TLC is considered as one of the most popular musical girl groups in the 90s, and their popularity is mainly attributed to their unique style in both fashion and music that sparked a new R&B trend in the United States and other countries around the world. When they became famous, the group consisted of three members, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, and the first letter of their nicknames would form the name of the group, “TLC.” Their peak of popularity was unreachable for many girl groups until today, and TLC remains the best-selling American girl group, having sold more than 65 million albums worldwide. To know more about the rise to success of this unique and amazing girl group, here is an artist profile for TLC.
Formation of TLC
In the early months of 1990, Ian Burke, a record producer based in Atlanta, partnered with one of his clients, the then-teenager Crystal Jones, to form a girl group that is supposed to be unique from other groups since they want to focus on a tomboyish hip-hop image. Jones then started calling for two of her friends to join the group. Those two girls were Tionne Watkins, who came from Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to Atlanta with her family, and Lisa Lopes, a Philadelphia-based rapper that recently moved to Atlanta with just a small keyboard and $750. The girl group would be named “2nd Nature.”
Eventually, they were fortunate to get to audition for legendary singer Perri “Pebble” Reid, who was then looking for young talents that will be managed by her new production company, Pebbitone. After the audition, Reid was impressed by the girls, and to make the group much more appealing, she recommended changing the group’s name to “TLC,” which is an acronym for the first names of the three members.
Reid would then arrange an audition for the group to get a contract under LaFace Records, which one co-run by Reid’s then-husband Antonio “LA” Reid. According to LA Reid, he saw potential in Watkins and Lopes but recommended that Jones needs to be replaced. Due to the growing tension between the members and also between Jones and the production company, Crystal Jones left the group before 1991.
With only two members left, the group signed deals with Pebbistone on February 28, 1991. In the deal, Perri Reid would be their general manager, who will first handle finding a replacement for Jones. Perri Reid would soon find Rozonda Thomas, who was one of duo Damian Dame’s backup dancers. Thomas would then be given the nickname “Chilli” in order to be the “C” in the group’s name.
TLC’s First Album
TLC’s debut album, which was titled “Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip,” was released on February 25, 1992. The album was supposed to combine the genres that three members specialize in, with Watkins being funk, while Lopes and Thomas being hip-hop and R&B, respectively.
The debut album became an instant success for LaFace Records, and it eventually became certified quadruple-platinum in the United States. Along with the album, TLC also gained popularity after recording their cover of a Christmas song titled “Sleigh Ride,” and that cover would be featured on the soundtrack of the modern classic movie “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” that premiered in 1992.
During a particular concert in the group’s first tour around the United States as an opening act for MC Hammer, Lopes and Thomas realized that Watkins has an illness that she kept hidden to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist. In another concert, Watkins would end up hospitalized and diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, a severe blood disorder. Not wanting to continue with the tour without Watkins, Lopes and Thomas decided to stay with Watkins and cancel the remaining concerts.
Second Album and Bankruptcy
The second album of TLC, titled “CrazySexyCool,” was released on November 15, 1994. Wanting to gain more control over the group’s career and songs, TLC asked Pebbles Reid if she can let go of them as their manager. Reid eventually agreed, but TLC remained signed to Pebbitone, and Reid would still get a share of their earnings. For the second album, they hired Dallas Austin, Babyface, and Jermaine Dupri as producers.
CrazySexyCool is considered to be TLC’s best album, as it was received much better by both critics and fans during the week of its release. The renowned magazine Rolling Stone would eventually put TLC’s second album in the list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. At the 38th Grammy Awards, the group was able to bag the Best R&B Album and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group awards.
Despite being successful in the music industry, TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 3, 1995. According to the members, the group had declared debts that have a total value of $3.5 million, which has been mainly attributed to the arson that Lopes dealt with and Watkin’s medical bills for her treatment. However, they also attributed the bankruptcy to the unfair treatment of Pebbitone, as the production company failed to give them a proper salary, compensation, and earnings. Eventually, LaFace, Pebbitone, and TLC have agreed to a deal wherein Pebbitone would let them go in exchange for the company receiving royalties for the group’s future singles and albums. A few years after, TLC would buy the rights to the group’s name, which was originally owned by Pebbles Reid.
FanMail and Tension Between Members
The release of the third album, which was titled “FanMail,” was delayed because of the tension that was building up between the members and their longtime producer Dallas Austin. During that time, Austin was dating Thomas and was raising their child, Tron, together. It was believed that Austin wanted $4.2 million to be the producer of the third album while also getting creative control. Because of the proposed deal, TLC and Austin are unable to get into an agreement. So, during the supposed break, the members of TLC worked on solo projects.
A few months later, TLC began working with other producers to finally record and release the album, but they would soon go back to hiring Austin after getting a successful deal. The much-awaited “FanMail” album was then released in February 1999, and it became another commercial and critical hit for the group. At the 42nd Grammy Awards, TLC won three awards, particularly Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Group with Vocals, and Best R&B Song.
After the release of the third album, Lopes expressed frustration as she is not able to express her musical style and prowess through TLC. Furthermore, Lopes also published a letter wherein she stated that the group should release an album called “The Challenge,” which would be a 3-CD album, with each CD containing each member’s solo tracks. The Challenge was supposed to show who the best member in the group is, but the member would soon reconcile, and the proposed album would never even be recorded.
Death of Lisa Lopes
On April 25, 2002, Lisa Lopes was involved in a car crash in Honduras that ended her life. Before and during the events of the crash, Lopes was working with a camera crew owned by VH1 to release a documentary about her life. The documentary has an original title, but it was soon changed to “The Last Days of Left Eye” to focus more on her death and the impact of her passing. Because of Lopes’ death, Watkins and Thomas went on a short hiatus before coming back to the studio to finish their fourth album titled “3D.”
The group’s fourth album was released on October 10, 2002, and failed to be a success overseas. The failure of the album to top the charts in other countries was attributed to the lack of marketing from their label, although the album was still a success in the United States. The group initially decided to retire TLC, but they eventually decided to continue as a duo. But, four years after the release of 3D, they went on hiatus for two years, from 2006 to 2008. After their return in 2008, TLC would just perform in one-off performances and never embarked on a tour.
TLC in the Late 2000s and Beyond
Throughout the late 2000s, TLC occasionally performed with other musical artists in various concerts. There was not much going on for TLC in that period, but they did appear in several TV shows to still promote their solo projects.
On January 19, 2015, TLC announced that they plan to release the group’s fifth and final album, although they needed the funding of fans through Kickstarter to see if anyone is interested while also providing money for studio sessions. With their goal of $150,000 in their Kickstarter campaign, they were able to reach that goal in less than 48 hours.
TLC would then embark on their first North American tour in many years called “The Main Event Tour,” wherein they are accompanied by Nelly and New Kids on the Block. While going on tour, they contact Lopes’ brother, Ron Lopes, in order to gain access to their former member’s archives of recordings. However, the recordings were never used for the upcoming album, as the remaining members realized that the tone of the new album wouldn’t fit well with Lopes’ recordings. The album, a self-titled record, was released on June 30, 2017. The critics praised the album’s retro and nostalgic vibes, but the record did not sell well in the United States and other countries.
Despite the unfortunate twilight years of TLC, the group is still regarded as influential and important to the history of music, especially for women that wanted to get into the hip-hop and R&B industries. Their songs are still played in various radio stations and online streaming platforms around the world, so the group’s influence would never really fade.