This Was a Thing: "Too Close," Next's Ode to Boners

In the 1990s, God determined that we needed a large number of male R&B groups. He also determined that within those groups, only one member was destined to go solo and flourish while the rest were consigned to mediocrity or roles as evil ex-boyfriends in Tyler Perry stage plays. Sadly, He also foretold of a time and place where the male R&B group would become extinct, that time period being right damn now.

In the 1990s and early ‘00s we were introduced to 112, Jagged Edge, Dru Hill, Mista, Something For the People, Profyle, LSG, Ideal, Playa, Silk, Ruff Endz, B2K and a host of other groups that I could spend hours on end pontificating about. But of all the embarrassing singles that turned out to be massive, massive “things,” there’s only one group that rose above all others, at least in this class. That would be Next.

A three-man group  consisting of RL Huggar and brothers Terry “T-Low” and Raphael “Tweet” Brown, Next had their biggest hit song, "Too Close," revolve around getting a boner during a dance. “Too Close” was a thing. It was a very popular thing. It was a thing so popular that Billboard declared it the No. 1 song of 1998.

You want to know what competition it faced back then? Here’s a small sample: DMX’s “Ruff Ryders Anthem,” Jay Z’s “Hard Knock Life”, anything from Madonna’s Ray Of Light album, anything from Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” and, last but certainly not least, Britney Spears’ debut single “...Baby One More Time." All of that arrived in 1998, but “Too Close,” according to Billboard, was vastly superior.

RL eventually went solo, fueled by performances on a duet with Deborah Cox on  “We Can’t Be Friends,” and tag-teaming with an R&B All-Star team of Case, Tyrese & Ginuwine for “The Best Man I Can Be.” Raphael Brown couldn’t be “Tweet” because a female singer by the name of Tweet was already making noise at the time. “T-Low” had throat surgery during the recording of Next's third album, the vastly inferior The Next Episode which followed the comically titled Welcome To Nextasy. That’s right, we were doing terrible sex puns with album names in the 2000s because we really didn’t give a shit about taste back then.

Point is, everything about Next reverts back to “Too Close.” It reverts back to the song where almost every lyric attempts to tell you that if you grind on any member of Next, any member, they’re going to act like a 14-year-old boy who accidentally caught the Playboy channel for the first time. I mean, take a look at the opening lyrics to “Too Close” and ask yourself … why exactly did we let this fly?

I wonder if she could tell I'm hard right now, hmmm
Yeah, come on, dance for me baby, ha ha, yeah
Uh oh, you feel that? Alright
Come on, don't stop now

That’s right. The first line in the song is the full-blown announcement that one of the singers happens to be hard. Right now. At this very moment. Let’s scan further down, shall we?

Step back you're dancing kinda close
I feel a little poke coming through
On you

Now girl I know you felt it
But boo, you know I can't help it
You know what I wanna do

You see the female refrain here? She tells RL straight up, “Dude, back up a bit. I can feel your dick right now. “ Does RL apologize? No, he outright admits that his dick is hard and tells the girl, “I can’t help it but you know I want to sleep with you.” Grade. A. Creep. Life.

Everything about “Too Close” just feels far too damn juvenile as a song and concept. Be damned if it jams, just look at the video and count every ‘90s trope you can find.

Is there a random, unexplained car chase to a better, stronger slow jam? Yes.

Does RL look rather creepy staring into the camera, attempting to be alluring with come-hither stares, but look more like a Chipmunk wanting to cross the street? Yes.

Is there a random dance scene and all three of the guys wearing jackets without shirts? Of. Course. Is it the most important dance scene in a ‘90s music video? Nope, that belongs to Usher’s “My Way,” a moment that effectively told Tyrese that being a bona fide R&B star was not in the cards for him. Sorry, Usher shut him down something serious in 1997.

Is RL wearing a Stephon Marbury jersey about to be pulled into a bathroom stall? Indeed. Does the same thing happen to “T-Low” while another dude eggs him on? Yes. Now, ask yourself this: when in the hell have you ever cheered on a random stranger getting sex in a club bathroom? Never. Ever.

The rest of the video involves that random dance scene that looks like it happened at C&C Music Factory (figuratively) with suggestive pantomiming to oral sex, the guys doing various gyrations to drive the point home that any woman dancing on them leads to instant boners and more. All of this to remind you – this was one of the biggest songs of 1997 and 1998. Not to mention, it is now a karaoke staple for awkward bro-dancing and attempts to be self-deprecating.

R&B songs about receiving a boner were a thing in the 1990s. At least now we’re just getting straight to the sex aspect and forgoing all the awkward foreplay. Thank you Next, you gave us something that probably ended up on Paul Rudd’s Boner Jams 2 mix CD from The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Now let us slowly forget that you even exist.

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell