New Edition, New Kids make boy band history with AMAs performance three decades in the making: ‘Totally worth the wait’

The American Music Awards tend be an extremely young-skewing affair. Case in point: This year’s ceremony, which aired Sunday on ABC, introduced a new “Best Trending Song” category for artists who music exploded on Tik Tok. (Megan Thee Stallion won that one.) But interestingly, the three-hour telecast’s most hyped moment was the “Battle of Boston” — a sort of real-life Verzuz — between two ’80s acts: Roxbury’s finest, New Edition, and Dorchester’s own New Kids on the Block. 

And even though this year’s AMAs host, Cardi B, admitted that she wasn’t even born yet when the two trailblazing boy bands were ruling the Billboard charts, she understood the significance of this event: the first time in pop history that the two acts had officially faced off onstage.

New Kids on the Block and New Edition perform during the Annual American Music Awards at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S., November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

It was hard to believe that it took so long for this collaboration to happen, since the two boy bands’ careers have always been intertwined. Both were produced and discovered by Maurice Starr, who assembled NKOTB after he and New Edition parted ways. Years later, New Edition guested on NKOTB’s 2008 comeback album, and New Edition’s spinoff trio Bell Biv DeVoe just opened for the New Kids at Fenway Park earlier this year.

But it all really came down to this epic moment, as NKOTB and NE joined forces for a rapid-fire medley of their hits — New Kids’ “You Got It (The Right Stuff),” “Step By Step,” and “Hangin’ Tough,” and New Edition’s “Candy Girl, “Mr. Telephone Man,” “Can You Stand the Rain,” and “If It Isn’t Love,” plus a mashup of the two groups’ “Please Don’t Go Girl” and “Is This the End” — while Gen X and Xennial Twitter predictably went wild.

Meanwhile, inside Los Angeles’s Microsoft Theater, where Sunday’s AMAs took place, game respected game, as fellow boy-banders like NSYNC’s Joey Fatone, Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman, and 98 Degrees’ Drew Lachey rocked out in the audience, as did the night’s big winners, BTS. And the K-pop septet was presented with the ceremony’s top honor, Artist of the Year, mere seconds after NKOTB and New Edition finished their performance, thus proving that boy bands still have the right stuff after all these years.

There was no consensus over on social media regarding whether New Edition or New Kids had definitively won this “battle,” since the performance was more of a lovefest than anything else. Even though New Edition’s Michael Bivins had told the Boston Herald ahead of the AMAs that there’d “always been a little friendly competition between” the two acts, the New Kids’ Donnie Wahlberg told the paper, “This is being promoted as the ‘Battle of Boston,’ but to us it’s more of a brotherhood.”

However, NKOTB would probably humbly declare New Edition the victors of this supposed showdown. Wahlberg actually told the Herald, “There’s going to be an element of us that’s pretty much in awe, rooting for New Edition. We know that if it weren’t for those guys, there would be no New Kids.” And right before the two groups hit the Microsoft Theater stage, Wahlberg even made the following mic-drop declaration: “Here’s all you need to know about New Edition. If there was no New Edition, there would be no New Kids on the Block, no Boyz II Men, no Backstreet Boys, no NSYNC, no O-Town, no One Direction, no LFO, no nothing. Nothing!”

Truly, though, the real winners of this battle were the fans. And those fans will get another nostalgia fix via ABC on Dec. 6, when New Kids’ Joey McIntyre and New Edition’s Bivins and Bobby Brown — along with NSYNC’s Fatone, Lance Bass, and Chris Kirkpatrick; Boyz II Men’s Stockman and Wanya Morris; O-Town’s Erik-Michael Estrada; and all of 98 Degrees (including, yes, both Lacheys!) — star in the seasonal special A Very Boy Band Holiday.

For a full list of the 2021 American Music Awards winners, click here.

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