In one of the most hotly anticipated “battles” of the year, all the members of New Edition are set to rock the 2021 American Music Awards this Sunday, November 21—and team up with fellow Boston icons New Kids on the Block in an epic Battle for Boston. The world’s largest fan-driven awards program, the AMAs airs live this Sunday at 8:00 p.m./ 7:00 p.m. Central Time on ABC, featuring first-time host Cardi B and storm of special guest performers.

Ronnie DeVoe and Michael Bivins of iconic R&B/Pop supergroups New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe checked in during a break from rehearsals. DeVoe and Bivins—who graced this past season’s show with Bell Biv DeVoe—talked about the state of R&B, the business of music, why Tik Tok connects with so many, and much more:

Folks are super excited to see all you guys on the American Music Awards this year. How does it feel, coming back to the AMAs and representing Boston together with New Kids on the Block?

Ronnie DeVoe: The AMA stage feels like home, especially for half the group. We just graced it a year ago as Bell Biv DeVoe, but it definitely feels great to come back full strength, right? With other three members of the mission, united and strong. And to have the opportunity to perform with our Boston boys, New Kids.

We’ve been talking about doing this thing for like, over 15 years it’s been on the books. How do we perform together? And for some reason, it just hasn’t happened. It’s all God’s timing.

Now is the perfect time: Four years after the release of The New Edition Story (three-part BET miniseries) we are finally gracing the stage again. It’s going to be a friendly competition. It might get a little chippy between now and November 21st (guys laugh in background), but we’re excited. We’re in rehearsal right now. Blood, sweat and tears going down, getting ready for that night.

Seeing the full group on Sunday will be a blast. Speaking of the group dynamic: Seems there was this era of 112, SWV, Men At Large, Jagged Edge, H-Town, B2K, so many. And then, so many solo acts: Usher, Chris Brown, Omarion, Trey Songz and more. What happened? The end of the R&B group? Is it coming back? Are you guys helping to lead a resurgence?

Michael Bivins: Well, we think the movie did (the BET miniseries). It put a lot of kids on the internet, a lot of families doing routines (with New Edition steps). There was mixing and mingling between men and women doing steps. So it’s a whole new thing.

I think Anderson (.Paak) and Bruno (Mars)—Soul Sonic—kind of did what you’re talking about. They couldn’t take it no more. That was what we needed because it keeps the genre and the flavor alive. They were on the Grammys, so they’ve had the big stage with this style.

This Sunday, we get the chance to do our style on the big stage. I think that might be the influence that you’re looking for: These kids know us from the movie – and maybe once they see us, the actual people do it? You might see some things Monday morning saying: “Hey, if they could do it? We can do it too.”

Absolutely. In all respects, it’s not like the music itself has gone anywhere, as we will also see on the AMAs with phenoms BTS. The sounds and performance styles of BTS (and more across K-Pop) are directly inspired by the songs, swag and steps of New Edition, the Jacksons and others created during the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. BTS pays homage to New Edition in the “Dynamite” music video, referencing “Cool It Now” for example. Rain and Jyp hat-tipped Bobby Brown in “Switch to Me.” Do you see and hear yourselves in BTS and others in this space?

Ronnie DeVoe: We do. We see the reflection of us, and in what’s happening across the music industry as a whole, right? But then, we also look at the reflection of people that came before us, right? In the Jacksons and the Temptations and some of the other people that inspired us.

Music morphs. The energy of it just kind of changes and goes in different directions. And about like the R&B group factor, people just looked at “let-me-pluck-the-most-talented-person-out of the group. That way, I don’t have to have the expense of 4, 3 other people.” I think that was one of the things that made things solo (heavy) for a while.

But like Mike said, with the movie and just seeing more R&B (performances live)—we’ve done shows over the last month with groups like Dru Hill—that R&B is definitely coming back for sure.

What would it have been like to be New Edition—and Bell Biv DeVoe, all of you guys individually—had social media been around in your early days, driving the popularity with fans?

Michael Bivins: It would have been a HUNDRED MILLION followers! It would have been the ultimate online takeover. And you gotta think, Tik Tok is? It’s what you, as a fan, were doing (back then) with New Edition. You were just doing that at home (then),  but now? Tik Tok allows US to see what you do at home. So it would’ve been a whole lot of dancing.

The thing that makes New Edition special is the group members, the fans, the music, but the dance routines themselves. That’s what people connect with us. That’s when they get up and start enjoying themselves, so it would have been a lot of videos.

What are some smart ways artists like yourselves can take full advantage of what the world has to offer now in tech and deal structures? What is happening with the business of music now? 365 deals, for instance, seem far different than the deals struck when you first hit.

Ronnie DeVoe: It’s being disrupted, right? The stronghold that maybe four or five labels had on the music industry, and what people had to do under that system, is being disrupted by social media and the digital age. People have access directly to their fandom, so you can take the middleman out in some ways.

But then on the other side, there is still money out there from entities that say: “I’ll put some money behind you and I’ll allow you to get to a certain level of stardom. And because of that? I should get a piece of the pie right across the board: if you become an actor, I need a piece of the publishing and I need all of that.”

And it’s just a matter of which route you want to take: Do you want to go ownership and grind on that level? Or, do you want to take the loan and get to a certain point to where maybe down the line you could take ownership? It’s all decision making. That’s kind of where it’s at: It’s definitely being disrupted. More people are doing it by themselves on the level that people like Master P and others did independently. You see that happening more nowadays.

Michael Bivins: And another thing is this: You’ve got to do more to get less. You got to have a million, billion streams to make a few dollars. That’s not fair, you know what I mean? You don’t understand the data, don’t understand the rhythm. You don’t know what it is. They’re turning the music into a numbers thing, instead of the music into a feel-good thing – and they know that.

Ronnie DeVoe: Yeah.

Michael Bivins: And I think, when you make us have to count somebody else’s data to see what our spins are? It’s always their word against yours. So you don’t know if someone’s purposely saying “Oh, such-and-such did a billion,” but your record’s hotter in the street. And they’re telling you, “You gotta get your numbers up” because you’re not the pick of the week.

New Edition, BBD, you guys are always a top pick for so many and we are excited to see your performance on the AMAs.

Watch the 2021 American Music Awards live this Sunday, November 21, 2021, at 8:00 p.m./7:00 p.m. Central Time on the ABC Television Network. Stream the show on HULU beginning Monday, November 22.

Recording and screen star Cardi B will make her hosting debut on this year’s AMAs, which features performances by BTS, Bad Bunny, Megan Thee Stallion, Olivia Rodrigo, Carrie Underwood and more.