1988 Countdown #57: Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative”

(New to the countdown? Catch up here.)


It takes only three seconds to wave away the fetid smell of Paul Carrack: some squealing tires and a synthesized drum roll announce the arrival of Robert Barisford Brown. Immediately, “My Prerogative” whacks your eardrums with its greatness. New jack swing never got any better than this. Criminally, I don’t think I’ve heard this single since it fell off the charts two decades ago, either because oldies stations shy away from ’80s R&B, or because Bobby Brown became more famous for getting stupid with Whitney Houston.


A hyperactive band gets into a funky groove onstage. We cut away to a Mercedes: getting out of the driver’s seat is Bobby Brown. He walks down an alley, moving briskly but not hurrying. I didn’t know it was possible to saunter at high speed. He’s wearing a black quasi-military outfit and although it appears to be night, sunglasses. Brown gets into an old-fashioned elevator and pulls the collapsible metal door shut.

As the elevator goes down, Brown starts singing (the chorus, which in this song comes before the first verse). He’s acquired a headset microphone–maybe he carries one in his pocket? His elevator delivers him right to the stage and he bursts out dancing. Brown then takes off his sunglasses, which seems a little odd, since he’s now under the bright stage lights and might actually want them.


Brown’s dancing between two scantily clad girls, one with a large white keytar, the other (somewhat less plausibly, given the backing track) with a saxophone. Each of the girls is flanked by a male dancer; most of the time, the guys are kept out of the frame.

Brown, it turns out, is an excellent dancer. It’s not just his superior footwork and rhythm–it’s how he swaggers his way through the whole routine. Brown waggles his finger, letting us see the expensive gold watch on his wrist. He does a side-stepping move, showing off his groundbreaking trousers: they’re loose in that harem-pants way, although not as extreme as the baggy-diaper look that MC Hammer would employ in 1990. (I remember an interview around that time where a mystified Brown reported that Hammer had phoned him asking for permission to wear those pants.) Speaking of harbingers of future fashion statements: Brown’s hair is styled in a conventional flattop in this video, not the asymmetrical Gumby cut he would soon adopt.

Closeup on the drummer, who appears to have wandered in from a pirate mariachi band: he’s got a black-and-orange jacket, a wide-brimmed black hat, a large hoop earring, a bolo tie, and a rakish mustache. Well, at least he looks happy.


Second chorus: Brown athletically throws his shoulders into his dance moves, and we get to consider how “prerogative” is a distinctive four-syllable word to build a song around. We get quick cuts of three different guys singing and playing banks of synthesizers. If this were an actual live show instead of a video, I would suspect them of being the musical muscle behind this song. (I believe one of them is producer Teddy Riley.)

We’re treated to lots of reaction shots of the audience, who are predictably enthusiastic and mostly female. “Ego trips is not my thing,” sings Brown, in the least convincing lyric in the song. He’s got a metallic piece of jewelry on the left breast of his quasi-uniform–I suspect it’s meant to evoke military medals, but it looks more like the captain’s wings they used to give young children on airplanes.

Brown hops from one foot to the other, doing a pumped-up version of a Pee-Wee Herman dance. The saxophonist pretends to play her instrument. We reach the bridge, which seems like a good time to mention that when I watched this countdown the first time, on New Year’s Eve 1988 with a bunch of friends, we got into an argument about whether the word was actually “prerogative” or “perogative.” I thought the latter and went so far as to find a dictionary to prove my case. Um, I was wrong.


Brown steps behind the keytarist, moving in time with her, and plays her keytar. “Yo, Teddy, kick it like this,” Brown says, and the keytarist ducks down to the ground, letting him swing his right leg through the air in a roundhouse kick. That’s an awfully literal interpretation of “kick it.” Then for good measure, Brown grinds against the saxophonist, although he doesn’t bother to finger her instrument.


Brown struts down to the lip of the stage, shaking his shoulders, and delivers his monologue, pointing at the audience and talking straight into the camera: “What is this, a [mystery word] that I can’t have money in my pocket and people not talk about me? This world is a trip! I don’t know what’s going on these days. I got this person over here talking about me, this person. Hey, listen, let me tell you something, it’s my prerogative, I can do what I want to do. I made this money, you didn’t. Right, Ted? We out of here.” I initially thought the mystery word was “business,” but it doesn’t really sound like it. Some online lyrics sites say “blizzard,” but that makes no sense (plus it doesn’t sound right either). “Visit,” maybe?

As the song heads to the fade, Brown shakes his pelvis like somebody selected “puree.”

“My Prerogative” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. (So what’s it doing all the way down at #57 here? It was still climbing the charts, and wouldn’t reach the top until 1989. I don’t know whether it also placed on the following year’s countdown.) You can watch the video here.

posted 11 March 2010 in 1988 and tagged , , , . 4 comments

4 Comments on 1988 Countdown #57: Bobby Brown, “My Prerogative”

  1. azul120 Says:

    #57 is an extraordinarily high placement for any video still climbing the charts, and “My Prerogative” was on the brink of hitting #1 on both MTV and Billboard. (Not to mention that it already beat out several top 3 singles here.) This was one of the biggest videos on MTV at the time by far, and would show up on the top 100 of all time for the next few years. Bizarrely enough, it didn’t show up on the top 100 of ’89 list, but then MTV had known to overlook at least one video at times. (“I Believe I Can Fly” by R. Kelly missed the ’97 chart, even though it hit #1 on MTV that year and was one of the biggest videos at that time. I was fully expecting it to at least make the top 20.) “Every Little Step”, his next biggest hit on MTV, was #9 of ’89 though.

    Regarding the video, the headset seemed to be a minor trademark of Brown’s, to which effect he wore it again 4 years later in the “Humpin’ Around” video, during which Beavis & Butthead quipped that he works at Burger World when they watched it. Thankyoudrivethru!

  2. Chris M. Says:

    I guess I officially lose a bet here that I made months ago. I really thought MTV would’ve held this for the ’89 countdown. I stand corrected.

    I’m pretty sure this is the biggest song New Jack Swing produced, and it’s surely one of the best — but I’d say the ür–New Jack track was Keith Sweat’s “I Want Her,” which will probably miss this countdown entirely but was a huge ’88 hit.

  3. azul120 Says:

    Keith Sweat didn’t get any serious MTV airplay all the way until ’96, when “Twisted” became a megahit.

  4. azul120 Says:

    As for videos from the ’88 list that also made the ’89 list: “Handle With Care” from the Traveling Wilburys would be #41, and “Smooth Criminal” from Michael Jackson would be #45, almost a dozen spots higher than “Leave Me Alone”, the latter of which didn’t have its run split between two years. Go figure.

    The ’88 chart had several more videos that on the other hand were also on the ’87 list, a few of which are in the upper reaches of the chart. Unfortunately, having lost the ’87 list, I only have estimates of their positions.

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