’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Too Close”
The one hundred nineteenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Too Close” by Next, an R&B trio from Minneapolis. “Too Close” was the group’s only No. 1 hit, and in the U.S. it was a big one, spending five nonconsecutive weeks at the apex of the Billboard Hot 100, ranking as the top song of 1998 and standing, as of this writing, as the 30th most popular song of all time. (It wasn’t as popular elsewhere in the world, stalling at No. 2 in Canada, No. 12 in Australia, and No. 24 in the U.K.) Prior to “Too Close,” Next had reached No. 16 with their debut single, “Butta Love,” and they followed the success of “Too Close” with five more Hot 100 entries, the most successful being “Wifey” in 2000 (peak: 7). They didn’t release anything between 2002 and 2018; their attempted comeback in 2018 was called “Want It,” and it isn’t bad, but predictably it hasn’t been successful.
Next rode the tidal wave of male R&B groups in the ’90s, which introduced the world to a slew of similar-sounding acts like Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Jagged Edge, Blackstreet, Portrait, 112, Dru Hill, Bell Biv DeVoe, Az Yet, Take 6, After 7 and Mint Condition. Why lightning struck “Too Close” in particular is a bit curious, as in most respects it’s indistinct, but it boasts a catchy chorus and some memorably naughty lyrics to make it stand out.
The song expresses the protagonists’ excitement and frustration about getting an erection while dancing with a woman. The track features un-credited female vocals by fellow Minneapolitan Vernell “Vee” Sales, who tells the boys to “step back” when she feels “a little poke coming through.” The chorus ends with the men belting the admittedly clever double entendre, “you’re making it hard for me,” which could mean either “you’re making this situation difficult for me” or “you’re giving me a boner.”
Let’s purse our lips and bop our heads again to “Too Close”:
When this song dropped in ’98, it was, to us, a little cringey. Now, more than 20 years later, in the #metoo era in which men’s reputations are besmirched in the court of public opinion for behavior far tamer than what’s described on “Too Close,” it feels even cringier. But on the plus side, the content is delivered with some humor, and does include the woman’s point of view so we know how she’s handling the situation. And we applaud that the song “goes there,” addressing something that many of us have experienced but that few of us discuss. There are a million songs about dancing in the club, but no others that we can think of that are specifically about what happens when things get a little overheated. Musically, it’s very of the times — hastily written throwaway verses and catchy choruses, the hallmark of ’90s R&B.
Does it hold up? As of this writing, the video for “Too Close” has more than 65 million views, which is impressive considering this genre gasped its dying breaths in the early 2000s. Like so much ’90s R&B, there’s something laughably juvenile about this song, a la “Pony” by Ginuwine. Today’s R&B is much more grown. Instead of hearing about a whoopsie-daisy in the club, we’re treated to songs like The Weeknd’s “Lost In The Fire,” where he tells us, in his best Michael Jackson impersonation, that his date can “bring a friend / She can ride on top your face / While I fuck you straight.”
Dopeness: 3 out of 5 Birkenstocks
5 (nonconsecutive) weeks at No. 1, starting April 25, 1998
Preceded by: “All My Life,” K-Ci & JoJo
Interrupted by: “My All,” Mariah Carey
Followed by: “The Boy Is Mine,” Brandy & Monica
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?