TLC: Girls can be sexy even with clothes on
More than the funky, danceable beats, the smooth singing and the undeniable swagger TLC brought onstage, the R&B girl group—the best-selling of all time from the United States—has always used its music as a means to tackle issues its members felt strongly about, more specifically, female empowerment.
In the 1999 song, “Unpretty,” for instance, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, sang of overcoming women’s insecurities about their appearance; of not letting men or other people make them feel inadequate by trying to change who they are.
This is the same message that TLC—which now performs as a duo, after Lisa died in a car accident in 2002—wants to reiterate in its coming record. “We want to continue telling girls to respect themselves and owning whatever it is that they feel good about,” Chilli told the Inquirer in a phone interview arranged by concert promoter, MMI Live.
“We want to let girls and women know that it’s OK to keep your clothes on, if you want to,” T-Boz added. “We’re not harping about those who don’t; we just want to say that if you’re tomboys, like us, then that’s just fine! You can still be sexy.”
The still unnamed album, which they said would be their last as TLC, has been made possible by the group’s most loyal supporters through Kickstarter, an online crowd-funding platform that helps creative projects come into fruition. TLC recently released two singles in Japan, “Joy Ride” and “Hater,” which charted on the country’s iTunes chart.
“It’s amazing, a blessing. We have been in the music industry for over 20 years, and have gone through ups and downs; there have been crazy stuff we have been through and continue to go through,” Chilli related. “And yet, there are still a lot of fans who still want to hear from us. I don’t know what else to call that!”
TLC, which has so far released four successful albums, is expected to perform new material, as well as their many hits like “No Scrubs,” “Waterfalls” and “Creep,” in a one-night concert on Nov. 6 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum (call 911-5555). TLC will go back-to-back with a fellow ’90s R&B girl group, SWV, which is behind the song “Weak.”
Excerpts from the interview:
What do you miss most about R&B in the 1990s? Chilli: I really miss hearing the variation of music on the radio. You could hear a song with no rap in it, some rap, or a full-on rap song. There was a great mixture; there’s not too much of one thing. That’s what I miss.
You had a lot of competition back then. What do you think made the group standout? Chilli: It was the fact that, in our group, there were three artists who were capable of doing solos. We had our own lines or parts; we couldn’t sing each other’s parts.
Of course we had good lyrical content. And for us, it was all about the delivery.
There were other groups like SWV, En Vogue and Xscape during your time. Were there rivalries? T-Boz: Even if someone had any issues with us, we didn’t pay attention. TLC always looked up to male bands. We saw guy groups could just go out and get the fans screaming by just standing there—fully clothed and with nothing but their music… We saw them as the competition, more than the girl groups, with whom we wanted to stay unified.
What were the adjustments you had to make, in the studio and onstage, after Lisa’s passing? T-Boz: Working on our first album, we were together 24/7. But after that, we’re like, “Call me when it’s my turn!” We got used to recording in the studio alone. So, in that aspect, it was just the same.
We only feel that she’s physically not here when we’re onstage. It took some time to get used to that. We were used to looking to our right or left and seeing her there. So, in a way, this has become our new normal.
In life, when you lose anyone, there’s always an adjustment period—emotionally, mentally and physically.
Who takes over Lisa’s parts? T-Boz: No one. Sometimes, when we perform and her part comes up, the audience becomes excited and starts doing the rap. And we give them that moment.
So the fans take over… T-Boz: Well, they take over the moment we step out there!
You’re coming out with a new album next year, and you’re doing it via Kickstarter. Chilli: We’re excited about that. We’re doing two new songs from the album, “Hater” and “Joy Ride,” when we go over there. It’s exciting that fans and peers are contributing. We didn’t know how much support we’re going to get, and we’re overjoyed with the outcome.
Is there more pressure to come out with a great record, because the fans have invested in it? Chilli: We go into the studio with the mindset of simply wanting to make something great. We want to have the lyrical content down pat, the beats have to be there.
However, sometimes you think or believe that you have put up some great material, but the truth is, you have no idea if people are going to accept it or what. You just have to have confidence… and pray!
It’s also important for us to stay true to the TLC sound, and not get caught up with the latest trends.
What’s the sound going to be like? T-Boz: The TLC sound! That’s what’s so awesome—we have our own sound. You will still get that high energy and great lyrical content. We’re talking about things that have substance, things that matter—and they will always be over a beat that you can jam to.
Do you still care about sales? T-Boz: It’s a combination of everything. We’re artists and we’re competitive, too, so we also want to do well. Those anxieties reside in every artist… If we climb up the charts, that’d be cool, as long as it’s real; that we did it because of the quality of our music, and not just the number of followers we have.