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Boyz II Men spring huge surprise on 'Songland' contestants

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·4 min read

Songland has welcomed many A-listers over its two seasons, from John Legend to the Jonas Brothers, but no special guests have ever received such a fawning welcome as this Monday’s Boyz II Men.

The legendary R&B group, fresh off their star turns paying tribute to Kobe Bryant at this year’s Grammy Awards and to America’s moms on Saturday Night Live’s Mother’s Day weekend season finale, had the judges fanning out like schoolgirls. Ester Dean called them “the coolest band ever!” Ryan Tedder, who said it would “be one of [his] greatest credits” if he got Boyz II Men to record his song, revealed that he had learned to sing from the Boyz. And then Shane McAnally, sporting his vintage Boyz T-shirt for the occasion, confessed to the “I’ll Make Love to You” trio: “I learned how to do a lot of other stuff from you guys!”

But the contestants were even more excited, practically shedding tears of joy and out-of-body disbelief when Boyz II Men’s Nathan Morris, Shawn Stockman, and Wanya Morris engaged in some impromptu audition-room harmonizing on their song submissions. “I grew up listening to so much Boyz II Men; younger me is freaking out on the inside,” gushed contestant Zak Waters. Married duo Juan and Lisa Winans — despite Juan being a third-generation musician from a superstar gospel family, the Winans — were both utterly starstruck. All of the aspiring songwriters seemed honored and humbled just to be in the Boyz’ presence, but they had no idea what surprise was in store. Apparently this wasn’t the “end of the road” for any of these hopefuls.

With their above-mentioned recent TV appearances, Boyz II Men are more beloved than ever, so the timing for their Songland episode — on which they were looking for a contemporary hit to bring their signature sound into the year 2020 — was perfect. But the Boyz had trouble deciding on a final tune. ChrisLee’s instantly infectious, island-flavored “Love Struck” seemed like the obvious choice (Wanya said it was the “closest to complete” of the three finalists’ entries, even in its raw pre-workshop stage).

But the group also connected with Juan and Lisa’s “Maybe” (later retitled “What If It’s Love”) — an old-fashioned ballad about a real-life rough patch in the couple’s relationship, which took on deeper meaning after Shane retooled it by drawing from his own past marital struggles for inspiration. And there was no denying what Ryan called the “unicorn chorus” and unique post-breakup lyrical perspective of former Universal/Motown artist Zak’s “Bad Things.”

And so… Boyz II Men decided to deny no one.

“But wait, there’s more!” Nathan interjected, after he and his bandmates announced that they had initially picked ChrisLee’s bouncy “Love Struck” as the episode’s official winner. “We love all the songs — so we’re going to record all the songs! If you know anything about the business, good songs are hard to come by. And all of them just worked for us.” Shawn explained with a grin that he and his Boyz had decided to be “greedy” — but of course, no one on the show seemed to mind.

Zak Waters, Juan & Lisa Winans, and ChrisLee get a big surprise on 'Songland.' (Photo: NBC)
Zak Waters, Juan & Lisa Winans, and ChrisLee get a big surprise on 'Songland.' (Photo: NBC)

The only other Songland participant to ever record all three finalists’ entries was wil.i.am on the second episode of Season 1, when he announced that he would remove three tracks from the Black Eyed Peas' forthcoming album to make room for the winning song and its two runners-up. (Another guest from last season, Aloe Blacc, also opted to record one runner-up song — a decision he made after his episode had been shot.)

As for Monday’s three tracks, I think the Tedder-coached second version of “Bad Things” has a chance, but “Love Struck” is a bona fide smash. Vibey, funky, and sexy, it has just enough retro swagger for the Boyz to make it their own while still updating their catalog. (Motownphilly’s back again, indeed.) Lady Antebellum recently became the first Songland guest stars to officially release a song from this show to radio, and I hope Boyz II Men follow suit with “Love Struck.” It sure sounds like a real winner to me. Listen to Boyz II Men’s version of “Love Struck” below, and tune in next Monday, when Songland returns with guest Bebe Rexha.

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