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BEYOND THE BUBBLE GUM : Kevin Thornton Insists That There's More to Color Me Badd Than Meets the Ear

June 25, 1992|JANICE PAGE | Janice Page is the editor of O.C. Live!

"Don't color us black or white. Don't color us R&B or pop. Color us Badd."

Literal translations aside (because if you have to ask, either you're not hip enough or you're one of those finicky grammar people), what singer Kevin Thornton was getting at is that his group, the multiracial, multiethnic Color Me Badd, knows only one shade these days: red hot.

Chatting over the phone from the Color Me Badd tour bus en route to a concert in Corpus Christi, Tex., Thornton maintained that the Oklahoma-based vocal quartet isn't interested in the categorization, competition or controversy that sometimes goes with being pop stars.

Furthermore, he let it be known, labels such as "bubble gum" and "hunk hip-hop" that the media use to describe the group's style don't bother Thornton or fellow Baddmen Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon and Sam Watters.

With a smash debut album ("C.M.B.") that has yielded five hit singles and has sold 4 million copies worldwide so far--not to mention the coveted slot as the opening act on Paula Abdul's current tour, which brings them to the Pacific Amphitheater Sunday--they can afford to be charitable.

So go ahead, call them a cappella Adonises. Just remember there are two Ds in Badd.

The marketing images that have cast the guys as modern-day Bobby Sherman/David Cassidys are "definitely part of our style," Thornton allows. But, he added, "you know, we weren't trying to appeal to any one type of market. We were just being ourselves."

So when Thornton (astrological sign Gemini; hobbies: writing, sports and romance) tells you on the jacket to the "C.M.B." CD that he wants "a girl that loves romance. Someone I can cherish, hold and who doesn't mind taking walks with me on the beach, or even gazing into my eyes underneath a starlit night as I read her poetry and express what she means to me . . . " or when Watters (a Leo who favors music, basketball, dancing and writing) writes "I love to give a girl roses, write her a poem, sing her a song or do whatever it takes to make her feel like a lady!," you can be sure they mean it, Thornton says.

"All of the romance--the quotes and stuff (on the CD jacket)--are just a part of us." But, he hastened to point out, there's more to this group than meets the personal ads.

"Now we want to expand more. (The debut album) only gave you a part of Color Me Badd; now we want to not branch away from it, but to enhance it."

So rather than disown the "hip-hop doo-wop" style that the group has claimed as its signature, Thornton said CMB will continue to embrace songs like "I Wanna Sex You Up," "All 4 Love" and "I Adore Mi Amor" but will, the group hopes, add dimension and texture in its next album. Work on the follow-up is to begin when the tour with Abdul ends in November.

"We don't want to stay constant; we want to grow," Thornton said. "What you'll find, hopefully, in the next album is a deeper look at Color Me Badd. We're going to get more romantic, touch on a few political issues, perhaps. It won't be so bubble gum.

"This particular album that we have now, we're pleased with it, but with the success of 'I Wanna Sex You Up' (which actually debuted on the soundtrack to the film "New Jack City"), it blew up like no one had expected. Therefore we had to play catch up with it. We had to release the song earlier than we had planned, as well as come out with an album. So it was kind of rushed. This album we're going to take our time on."

Hang on a minute. Political issues? Color Me Badd?

"Well, you know we're not going to get over our heads in the political-type thing. 'Cause we're not trying to have that type of following or that type of message, like let's say a Midnight Oil or something.

"But in being a positive voice, or being any kind of voice in the public's eye, we want to have a positive message. And these types of things are going on in our society so . . . you know, nothing's definite right now, but some of the ideas that we had planned on maybe touching on were the racial tension and stuff like that.

"And of course love will probably be one of the highest focuses of the next album. And that's not necessarily talking about a love between a man and a woman, but overall love."

Color Me Badd began life in the late '80s as a diversion for four Oklahoma teen-agers enamored of Levi's 501 Blues commercials. Thornton, Watters, Abrams and Calderon, all students then at Northwest Classen High School, began imitating the doo-wop style they heard in those ads and, eventually, in older material by the Dells, Temptations, Four Tops and other groups.

"We liked the harmonies," Thornton explained. "Because everyone was so into synthesizers at that time, we thought it might be cool if we used our voices as our instrument."

They performed their act for a school talent show and "got overwhelmed" by the response. So they began seeking out more a cappella material in movie soundtracks, television, albums, "anywhere we could find it."

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