TLC say ‘No Scrubs’ would be ‘bumping on the radio’ if it came out now

TLC say ‘No Scrubs’ would be ‘bumping on the radio’ if it came out now

The story of TLC is bittersweet. The trio of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas skyrocketed to fame in the 1990s, scoring nine top 10 singles, four No. 1s, four Grammys, and five MTV Video Music Awards. But their imperial phase — which yielded the massive, influential albums Ooooooohhh…On the TLC Tip, CrazySexyCool, and FanMail — was marred by setbacks and cut short by tragedy. T-Boz battled with sickle cell anemia; Left Eye was arrested for arson after she burned down her boyfriend’s house; the group filed for bankruptcy in 1995, at the height of their success, because of a dismal contract with their label; and just as FanMail hit shelves in 1999, they seemed on the verge of imploding, with Lopes telling the press that her creativity was being stifled. They made amends, but in 2002, Lopes died in a car crash while filming a project in Honduras. At that point, many considered TLC over.

Now, more than three decades after they burst out of Atlanta — their flashy, baggy attire festooned with condoms — TLC’s surviving members are looking back. Directed by Matthew Kay, the new Lifetime and A&E special TLC Forever trails the original lineup’s rise to superstardom, their friction, T-Boz and Chilli’s attempts to pick up the pieces after losing their bandmate and friend, and their rehearsals as they prepare to perform at the 2022 Glastonbury Festival. Included in the two-hour documentary are charming, intimate scenes of the now-duo sitting in a theater revisiting old videos and interviews.

“You get to see our raw reaction,” says T-Boz, who captured several of the clips on a camcorder she toted around while TLC crisscrossed the globe throughout their 20s. “When I did that, I didn’t realize it would be worth so much to us later on. I’m real thankful we got that footage, all of the great times we had together. To be able to watch it so many years later is such a blessing.”

TLC publicity

TLC’s Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas

| Credit: Dennis Leupold

Few R&B and hip-hop acts in the early ’90s emerged with such a bold, distinct identity. TLC weren’t afraid to upend gender norms or sing about “pullin’ down curtains and breakin’ da waterbed”; they dressed and rapped like their male counterparts, but with more whimsy, and appeared on talk shows to promote safe sex when AIDS was killing tens of thousands of Americans.

“We all came from strong households, so we were just in sync,” T-Boz recalls, on the phone from Atlanta. “It wasn’t something we were shy about or had to talk about. We were just all down — like, ‘Boom, let’s go.’ It was so undeniably organic and meant to be.”

“TLC were these authentic girls who stayed true to themselves and said and did exactly what they wanted, respectfully,” says Chilli, who remains in awe of the threesome’s chemistry in early music videos and photo shoots. “I always say this: If I weren’t in TLC, they would totally be my favorite girl group of all time.”

For many, they are exactly that. TLC remain the best-selling American female group ever — 85 million records worldwide and counting. Everyone from Beyoncé to Grimes has cited them as a major influence. Could they ever achieve what they did then today, in the age of streaming, when listeners are paying much less for music and retreating more and more into their algorithmically curated cocoons?

“I don’t know about sales, but I know our music would stand the test of time,” says T-Boz. “I do believe if ‘No Scrubs’ or ‘Unpretty’ or ‘Creep’ came out tomorrow, they would be bumping on the radio just the same.”

The timeless quality of those tracks — along with their signature hit “Waterfalls,” which snagged them a Video of the Year Award, making them the first Black act to win the trophy — has been on full display as they’ve taken to the stage in recent years, images of Left Eye projected on a large screen behind them. “We look out in the audience and see kids — and I don’t just mean teenagers, but 9-year-olds — dressed like one of us and singing the songs,” Chilli says. “It just blows my mind, and pulls on our heartstrings too. We’re blessed that 30 years later people still wanna come and see us in concert. It lets us know that our body of work is still here.” Photo credit:  Dennis Leupold

TLC’s Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas

| Credit: Dennis Leupold

Also intact: their trademark playfulness. If reliving certain memories has been painful (in one of the special’s more poignant scenes, T-Boz recounts discovering she had a brain tumor and fearing she’d lose her hearing), T-Boz and Chilli still rib each other like they did in their halcyon days; the documentary offers more laughter than tears.

“Listen, I need everybody to continue praying for me because, you know, I have to deal with T-Boz,” Chilli quips. “It’s a lot.” T-Boz howls before replying, “Yeah, right.”

Seconds later, Chilli turns sincere. “I love her,” she says. “We are so close. I have her back, and she has my back.”

The June premiere of TLC Forever will coincide with the launch of their Hot Summer Nights Tour with Shaggy (along with featured guests En Vogue and Sean Kingston). They also have something brewing on Broadway, as well as a fictional series centered around their music and a pilot for an upcoming reality show in the works. In their minds, TLC was never over.

“No matter what happened, we never broke up,” says Chilli. “I mean, we’re gonna be in this group until we’re not here anymore. And the greatest thing of all is that we still want to do this together. I would not want to do this with any other person.”

TLC’s Hot Summer Nights tour kicks off June 1. TLC Forever premieres June 3 on Lifetime and A&E. Watch the trailer for it below.

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