The last presidential election separated the red and blue states, demarcating two very different American lifestyles. There's the America that wants its big red Solo cups full of something sweet or boozy, its tanks filled with gas, and its guns on its hips. Then there's the America that dreams of avocado lattes, that travels by fixed-gear bikes and hybrid cars, and that will lecture you on intersectional feminism if you make a teepee for your 3-year-old. It seems nothing will erase those cultural borders.
Nothing, that is, but throwback pop music.
That's right. We may be a nation divided, but the glue that sticks us together are songs that we adults listened to as tweens.
Millennials and Gen-Xers were impressionable youths in the late '80s and early '90s. What did we know about politics back then? We knew the country was at war with Iraq. We knew that our parents sometimes disagreed with our friends' parents about Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. But we were young. We really just wanted a group of young men who sang and danced together — a boy band, if you will — to rattle our hair-spray-hardened mall bangs and offer fodder for our fantasies.
We were obsessed with Joey, Jonathan, or Jordan and maybe even Donnie and Danny of New Kids on the Block. And if we were into girls, who didn't love the tiny choreographer with a mysterious ethnic background, Paula Abdul? Both acts were already very famous by 1990, and in 1992, Philly's R&B giants Boyz II Men brought a new crew of crooners to swoon over.
All three of these acts are on the road with the Total Package Tour. The vaguely sexual title feels like a wink at the performers' 35-and-older fan base. Your 11-year-old self can release a sigh of relief: Finally, you can sexualize these singers without worrying about getting grounded.
Early-'90s acts are a nostalgic tonic for the millennials and Gen-Xers who were coming of age at that cheesy time. They are a reminder of days when we didn't have bills to pay. Sure, we had bullies who made us hate ourselves, but there was no internet, so once we got home, we had some refuge from all of that noise. It was a time when we weren't yet embarrassed by our pop musical bent. We didn't yet feel all the musical shame associated with corny tunes that comes with growing up into a cool teenager.
But those preteens have now grown into adults struggling to find affordable housing and health care in a threatening world under the shady umbrella of a bullying president. It's no surprise they crave the stripped-down simplicity of the pop music of their youth. When New Kids on the Block announced the Total Package Tour last November, people laughed — but then scrambled to buy tickets. What decent human being doesn't want to escape the adult reality of 2017?
NKOTB, the tour's headlining band, was formed in the mid-'90s by producer Maurice Starr as a white version of New Edition. Were they that good? Well, "Please Don't Go Girl" got a standing ovation at Harlem's Apollo Theater, which boasts one of the most brutally critical audiences in showbiz. So Starr did something right. These kids could sing and dance, and every teenybopper in the country was crazy about them.
Before becoming a solo sensation, Paula Abdul had already been a Los Angeles Lakers dancer and a notable music video choreographer. Most of the world knows her as a sometimes slurring American Idol judge and possible lust object for the show's host, Simon Cowell.
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It's safe to say the third act on this bill, Boyz II Men, is the most vocally talented. The four-time Grammy-winning former foursome, now a trio, could make a stone cry to the tune of "End of the Road" — or a nun horny with "I'll Make Love to You." Billboard named them the fourth most successful group of the '90s. Hell, they even have a boulevard named after them in the City of Brotherly Love.
So when you finally decide that, yes, mom's night out will go down at the Total Package concert, be sure to just melt back into those tunes. Take it "Step by Step," and remember simpler times. Just keep in mind that "Opposites Attract," so when you're dancing with that new pal with the teased hair you met across the aisle, don't mention Trump's horrendous tweets. Let your worries about your kids' health care be forgotten for one night, and, for fuck's sake, don't react if your new friend is wearing an Ivanka Trump summer dress.
Just think back to puff paint and scrunchies, and scream, "Donnie Wahlberg, take me away!"
Total Package Tour
With New Kids on the Block, Paula Abdul, and Boyz II Men. 6 p.m. Sunday, July 16, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood; seminolehardrockhollywood.com. Admission costs $50 to $200.