photo by Elias Tahan
98 Degrees, the pop/R&B hybrid group that got their start in the mid-nineties, needs no introduction really. While they showed up on the pop scene right around the same time as other boy bands like Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, this quartet stood out with original lyrics and perfect harmonies.
Nearly twenty years later and with more than 10 million albums sold, band members Justin Jeffre, Drew Lachey, Nick Lachey and Jeff Timmons are still going strong as they embark on their second year of touring to promote their Christmas album, Let It Snow. With 36 shows, the group will be traveling across the country from November 1st to December 21st.
Why would a Philadelphia-based magazine be featuring this band from neighboring Ohio? 98 Degrees has always cited Philly-based Boyz II Men as a major influence on their music and image. Both groups were signed with Motown Records too. Philadelphians will soon get a chance to see 98 Degrees perform next month on December 15th in Atlantic City.
I called band member Justin Jeffre last week (the 14-year-old inside of me swooned the entire time, but I think I managed to keep it slightly professional) to talk a bit about getting the group back together and what people can expect on this new leg of shows. The guys were in California prepping for one of their first stops for 2018…
“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” Jeffre says. “The audiences are great and we had a blast with our first Christmas tour last year.”
Last year, 98 Degrees released Let It Snow, eighteen years after their first Christmas album was released, This Christmas. The decision to release another holiday album was easy. Jeffre says, “We are really proud of our first Christmas album and we wanted to make something that stands the test of time. The arrangements [on Let It Snow] have a classic feel. We wanted to challenge ourselves to do Christmas songs we haven’t done before.”
Let It Snow is a stellar addition to anyone’s holiday album collection. Original 98 Degrees song “Season of Love” pairs nicely with 13 other holiday classics. Tracks include Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means To Me”, Joni Mitchell’s “River”, and carols like “The First Noel”, “Silent Night” and“Away In The Manger”. Every song has the guys’ signature sound and harmonies. 98 Degrees is just as great as they were twenty years ago and sound like they have never left us.
In the early 2000s, the group discussed taking a break. They had a successful career thus far, but it was time for each of them to explore life outside of the quartet. In 2013, they came together again for a one-time appearance at the Mixtape Festival (not far from here in Hershey). The show was a hit and they soon joined New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men on the road.
As previously mentioned, Boyz II Men was a huge inspiration to 98 Degrees and a very important part of their origin story. In the mid-nineties, before anyone knew of 98 Degrees, the group even snuck backstage at one of Boyz II Men’s concerts, hoping to get a demo to the Philadelphia-based group. Jeffre tells me a bit about that story.
“We modeled ourselves after Boyz II Men,” he says. Boyz II Men once snuck backstage at a Bell Biv Devoe concert, singing for Michael Bivins who then signed the group.
Just like Boyz II Men’s story, 98 Degrees “sang at the gate of a Boyz II Men show. A radio station heard us and brought us backstage. After the show we snuck back again. We didn’t meet Boyz II Men, but we met the guy that became our manager [Paris D’Jon].”
D’ Jon was managing Montell Jordan at the time who 98 Degrees get their sound together. “One of Montell’s dancers had a friend at Motown,” Jeffre explains. “The dancer passed along our demo and we signed with the label.”
So now, here they are. Still performing. Jeffre says they always have a blast working together. “The [Christmas] tour last year was so well received,” he says. “We’re getting older now and don’t take ourselves as seriously. So this year is a bit more theatrical and shows off more of our personalities.”
If fans didn’t get a chance to catch the show in 2017, they certainly will this year. The tour is hitting stops that weren’t on the mark last year. You can expect to hear most of their holiday music, but Jeffre promises “we’ll be doing all of the classic 98 Degrees hits and songs we’ve never done before.”
Jeffres says their main focus has obviously been this tour and now that they are a few shows in and getting into the groove of things, that’s all that matters at the moment. “We have offers, but nothing is permanent,” Jeffre says of the future. “We are open to more music and love making it together, but no plans. We’ll have conversations with our team about what’s next and what the best route is for now.”
He encourages everyone to visit www.98degrees.com to see when the group will be in a city near you. Their upcoming New Jersey shows include Morristown on 12/7 and the Borgata in Atlantic City on 12/15. Whether you are a die-hard fan of the band or a die-hard fan of Christmas music, this is a show worth seeing. It’s the perfect date night or girls night out. Tickets are still available, so grab some while you can.
If you can’t make it to the show, head to Target where you can buy yourself (and all of your family members) a store exclusive two-disc set featuring Let It Snow and 13 of their biggest hits. Now is the time to expose a new generation to one of the greatest boy bands of the ‘90s (and now!).
So, after all these years, what is Justin Jeffre’s favorite 98 Degrees song to perform?
“It’s always fun to do the hits because of the reaction from the fans,” Jeffre says. “But I love ‘The Hardest Thing’.”