Welcome to the TGS Video Breakdown Series, where I take a look at the music videos of some of our favorite artists and point out the awesome, the absurd, and the inexplicable. This week we’re doing a deep dive into New Edition’s 1988 hit, “Can You Stand the Rain”.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, or you have a very different Twitter feed than I do, you’re aware that last week BET concluded an epic three-night miniseries event detailing the ups and downs of one of the most popular boy bands of all time, New Edition. In the great tradition of TV miniseries chronicling the rise and fall of black singing groups (ABC’s series on the Jackson 5 and NBC’s series on The Temptations clock in at a combined 432 hours), “The New Edition Story” had everything you want in a biopic: elaborate dance numbers, intragroup conflict, shady business managers, horrible wigs, and lots of commercial breaks. It’s fitting, really, that the last Video Breakdown was tackled Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step”—Brown was famous for being New Edition’s most combustible member. By the time they released their album “Heart Break” Brown had actually left the group and been replaced by crooner Johnny Gill. It was the late 80s, and the public was unsure of the future of the group. This tension is addressed head on right at the beginning of the video:
It was the most pressing question of the time. Good on the California Sunset for not being afraid to tackle the tough, topical issues. Of course, the Sunset also inexplicably endorsed the group Shai for president in 2016, but I digress. Thankfully, the question posed on this cover story is answered throughout this video with a resounding “NO.” Everything they do in this video works, and the cool level is off the charts from the start. Ever wondered what it would be like to walk down a deserted street dressed like you’re on your way to the set of “Harlem Nights”, and you just happen to stumble upon your best friends dressed the exact same way? New Edition does:
Where are they going? Who tailored their outfits? Does this video take place in 1988 or 1941? These are all unimportant questions. What we are seeing here are five young men at the top of their game, unbothered by the rumors of their untimely musical demise. But are they really #unbothered? Let’s keep digging.
The first thing that jumps out are the transition fades. There are a lot of them, folks:
No joke—all three of those fades come within 15 seconds of one another. They really add to the theatricality of the video. You never know when the next one is coming, all you can do is go along for the ride. At almost a minute in, you begin to wonder where all this is going. That sense of confusion isn’t helped by this shot:
We’ve got Ricky Bell, Johnny, and Ralph Tresvant near some train tracks, clearly pondering the nature of love (and rain). Extra points go to Johnny’s acid wash pants, Ricky’s shades that evoke LeVar Burton in Star Trek, and Ralph’s giant walking stick. Does Ralph have knee issues at this point? 80’s R&B legends need back support too, I guess.
We’re over a minute in now, and we might be wondering if we’ll get some plot to this video. Our questions get answered as the video cuts to Johnny driving what I’m dubbing the Blackmobile (trademark pending) to meet with the rest of the group, showing them the distressing headline from the California Sunset:
Typical media. Fake news if I ever saw it. Admittedly, this was a time of flux for the group, but how could you every truly doubt New Edition? Who in their right minds would do so, asks Ronnie Devoe in his Dwyane Wayne flip-up glasses:
I have no idea either, Ronnie. Speaking of Ronnie, he gives us one of the all-time great fake-outs in modern R&B ballad music video history here. We see him pensively staring out a window, draped in blue lighting. A standard, “I’m alone and lost without my girl” scene, right? Not so fast:
Wow. What a statement. “You think I’m sad, but this is actually a misdirect so that I can reveal my perfect hi-top fade, my perfect sweater, and my perfect Africa medallion.” I’m going to single this out as my favorite part of the video, by a wide margin. Ronnie Devoe in this 4 second clip is everything I want to be in life.
Again, how could anyone ever doubt this group? It’s so absurd a notion that no one in New Edition can believe it. Michael Bivins seems to be so outraged that he seems to do a one man good cop/bad cop “Law and Order” style:
Eventually, all you can do is hope that people can see their own mistakes and own up to them. That appears to happen with Ricky and his girlfriend, who cries a single tear in hopes of reconciling with him:
Ok this is getting pretty emotional pretty quickly so let’s rush ahead towards the conclusion. There’s a pretty obscene part towards the end, where Michael Bivins says softly, verbatim, “Come on baby, let’s go get wet.” Geez Biv, let’s tone it down here. This is a family website. Wait, hold on:
Ohhh, I get it now. Wet like rain. Because it’s raining outside. Because the song is called “Can You Stand the Rain.” Glad that’s been cleared up. In summation: never doubt New Edition. They were the 80s most formidable R&B/pop group, with or without Bobby Brown. And if you ever see any media outlet doubt them, be it the California Sunset, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Mashable, Bossip, The Shade Room, Sports Illustrated, or Popular Science—ball up that paper (or tablet or smartphone/handheld device) and throw it in a river. It was never credible to begin with.
Wooden stick power rankings:
17. Gandalf’s in the “Lord of the Rings” movies
4. Rafiki’s in “The Lion King”
1. Ralph Tresvant’s in “Can You Stand the Rain”