Brian Austin Green talks ‘Masked Dancer,’ teen hip-hop duo with Robin Thicke, forgotten ‘90s solo album and why he has no regrets about ‘90210’ reboot
When Brian Austin Green cosplayed as the Giraffe on The Masked Singer this year, his reveal was one of the most surprising of Season 4. No one guessed it was him — not even his childhood pal, Masked Singer judge Robin Thicke. In fact, most viewers thought the Giraffe was a bad-boy rock star like Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, Blink-182’s Travis Barker, or even Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee.
“Okaaaay, well, that was dead-on,” the artist formerly known as DJ David Silver says with a self-aware, sarcastic chuckle to Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume.
Now Green — most famous for his decade-long run on the beloved teen soap Beverly Hills, 90210 — is returning as a Masked judge himself, on the sure-to-be-just-as-bonkers spinoff series The Masked Dancer, premiering Dec. 27. This show will be even tougher to figure out, given that the judges and viewers must guess the identities of mystery celebrity contestants like the Disco Ball and the Sloth based solely on clues and body language. But if Austin was able to fool Thicke, then he’ll probably be the sort of expert panelist that can pick up on subtle details.
Green first met Robin Thicke through Thicke’s mother, singer/songwriter/actress Gloria Loring, for whom Green’s professional-musician father played drums. (Green is a drummer too — a key Masked Singer clue that misled viewers into thinking the Giraffe was Barker or Lee.) “We were best friends for like maybe four years. Like, we spent every single day at each other's houses. We went on vacations together. We went out of town together. I went to his basketball games at school and we really hung out. When I started doing 90210 and I shot the pilot for it, I watched the pilot at his dad's house. So, we really, really knew each other — that was my boy growing up,” says Green. “I said to the [Masked Singer] producers, ‘If there's anybody on the panel that I'm worried about, it's Robin, because that dude knows me. He knows my voice. He knows my voice before puberty! He knows everything about me.’ And [Thicke] even said in the first episode, ‘You know when you know somebody's voice, but you can't put a face to it? That's how I feel right now.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Oh man, he's going to guess me.’ But then he just said Travis Barker and completely took a left turn. I remember sitting there onstage in the costume thinking, ‘Oh, I've got this!’”
Thicke and Green were so chummy at one point that they even had a teen hip-pop duo called Think Twice, which Masked Singer host Nick Cannon called “the white Kris Kross.” (“It wasn't a Kris Kross style. Of course Nick called it that,” Green laughs.) Sadly, Think Twice never recorded any music, despite their lofty ambitions and celebrity connections. “We had dreams of being really big, of going really far, but we never got a deal and we never actually did anything,” says Green. “So, it was one of those thing like ‘Hey, we'll have T-shirts made up and then we'll leave it at that.’ The T-shirts were awesome, by the way.” However, Think Twice did have an impromptu reunion of sorts on the Masked Singer, on the night of Green’s unmasking, and they did get a big TV break back in 1991, when they appeared on Robin’s dad Alan Thicke’s sitcom, under the equally T-shirt-worthy pseudonym Fresh Kids.
“We were on an episode of Growing Pains at one point. Ben Seaver ends up being our manager and we performed in like a car lot on some burned-out, spray-painted cars,” Green recalls. “But it was cool. I mean, because I was with Robin, we hung out at David Foster's house and stuff like that — understandably for Robin, but I just happened to be there because I was friends with Robin. He was there because he really should have been — like, music is something he's really good at! I was in a group with him just by association.”
Green actually did have a little more success when he attempted a solo musical career five years later, at the height of 90210-mania. While his only full album, One Stop Carnival (which inspired several amusement park-themed clues on The Masked Singer), was a critical and commercial disappointment at the time (an especially nasty Allmusic reviewer called "pallid, uninspired, and insufferably arrogant”), at least it actually came out on a major label. And in retrospect, the project, released under the simpler moniker Brian Green, had some street cred. It was issued via Yab Yum Entertainment, the record company helmed by Babyface’s wife, Tracey Edmonds; it was produced by the Pharcyde’s Slimkid3; and one track, “That’s Right,” was even produced by a young and unknown will.i.am, then billed as WILL 1X. “It was the first album that willi.am was on, when they were first coming up with the Black Eyed Peas,” Green notes. (In another full-circle Masked Singer moment, for his first performance as the Giraffe, Green sang BEP’s “Let’s Get It Started.”)
