There are six in a semicircle. One has a high end fade, or at least an approximation of a white man. Another has a mule. Someone is wearing a bucket hat. The rest seem to have divided Aqua Net’s global supply. They’re dressed in loose white button-down shirts, the kind where the cozy sleeves are bigger than the head of the average person. They are watching you. Practically in you. Then, suddenly, they point the finger.
Like ghosts of pop music, these six men in white have haunted Dave Holmes for 30 years. The former MTV VJ and current cultural writer and podcast host will never forget the point. It’s engraved in him.
It happens in a flash. About 2 minutes and 38 seconds from Boyz II Men’s ‘Motownphilly’ music video, there are five young men standing in a semi-circle around New Edition singer turned producer Michael Bivins. The 1991 music video was used by Bivins to announce their roster of new “East Coast Family” groups, including Bel Biv DeVoe and Another Bad Creation, groups that would produce a host of memorable 90s hits. Then there are the boys in white. The name Sudden Impact appears above them. They point.
“They are pointing fingers at you, as if to say, ‘Here we are. We are a sudden impact. Any questions? ”Holmes said in his new podcast, Waiting for the impact.
The first place in the middle of such a huge video was the kind of intro for a new act that you knew was going to be huge. “Myself, I couldn’t wait to see what Sudden Impact was going to do next,” said Holmes. “What Sudden Impact did next was disappear. It is no exaggeration to say that I have wondered about Sudden Impact ever since.
Dave Holmes is a pop culture junkie – the kind for whom a flashing boyband appearance and you will miss it turns into a decades-long compulsion – who made it a profession. A member of the Zeitgeist iconography himself circa-Y2K, Holmes was the finalist on MTV 1998 Do you want to be a VJ? contest, and turned it into a multi-year gig as one of the network’s influential VJs, a host-interviewer-commentator combination.
It was a pivotal moment for music and stardom, with Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child, Eminem and Korn all coexisting in the same fan pool, a wave of surprisingly diverse life before the last gasping breaths of the monoculture. MTV was a place where, as Holmes puts it, “knowing Sudden Impact is a talent”. But it took her all these years to figure out the best way to look for them, to finally ask, “What happened?” “
“It stands out because it was a moment of hope and expectation that was never realized,” Holmes told The Daily Beast. Why such a concern with a band that we have probably never heard of, or at least that we don’t remember? “My favorite thing is to take something that you can’t imagine you care about and make yourself worry about it. “
It is partly the mission of Waiting for the impact, which will launch on October 12. Think of it, in some respect, like a podcast about real crime, except in this case, crime is one of the non-violent, water-cooler types. Here’s a group of boys who were positioned through those odd few seconds in a Boyz II Men music video to be the Next Big Thing, seemingly to compete with New Kids On the Block – that kind of scale. And yet… they have disappeared. No major single has ever been released. No recording. No shopping malls or legions of screaming fans. The other acts featured in this video continued to do great things. Why is it not the same for Sudden Impact? Where did they go?
Holmes was 20 when he first noticed Sudden Impact in the “Motownphilly” video. “I was in college, and not at a great time in my personal history,” he says. (Book of Holmes, Party of One: a memory in 21 songs, discusses his journey out of the closet and how MTV was a sanctuary for him at the time.) “I was definitely using music and TV and all that as a way to escape.”
In pure rehearsal, the image of the five boys and Bivins pointing at the camera was etched into his head, to the point that he waited until the moment to watch the video. When the time passed, he started to get confused. He didn’t understand why he hadn’t heard of Sudden Impact.
It was in 1991, remember. There was no Google. No internet. There weren’t any fan forums where people like him were also baffled – and, later in life, he would find out there. were these people could meet, share information or theorize what had happened. Details of transactions with record companies were not accessible. There was no way to discern the identity of the members and track their whereabouts. While the obsession and fandom for pop culture certainly existed, mainstream access and outlets for it did not. E! The news did not arrive until the following year.
It can be hard to imagine from today’s perspective. If that “Motownphilly” video had dropped this week, Sudden Impact would have been remembered. There would be BuzzFeed lists about them. With a quick Google search, you can find all Instagram profiles of members.
“In 2021, you can’t disappear,” Holmes says in the podcast. But at the time? “Not even a Geocities fan site. Nothing. In fact, it’s the nothing that makes me want to find them so much. Information on Sudden Impact is the last hard thing to find in a world where there is no longer a shortage.
It is inherently fascinating to investigate Sudden Impact, why they never released music, and what happened to its members. But through this detective, Waiting for the impact also becomes a matter of nostalgia. It explores what fame and success looked like in the ’90s and what we lost when those things changed.
“Fame in 1991 is something that, if you had it, you had a ton of it,” says Holmes. “The superstars were superstars. If you tried but your project failed, that was bad. That was it. There are now a million ways to gain an audience, build a character, a character, and a brand. In this way, 1991 was certainly more innocent. There were fewer ways to do it. You needed a Michael Bivins. You needed MTV on your side. You needed the press on your side. You needed a lot of things to line up so it was easy for something to slip through the cracks. “
There is something sad, and perhaps even sinister, about the way success and failure are handled when it comes to artists and performers, for example, if that doesn’t work, the company s ‘expect them to feel an additional level of shame.
The Hollywood narrative of leaving the small town for big city dreams can apply to many professions, not just artists. “If you wanted to be a certain type of doctor, if you didn’t pass that exam and had to change direction, no one is really going to roll their eyes when they talk about it,” says Holmes. “But if you’ve been to Broadway and it hasn’t happened, there’s that extra layer of shame the world is pouring out on you that, in my opinion, is a little dehumanizing.”
The podcast explores this not only through the history of Sudden Impact, but through other notable figures from this era – some who were successful, some not, and all with unique perspectives on what it did to them. .
A celebrity story is also a fandom story, especially in this case. Thirty years ago, in 1991, there was no room for people who couldn’t help but think of Sudden Impact to find themselves. Even admitting that you care about such things would get you dismissed as frivolous. But now there’s an entire internet filled with voracious fan communities, which can be both validating and, at times, toxic.
Still, Holmes says: “It’s hard to overstate how isolating and strange it was to be an obsessive culture 30 years ago. Because now a trailer comes out and Twitter goes crazy for a full day. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into a meaningful shelf life. “The great stories turned into the great stories for weeks at a time. They were late night monologue jokes for a month. Now you can be the big story on Twitter and if you go to the movies and don’t check Twitter the whole time you’re at it you might miss it. We have 20 a day.
From the first episode, there are breakthroughs in the research of Sudden Impact, and Holmes teases, without revealing too much on the podcast, that he “has been in touch with people who have been of great interest to me for quite some time.” But opening the conversation to the larger culture that surrounded Sudden Impact during what should have been their meteoric launch, he is struck by what, beyond a boy band, has gone missing.
The story of Sudden Impact, he says, is a story “about the ’90s and what we left there.”