off, including “passion and love for what we do, respect for what each person brings to the table, self-empowerment, amazing vocalists and uplifting role models.” Herron-Braggs also references the slogan on a bracelet she recently received from a friend. “It says, ‘She said she wanted to do it, so she did,’” says Herron-Braggs. “And that encapsulates what En Vogue is about.”