Whatever Happened To: Color Me Badd

I had waited years for the first season of Beverly Hills, 90210 to be released on DVD. So, imagine my dismay when I discovered that the majority of the soundtrack’s songs had been replaced with generic filler. Gone were the sexy notes of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” in accompaniment to Brenda and Kelly’s sky-diving adventure. Gone was “Mony Mony”, which the female foursome lip-synched to at Brenda’s slumber party –- the one where it was revealed that Kelly’s first sexual encounter was the result of date rape and that mean-girl/uninvited-attendee Amanda Pacer was acting so bitchy because she was hooked on diet pills. The DVD’s impostor karaoke came across more badly timed than Britney Spears’ performance of “Gimme More” at the 2007 VMAs.

So what would this mean, I wondered, for the infamous Color Me Badd episode at the end of season two? For those of you in the, oh, 90 percent of this audience who likely have no idea what I’ve been talking about, allow me to 1) thank you for having read this far, and 2) bring you up to speed. Yes, an entire episode revolved around early-’90s R&B group Color Me Badd, beginning with a clip from the “I Adore Mi Amor” video that featured the group’s four members walking down a beach at sunset, completely apropos of nothing with regard to the storyline (unless you count the next scene, where Donna Martin is trying to decide which member of the band is the cutest).

And by the way, we’ll get into the semantics of “R&B group” in just a few minutes here. Or now: Whatever, they were a boy band. Someone inspired the early-’90s ethos of Saturday Night Live’s “Dick in a Box” skit, and it wasn’t Nirvana.

It wasn’t that I would object to the deletion of “I Wanna Sex You Up” by any means – indeed, I was never a fan of the group, and for this formerly 10-year-old Catholic schoolgirl, that song always made me blush – but Color Me Badd actually proved crucial to said episode’s plotline. Donna discovers that her mother is having an extramarital affair, a reality of which she would have remained unaware had she and the gang not staked out the Bel Age Hotel in the hopes of meeting the band. In the end, it’s Kelly, not Donna, who scores a visit to CMB’s penthouse suite, along with front-row tickets to the evening’s concert. Alas, what with the improbable events of the day and all, Donna is just too distraught to go to the show, but Kelly represents, and somewhat redeems herself by inviting CMB to the Peach Pit afterward. Oddly enough, it’s a somewhat-sweet moment when CMB serenades Donna a capella, and she is marginally cheered. (And as usual, Jason Priestley hovers in the background looking like he’s wondering how his career has come to this.)

Thankfully, Color Me Badd was in fact spared the royal hack job in the DVD version, especially important because the episode is simply rife with gems. Among them: Kelly’s introduction to band-member Bryan Abrams at the hotel vending machine, where his full complement of chest hair peeks out over the top of his wife-beater tee, the horrors of which render any commentary upon his Canadian tuxedo virtually unnecessary. (On that note, how did anyone ever find these guys sexy? Who wanted these guys to sex them up? That’s what I want to know. From Abrams, to that other guy with the heavily gelled brass-colored hair and the geometric-patterned silk jacket, to the Kenny G-Light sole white boy, again, what am I/was I missing? My 10-year-old self knew better.)

Apparently no one else did. Until I recently re-watched this episode in the name of research (and, okay, in a minor fit of campy-TV nostalgia), I had assumed that this was just one of the many bands that appeared on 90210 as a means of boosting their exposure. I was wrong. More than just a two-trick pony, Color Me Badd was actually around for a little while. And they did pretty well for themselves in that time.

Their debut album, C.M.B., featured five hit singles, three of them top five. The group went on to release another ­­­­­four albums, the last of which in 1998 (I would’ve had no idea it was that recent). They were nominated for a Grammy and won American Music and Soul Train awards. Again. I guess you do learn things every day.

More important, I suppose, is what we owe to Color Me Badd. Late-’90s boy bands certainly derived some inspiration from them and other such R&B/new jack swing acts … so if you ever bought an N Sync album – and two million of you did so during No Strings Attached’s first week of release – perhaps you have a few props to give to other such song-and-dance acts.

Indeed, check out CMB’s performance on Arsenio Hall, and recognize the glimmers of what was to come. Or at least marvel at the all-white-except-for-one-colored-sleeve suit get-up.

And where are they today? According to his web site, Kevin Thornton “committed his life fully to Christ”; two years ago he released a solo gospel album. The aforementioned Kenny G lookalike (also known as Sam Watters) went on to become a music producer, working with artists such as Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, and Kelly Clarkson. I can’t get too excited about that, given that Jessica Simpson is a disgrace to women everywhere, and Celine Dion is certifiably insane. The brassy-haired boy, Mark Calderon, supposedly lives in Ohio and works for an insurance company – if Wikipedia is to be trusted, that is. (Unfortunately, the band does not have an official site, and apart from some of the basics, the always-reliable-for-information-about-bands-that-have-faded-into-obscurity Vh1 is not providing much information on its web site, either.)

I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. These guys are surprisingly tame.

As for Abrams, in 2007 he starred in a Vh1 reality series called Mission: Man Band alongside fellow ex-boy banders such as N Sync’s Chris Kirkpatrick, LFO’s Rich Cronin, and 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons. Amazing how the work that Color Me Badd did always seems to come full circle. Again, if not for them, the world might not have welcomed an N Sync; if not for N Sync, no Justin Timberlake; if not for Timberlake, no “Dick in a Box” … which itself owes so much to Color Me Badd.

Abrams also overcame struggles with alcoholism and certain baby-mama drama. He released a solo album in 2001, and apparently is still pursuing music to some degree. (Oddly enough, as I type this, his MySpace page is advertising that his official web site goes up tomorrow, April 15.) In a fairly recent interview, he also described Kevin Federline as “making all of us look bad” and “[needing] to go back to the trailer park.” Hmm.

Watch the episode of 90210 and see if you find any similarities between him and K-Fed … among them, unidentifiable accents.

I suppose I’ve been a tad harsh on these guys, especially considering they were more successful than I ever realized them to be. Really, though, when we make fun of crap music, we’re making fun of ourselves just as much for ever having listened to it. And on that note, I think we can all identify with Color Me Badd on at least one front – because who didn’t sport a silk shirt-and-jeans combo at least once?


Follow Consequence