“To the heart, tick, tock, you don't stop, stop! To the heart, tick, tock, you don't stop, stop!”
For inexplicable reasons, their biggest hit single, I Wanna Sex You Up, was wildly popular, even though future generations would eventually realize that this is perhaps the douchiest thing one can say to a woman. There are absolutely no situations in which one can say this phrase to a woman and subsequently have sex with her. Well, unless she's already been paid for the entire hour up front, and she has a keen sense of professional ethics. So, one situation.
Color Me Badd's rise to fame, and fall into obscurity, was brief, intense, and pointless - not entirely unlike the sex that formed the subject matter of most of their songs. Today, all four members of the group make a living entirely off the proceeds of VH-1 "Where are they now" shows, which depict them making a living entirely off the proceeds of VH-1 "Where are they now" shows.
OriginsColor Me Badd began with a concept. In the late '80s, racial tolerance became a brief fad. A fad, for those of you who are younger, was something like an Internet meme: something constantly repeated, but ultimately stupid. If you're wondering why racial tolerance is not a meme, it's because it burned out when it was a fad.
At any rate, 1986 was the apex of this fad. Paul McCartney had recently written "Ebony and Ivory" and the lesser-known "Why Don't We Do It in the Road, Even Though You're Black?" Black people routinely dressed in bright primary colors because, apparently, looking like a beach umbrella helped spread the message of racial tolerance. Several major cities unscrewed all the bulbs on their traffic signals to promote colorblindness.
It was against this backdrop that Color Me Badd chose their name. "We sat down and thought, 'Why do we need a color?'," singer Mark Calderon would later explain. "For example, if I was in a coloring book, children would want to color me black. They'd want to define me with that black crayon. Well, I thought... why don't they just color me badd?"
Incidentally, for those of you who are younger, "badd" does not mean "badly." The band's name doesn't mean "color me, but do it poorly." Rather, "badd" is a word popularized by Michael Jackson, meaning "not bad."
In retrospect, Michael Jackson turned out to be a less than ideal model of racial clarity.
By the early '90s, the racial tolerance fad had faded, and the LAPD had discontinued their temporary policy of hugging passing minorities and resumed their former policy of hitting them with nightsticks. Therefore, Color Me Badd had to scrap an entire album's worth of songs on racial tolerance, including Be The Cream in My Oreo and Dalmatian in a Blender (a song that argued that minority neighborhoods ("black spots") and suburbs ("white spots") should merge into one community, using the unfortunate metaphor of a dalmatian in a blender.)
Facing a crisis, Color Me Badd hastily wrote a bunch of songs about sex, a topic which had proven profitable in the past. Unfortunately, the ridiculous lyrics to these songs made it immediately clear that all four members were virgins. Even their biggest hit single, I Wanna Sex You Up, was not immune to this problem, as it contained the lyric "We can do it 'til we both wake up", suggesting that the group had taken the phrase "sleeping together" far too literally.
Album tracks were even more problematic than the group's singles. For example, in the song Let's Leave the Lights Low, Calderon actually crooned the following:
- Then I'll take off all your clothes
- So I can find out what's under there
- Then we'll do whatever comes next (please tell me, baby)
- I want to know what's in your underwear!
- Johnny J, break it down!
Despite the apparent total lack of knowledge on the subject matter of their songs, teenage fans purchased millions of copies of their album. Unfortunately, those teenage fans started becoming sexually active, realized the absurdity of what they had just listened to, and Color Me Badd never sold another album again. Which is too bad, really, because Sexual Capacity and Let's Start With Forever would undoubtedly be hilarious from a modern perspective.
Decline and breakupDespite their total lack of album sales, Color Me Badd continued to tour. However, beneath the polished veneer of their four-part harmony, tensions were beginning to grow. Specifically, a rift began to form between singer Calderon and DJ John "Johnny J" Schlumpf. Specifically, Schlumpf was rapidly becoming agitated at how often he was being ordered to "break it down."
"I don't mind breaking it down once in a while," a frustrated Schlumpf recalled in an interview with VH-1. "But it got to the point where it was like five times a song. It was 'Johnny J, break it down! Johnny J, break it down!' Well, you know what? A fucking please would be nice once in a while."
Things came to a head during a show at San Francisco's historic Fillmore Auditorium. Calderon finished a three-minute section of "woo oo oo ee oo oo oo oo" and shouted "Johnny J, break it down!" At this, Schlumpf shouted "break it down yourself, you fucking asshole!", threw his drum machine to the ground, and stormed offstage. The remaining members of Color Me Badd did in fact attempt to break it down on their own, but it was widely considered the worst breakdown in the history of music being broken down, and irate concert-goers hurled beer bottles at their heads.
After that, Color Me Badd entered a downhill slide. Schlumpf was briefly replaced by DJ Eustace Clark, but, as Calderon sadly recounted, "Shouting 'Eustey U, break it down' just wasn't working out. People giggled."
Eventually, after a tense meeting at a Denny's, the group decided to disband entirely and become Scientologists.
Despite their short-lived musical career, one thing can be said of Color Me Badd: no band, before or since, has had such a powerful influence on making the '90s suck.