Today (Sept. 30) marks the 25th anniversary of Next’s extremely impressive debut album, Rated Next.
With “Too Close,” the second single from the 1997 album, the then-newly introduced trio, composed of RL, T-Low, and Tweety, became the fourth R&B act of 1998 to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Moreover, it reigned for five non-consecutive weeks.
An image change of the group could also have been part of the success. The video for the album’s lead single, “Butta Love,” a top 20 on the Hot 100, showed them dressed in bachelor-style suits, a look Bille Woodruff says the industry was moving away from at the time.
However, Clive Davis, who had a particular interest in the group’s appearance since he distrusted their music through Arista, thought otherwise.
Commenting on the wardrobe for the “Too Close” video, Woodruff remembers Davis ringing him on the video set to find out Next’s attire.
“We had to send pictures of what they were wearing, and at the time, it was a turning point, whereas, in an R&B group, you wore a suit or a turtle neck. You didn’t dress in leather the way they were dressed. That was thought of as more hip-hop, so Clive was like, ‘They got to be in suits. These guys are going to be a big group.’”
Woodruff pleaded with Davis to gain more creative control over their image, considering he was young and hip to shift in Black R&B culture. “I was like, ‘No, it’s different. Things are changing. They dress like this for their age, so people can relate to them.’”
For some tastes, many have considered Davis out of touch. Woodruff sees it differently. “He wasn’t out of place in saying it, but I understand why he was saying it. It was a lot of that going on in terms of just trying to make sure the image was right.”
Without final approval from Davis to move forward with the hip-hop-flavored look, Woodruff came up with a concept centered around a dance performance.
“I wanted to have them dancing and have the lyrics play out somewhat throughout the choreography. There was still sexy stuff going on with them in elevators and like the guy and the girl in the bathroom. It was risqué for each of their personalities,” he shared.
Woodruff also wanted to give fans a chance to fight over whose scenes they better enjoyed. “I gave each of them a vignette to try to give a little glimpse of what their personalities are because they were each very different. I wanted to show a group but then also allow people to pick their favorite. ‘Oh, I’m like this one, I’m like that one.’”
Revisit Next’s hit “Too Close” below.