“It wasn't an album that fit with the demographic of 90210. The audience and the label were expecting more of a pop album, and I grew up listening to hip-hop. … That was all I listened to and danced to and was a fan of at that point, so it wasn't a stretch for me necessarily, but it was absolutely a stretch for our audience. The audience just didn't see that coming at all. And the label didn't really know how to promote it,” Green explains. “It's funny, because critically, hip-hop fans have listened to it and it's become more accepted and more popular now, and people talk about the fact that it was really underrated and not really given a fair chance at the time when it came out. But at that time, in ‘95, ‘96, hip-hop ruled the world at that point. People just weren't accepting of the ‘white guy from 90210’ being in that genre as well.
“I think if I put out an album where literally you had 12 songs on it and they were all titled ‘Baby’-something it would have done well, like it would have found an audience based on the show and all of that,” Green continues. “And so, I think the show itself was a blessing and a curse, because they had a lot of my music on the show and I did a lot of music as ‘David’ on the show, but it wasn't my music. People were expecting my music to be the music that David was doing, and it wasn't — it was two completely different things. So when [One Stop Carnival] came out, people were like, ‘Oh, this isn't what I wasn't thinking.’”
While Green still has a home recording studio (“I'm always producing and doing that, which was my initial love anyway”), and he independently released the dreampop EP No Ordinary Style and single “Lost in a Daydream” in 2018, he says he “would never do another album, I don't think, as an artist, unless I did something like the Gorillaz kind of stuff… hide myself as much as possible, just because I like doing music.” (Perhaps he can put out an album as the Giraffe, since he said during his time on The Masked Singer that he loved performing anonymously.) But Green is proud of One Stop Carnival, and of the fact that during his time on 90210, he shared the screen with everyone from the Cramps and the Flaming Lips to Luther Vandross to a pre-fame Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine’s pre-Maroon 5 powerpop band, Kara’s Flowers. “I didn't realize how big the show was at that point, that record labels were like, ‘OK, we need to get our artists in the Peach Pit, performing on the show,’” he marvels.
Last year’s 90210 reboot — a clever, super-meta show-within-a-show with the actors playing exaggerated/distorted versions of their real-life offscreen selves — seemed to go over many viewers’ heads, and it unfortunately had a much shorter run than the original Fox series. But Green stresses that the unique concept was the only reason he agreed to do the project at all. “I don't think I would have done it if it was just a straight reboot and it was like, ‘Oh, we're all playing are our characters again,’ because I did the show for 10 years. I kind of feel like we did everything that we could [then],” he explains. “Yeah, you can shoot more episodes for fans, like, ‘Where are the characters now?’ and that'd be fun to watch, but as actors, it wouldn't really be that fun to do it.
“It was fun in the reboot to shoot these versions of ourselves, playing these characters again and doing the Peach Pit scenes. There was sort of the tongue-in-cheek aspect to it, a we're-in-on-the-joke aspect,” Green continues. “And so we wanted those scenes to be as cheesy and ridiculous and funny as possible, because we were almost making fun of the way we saw the show in doing it to begin with. I think the way we did it in the story, the way that we chose to tell the story, was interesting. Some people either really got it and liked it, or they didn't. And if they didn't, you know, you can't please everyone all the time anyway. If you wanted a straight reboot, sorry, but you can watch 10 [past] seasons and it's all there for you.”
But Green will soon be having fun on Fox again, on The Masked Dancer, and adding to the fun will be another Fox TV veteran and fellow ‘90s phenomenon, judge Paula Abdul. “She is the coolest person ever. I was so star-struck being on the set with her,” Green confesses. “The first thing we did [when working on the show] was a Zoom call. because of the whole COVID thing and the way it all works, and I was like, ‘Oh man, that's Paula, on the Zoom! I'm on a zoom call with Paula Abdul!’ And then to meet her, she's the nicest person in the world.”
The Masked Dancer with host Craig Robinson and judges Brian Austin Green, Paula Abdul, Ken Jeong, and Ashley Tisdale premieres Sunday, Dec. 27 on Fox.
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The above interview is taken from Brian Austin Green’s appearance on the SiriusXM Volume show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on the SiriusXM app.