Sunday, August 28, 2011

Girl Groups, Part 6: TLC

Sometime during 1992, I happened to a hear a song that I loved instantly. In fact, I listened to this song a lot during my first Eurail trip in October of that year. The song was "Baby Baby Baby" by TLC, a young Girl Group from my home city of Atlanta. They were part of the new record label that was based in Atlanta: LaFace Records, founded by L.A. Reid and his wife Pebbles (of "Mercedes Boy" and "Girlfriend" fame), and Babyface. TLC was a trio of hip-hopping young ladies whose gimmick was wearing condoms on their clothing, like jewelry or accessories. One member, known as "Left-Eye" even wore a condom over the left lens of her glasses. This was the same year that another gimmicky young hip-hop group made everyone "Jump, Jump." Yep, that would be Kriss Kross, whose gimmick was wearing their clothing backwards (a trend that did not last long, thank God!).

What was it about "Baby Baby Baby" that captured my ears? I don't know. The melody and the smoky vocals of lead singer Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins were nothing I had heard before. I loved the combination. I bought their debut album (on cassette) based on this single alone. They had a couple of other hit songs, "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" and "What About Your Friends?" The debut album became a hit in the U.S. and the group also contributed their vocal harmonies to a song on the Boomerang soundtrack and their version of "Sleigh Ride" is my favourite one. I really could not get enough of their sound, which was a mix of R&B, soul, hip hop, rap and what was called "New Jack Swing" (or in their case, "New Jill Swing"). Another soulful Girl Group emerged around the same time: SWV (which stood for "Sistas With Voices", who had only one song that I liked: "Right Here", which sampled Michael Jackson's "Human Nature"). Okay, there was also the quartet En Vogue, but I never got into them (nor SWV). TLC was different because they had a sound that proved irresistible to my ears and all three of the members were very attractive.

I was still living in Italy when they released the new song from their sophomore album. The song was "Creep", which I did not like at first. In fact, it was the video (seen above) which caused me to like the song eventually. The song has what a character I created for my still unpublished novel calls "bounce." That's where the music makes you feel like dribbling a basketball. Watch T-Boz's hands and the way she moves her head in that video! What I most love about this video is that T-Boz looks absolutely perfect. I had a major crush on her after watching this video. I love her hairstyle, her beautifully alluring face, and her ultimately cool vibe. She was in every single way, "HOT!!!" That's not to say that the other two, Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, are "chopped liver." They were also adorably cute (Left-Eye) and attractive (Chilli). This clearly was the most attractive of all the girl groups and they had an amazing dynamic.

There was no "sophomore curse" for TLC. In fact, CrazySexyCool went on to outsell their debut, Oooooooohhh...On The TLC Tip many times over. All told, their sophomore release sold 22 million records worldwide (half of it in the United States). They really showed growth and maturity between the two albums. With the first one, they were gimmicky with the wearing of condoms (still in wrappers, of course) and the tomboyish clothes. With the "Creep" video, they graduated to silk night-time wear. The follow-up single was the sultry and seductive ballad "Red Light Special". By the time summer rolled around in 1995, the single "Waterfalls" proved itself an enormous hit with a motion picture quality music video. I especially love Left Eye's rap in the song. Its hard to understand because of the way she pronounces words. Interestingly, though, adult contemporary stations play a version of the song that does not have the rap portion, which is like eating pumpkin pie without whip cream! I was crazy about this song that summer and it became my favourite song of 1995 (they lost out on my Best Video of the Year to Janet Jackson's "Runaway" and they lost out on my Best Album of the Year to Adina Howard's "Do You Wanna Ride?"). For quite a few months, I had wanted to do a Flashback Friday post on the year 1995, because for me, that was the year of the black women. I was really attracted to a lot of African American women that year and they dominated the music for me that year.

TLC didn't just dominate the music charts and radio play. They also made tabloid news when Left-Eye supposedly "accidentally" burned down her boyfriend's (Andre Rison) house in Atlanta. She claimed to have set his shoes on fire in the bathtub, not knowing that the material in the bathtub was not porcelain. The group also filed for bankruptcy, even though their album had sold millions upon millions of copies. This opened the public's eyes to how the music industry operates (there has been a long history of the artist getting screwed out of their rightful royalties).

Their video to "Diggin' On You" features concert footage, which is pretty exciting. Their second album definitely secured their superstar status. As I was familiarizing myself with this band to write about them, I read the entry on Wikipedia and was stunned to learn how they formed. In 1990, a teenager named Crystal Jones put out an ad to form a singing group. Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes answered the ad and were selected by Crystal. They auditioned with Pebbles, who decided to rename the band from 2nd Nature to "TLC" (based on the initials of their first names) and put them in contact with her husband, L.A. Reid for his new label. Reid liked Tionne and Lisa, but not Crystal so he replaced her with Rozonda Thomas. How messed up is that?!? After all, it was Crystal who initiated the formation of such a group. I wonder how she felt when she saw the three of them achieve amazing success. She probably didn't have talent, though. Perhaps had she grown up a decade later, she would have been one of the rejects on American Idol. Its just one of those strange twists of fate. I've heard stories of actors who got their start because they had accompanied a friend or sibling to an audition and managed to capture the talent scout's attention instead of the person they came with.

In 1999, they released their third album, FanMail, in which they printed the name of every person who joined their fanclub on the CD's cover booklet. They had a few more hit songs, "No Scrubs" (with its music video that appeared to rip off Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream" video), "Dear Lie", and "Unpretty." The song "Unpretty" was pretty profound, as it calls men to account for making them feel "unpretty" by not honouring their internal qualities but focusing on the way they look. Aw, seriously? Maybe they didn't meet the right men! Hey, T-Boz, I would've treated you great! Yeah, I had a crush...but I definitely appreciate a lady's intelligence and personality.

Things seemed to start unraveling for the group, though. Left Eye felt marginalized and issued a challenge through Entertainment Weekly magazine in which she asked that all three of them agreed to release their own solo albums and allow the fans to judge which one was the best one. The challenge was not taken seriously, but it wasn't a bad idea. I would have enjoyed seeing that. Ultimately, though, they have done solo projects and none of them panned out well. The truth remains that they are far better together than they are apart.

They were working on their fourth album, 3D, when tragedy struck. Left Eye was in Honduras when she got into a fatal car accident. This was in 2002. A huge memorial service at a MegaChurch in Atlanta brought out the fans. I had thought about going but didn't know anyone else who wanted to go. I was surprised when I heard my mom talk about Left Eye, as she has never been good with names of celebrities nor really cared about celebrities. This young lady made an impact.

Without Left Eye, TLC has pretty much run the course. There have been talks of possibly replacing Left Eye and even a reality series proposed to select her replacement. However, it would not be the same without Left Eye. The three of them had a dynamic that is hard to find. This dynamic is why they hit it big while a group like SWV did not. Sure, T-Boz and Chilli should continue with their music careers if they feel inclined. Perhaps they can continue as a duo and change their name (how about T-Boz 'n Roz?). But, without Left Eye, there is no TLC.

And who am I kidding? Do I like Bananarama or TLC more? They are both great Girl Groups and I love them both. However, as much as I love TLC and find them attractive and their sound amazing, I have to give a slight edge to the British ladies because they came on the scene first and had more time to make an impact on me. The final Girl Group I will feature in tomorrow's post is one that I consider to be the most fabricated band ever. Stay tuned!

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