It was as purposely improbable a mash-up as any pop – or country – fan could contemplate. But there it was on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” last November for all the world to witness as it happened: ’90s pop-R&B troupe Color Me Badd teaming with current Nashville superstar Brad Paisley performing a straight-faced yet vigorous version of the former’s 1991 debut dance hit “I Wanna Sex You Up.”
Their collaborative moniker for this one-time, one-song alliance? You guessed it: Color Me Bradd.
“Brad Paisley knew all about our music,” Color Me Badd singer and co-founder Mark Calderon said. “When he had the opportunity to do the song with us, he loved it. We all met in L.A. for the Jimmy Kimmel show, had a few rehearsals and then we went and did it. It was a blast. Brad and his band did a great job.”
The real curiosity, of course, is that Color Me Badd has any role at all in the current pop age. The group has not charted a recording since 1998, when it disbanded for nearly 12 years. But thanks to the long running tour “I Love the ’90s,” which champions a blend of pop, R&B, rap and hip hop prevalent in that decade, Calderon and Color Me Badd frontman Bryan Abrams are grooving around the world once more. The other founding members, Sam Watters and Kevin Thornton, are not part of the reconstituted lineup. The current trio roster is completed by vocalist Adam Emil.
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“It’s like going back into a time machine,” Calderon said of the tour. “Going back to the ’90s is just amazing. We’re just as busy now as we were then. People have been showing up in their ’90s outfits. They’re bringing their kids with them. I don’t think anybody can believe this could have happened. No one expected it. We went from doing, like, 30 or 35 shows a year to doing 100 shows.”
When we wrote these songs, we were just enjoying what we liked. We were bringing all the music we ever loved and made it our own.
Mark Calderon, Color Me Badd
For Calderon, the new age of Color Me Badd also means continuing a friendship with Abrams that began when the two were high school students in Oklahoma City.
“I had heard about him and he had heard about me. We were going to hit the hallways and have a sing off. I just remember hearing his voice for the first time and thinking to myself, ‘Mama didn’t raise no fool. I don’t want to sing against this guy. I want to sing with this guy.’ So we ended up coming together. Bryan knows everything about me. I know everything about him. He knows all of my family. I know all of his family. I know his ups and downs. Same way with him. We’re brothers.”
So where is the commercial appeal? Pop audiences are used to vintage touring packages that celebrate the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. But the ’90s? News flash, people. For anyone thinking that represents a pop era too recent to be nostalgic about, think again. For the majority of the acts on “I Love the ‘90s,” the commercial heyday being honored is now 20 to 25 years old.
For Color Me Badd, the charm was a little more defined. The group’s hits — “All 4 Love,” “I Adore Mi Amor” and the aforementioned “I Wanna Sex You Up” sat at a generational crossroads between the doo wop and harmony-heavy pop that represented a pop age predating its members and the R&B friendly hip hop that was a radio-ready rage in the ’90s.
“There’s sunshine in our music,” Calderon said. “That’s what I’ve always thought. There’s a lot of sunshine on it. It’s feel good music. When we wrote these songs, we were just enjoying what we liked. We were bringing all the music we ever loved and made it our own.
“We coined the phrase ‘hip hop doo wop’ because we love the vocal sounds from the ’50s and ’60s but we also love the hip hop beat brought on in the ’90s. So we just kind of brought them together and mixed everything up and got this fun sounding summertime feel, good vibe. And it works. Who knew that this was still going to be played 25 years later?
“It’s like some of the old Temptations and Smokey Robinson songs. When you hear that music, you get that same kind of old school feeling. That’s what we bring.”
If you go
“I Love the 90s”
When: 7:30 p.m. April 8
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W Vine St.