New Edition exploded out of Boston’s housing projects in the early 1980s, setting a precedent for the fleet of boy bands to follow, with its carefully groomed look (and moves) — and the group’s share of offstage drama (contract rip-offs! Onstage fights!). Before a three-part BET biopic, The New Edition Story, airs Jan. 24-26, members Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown and Ralph Tresvant look back on the pivotal career moments you’re likely to see onscreen.
Tresvant is unofficially designated the group’s star when he’s pushed to the center of New Edition’s “Candy Girl” photo shoot.
Ralph Tresvant: I remember everybody being kind of defensive during that shoot, but I loved it! I didn’t focus on me being in the center; I just focused on our first album coming together.
Bobby Brown: I damn sure didn’t want to be the one in the middle! I had already made up my mind that Ralph was the lead singer and that he was going to take us to the promised land.
Michael Bivins: My sweatshirt was too big, pants were too tight, I didn’t like my smile — I didn’t trip off of Ralph, I just hated that picture of myself!
The members’ mothers unknowingly sign a bad deal, leaving the group with $1.87 among them after a successful tour.
Bivins: I almost didn’t sign that deal. I thought it was going to take away from my dream of being a basketball player.
Tresvant: I just thought the money was in a bank account somewhere where we couldn’t have access to it.
Bivins: I remember I was playing ball, and [bandmates] Ricky [Bell] and Bobby ran over to my side of the project, talking about the money. I was trying to understand why they were so upset. It didn’t register until I went to the house and my mom explained it to me.
Brown: I felt like that was the beginning of the end. I had always wanted to be solo, and I knew that we had a chance to get a better deal at a major label.
Tresvant: They really did give us a check for $1.87. I just saw a picture of it recently.
Brown is voted out of New Edition in 1985.
Bivins: Bob was missing a lot of flights. His mother came to New York three times to explain his attitude, to tell us to give him a break. He and I were close, but we started getting into it physically.
Brown: I was not comfortable or happy. We all came from the hood, but I came from the hood hood, from a family of gangsters and hustlers. I wanted to make some money. And I was wild and loose then — I had gotten my girlfriend pregnant, and drugs played a bit part in my life at that time. There were so many fights among the group, we could have put a whole comedy out.
Tresvant: We had a meeting, and management said he was causing a lot of problems and messing up our image. I tried not to participate in the vote. But I talked to him and his mom, and he had already signed a deal as a solo artist. That’s when I had to let go. We had to move on.
Bivins: It was a tough decision, but if we didn’t kick Bobby out, we never would have seen the explosiveness of “My Prerogative” and his solo career.
After a few reunion attempts through the years, with and without Brown, the full group gets back together in 2011.
Brown: The Home Again Tour [in 1997] was a disaster [Brown and Ronnie DeVoe got into an onstage fight at one show]. And the next one, I was so far gone — two weeks before it started, I had a heart attack, but I went out there to stand onstage with my brothers.
Tresvant: It was always something in the back of our minds, but everyone’s career took off individually, and you have to get the most out of that while it’s hot. But there was a feeling that it was time.
Bivins: Having New Edition means we can take care of our families, see our fans. There’s no solving all the problems or the inner workings because they’ve been going on so long, but we knew that dollars made sense.
Brown: New Edition is not done, and I keep working on myself so I can be part of the next beginning.