Full-court press

There's too much static when Boyz and writers get on the party line

Too often, it seems journalists are more concerned with the celebrity of the artist than the art--fascinated with the private lives of the public person.

They could care less about what goes into the creation of the music because they are more concerned with how a musician spends his or her time outside the spotlight. There's a slick obsequiousness about journalists who cover celebrities, the way they try to ingratiate themselves into the life of the artist, as though they were old friends, though most are little more than fawning fans with press credentials.

Two weeks ago, Boyz II Men's Shawn Stockman submitted to a tele-conference with nearly a dozen smaller papers in larger markets to promote the tail end of the band's year-long tour, which began last fall in Japan and concludes in September, with a date in Dallas this week. What happened during that "press conference"--with journalists from such papers as the Sacramento Bee, The Florida Times-Union (in Jacksonville), The Defender in Houston, and something called Straight from the Street in Washington, D.C.--revealed less about Boyz II Men's music and more about the current state of music journalism, if such a thing isn't quickly becoming an oxymoron.

There's no doubt Boyz II Men is among the world's most popular bands right now: Their brand of slick, dance-floor-back-room R&B--a hybrid of '70s Philly soul and '50s doo-wop propped up by today's brightest studio technicians (Dallas Austin, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, L.A. Reid)--has remained atop the pop and R&B charts for close to four years. Boyz' videos are more constant on MTV than commercials. They are the ubiquitous superstars of urban radio, the wholesome, bright, and cheery counterparts to the alt-rock and hip-hop musicians with whom they often share the stage at televised award shows.

They're a throwback to Motown's heyday, when The Temptations, the Jackson Five, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Marvin Gaye were churning out top-40 hits for white and black audiences. If those artists of the '60s and '70s were the brilliant result of a cynical formula perfected by Berry Gordy, the antithesis of the down-and-dirty soul music coming from Memphis' Stax and Hi labels during the same period, then Boyz II Men dance in their predecessors' footsteps--certainly no less talented, but no less calculated. The evidence is in the band's use of so many hit-making producers. Do not forget the very first hit for Motown was a call to arms, a mission statement still in full effect: "Money (That's What I Want)."

But such considerations do not matter when journalists and celebrities converge for brief moments. Rather, the notebooks are traded for autograph books; the hardball questions are swapped for Nerf balls; and all queries become pronouncements of love.

Here, then, are a few notable moments from that "press conference," questions and answers provided for your enlightenment and enjoyment. Candice Bergen swears you can hear a pin drop if you use her long-distance service, but she says nothing about hearing two lips pressed firmly against someone's ass.

Hey, yo. This is Sam, Straight from the Street in D.C. Whassup, bro? I was wonderin'--you guys are on top of the world right now as far as R&B groups. How do you think you guys compare to the old R&B groups of the '60s--The Temptations, the Miracles. I mean, you guys are up there. How do you think you guys compare to them, or is there any comparison?

Shawn: "Of course. I mean, we basically owe them as far as just pioneering the way for us to do what we do. And we got our influences from them. We still watch our old tapes of The Temptations and their live performances, and they're great performers, and we learn a lot from them, being little babies quote-unquote compared to them. And they're very receptive to us. Whenever we see them, they're always talkin' to us and always tryin' to teach us things."

This is Tim Butler with the Tri-State Defender in Memphis. It must be refreshing to see there's a market for good wholesome lyrics, good wholesome images in music today.

There is a long pause.
Shawn: "Do you want me to comment on that?"
Yes, yes.

Shawn: "I'm sorry. I thought there was a question. I mean, yeah, you know, we just do what we do, and that's all I can say. That's us. We write our lyrics the way we feel 'em, and hopefully other people get into them."

Shawn, Dan McDonald again [with The Florida Times-Union]. On that same note, because you guys have a good, clean image, do you ever worry the slightest little thing will be picked up by the media to turn that---a speeding ticket, if one of you guys happened to stay out too late? Is your image and keeping it a clean image a battle?

This is Sam from Straight from the Street. You guys didn't pick up any prostitutes last week, did ya? He laughs.

Shawn: "What's that?"
Sam: You guys aren't anything like Hugh Grant--you didn't pick up any prostitutes?

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