TLC is an American girl group whose line-up consisted of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. Formed in Atlanta, Georgia in 1991, the group was very successful during the 1990s and early 2000’s in spite of numerous spats with the law, each other, and the group’s record label and management. They scored ten top-ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including four number-one singles “Creep”, “Waterfalls”, “No Scrubs”, and “Unpretty”.
The group also recorded four multi-platinum albums, including CrazySexyCool (1994) which still remains the only album by a female group in history to receive a diamond certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Having sold over 71 million records worldwide, TLC is the best-selling American girl group of all time.
Following Lopes’ death in 2002, instead of replacing her, the remaining members chose to carry on as a duo. In 2017, they are set to release their final album as TLC.
In 1990, Atlanta, Georgia–based record producer Ian Burke and one of his clients, a teenager named Crystal Jones, came up with a concept for a girl group with a tomboyish, hip-hop image, and Lopes and Thomas were brought on board, stemming the name TLC, which was an acronym for the girl’s names. However Jones was replaced early in the piece by Rozonda Thomas.
Thomas was signed to the act in April 1991, at about which time the group’s name was shortened to TLC. To maintain TLC’s name as an acronym for the girls’ names, Watkins became “T-Boz,” Lopes became “Left-Eye,” and Thomas became “Chilli.”
In the midst of their apparent success, the members of TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 3, 1995.TLC declared debts totalling $3.5 million, some of it due to Lopes’ insurance payments arising from an arson incident (Lopes tossed numerous pairs of her boyfriend Andre Rison’s newly purchased shoes into a bathtub, doused them with lighter fluid, and lit them on fire. The fibreglass bathtub quickly melted and set the structural frame of the house on fire. Lopes was arrested and indicted on charges of first-degree arson; she was sentenced to five years of probation and a $10,000 fine. Rison eventually reconciled with Lopes, and they continued dating on and off for seven years) and Watkins’ medical bills (she suffers from sickle cell anaemia), but the primary reason being that the group received what they called a less than favourable deal from Pebbitone.
After Arista Records, LaFace, and Pebbitone recouped their investment for recording costs and manufacturing and distribution (common recoupable charges in most record contracts), both Pebbitone and LaFace Records went on to charge for expenses such as airline travel, hotels, promotion, music videos, food, clothing, and other expenses. According to the members of TLC, ironically, the more successful the album became, the more they were in debt. In addition to this, managers, lawyers, producers, and taxes had to be paid, leaving each member of the group with less than $50,000 a year after having sold millions upon millions of albums.
TLC sought to renegotiate their 1991 contract with LaFace, under which they received only .56 cents (split three ways) per album sold —considerably less than most major label recording contracts. They received less for each single sold.
Preliminary work on TLC’s third studio album was delayed when friction arose between the group and their main producer Dallas Austin, who was by this time dating Thomas and helping to raise their young son Tron.
Austin wanted $4.2 million and creative control to work on the project, resulting in a stand-off between the producer and the artists.
During this period, Thomas appeared in the independent film HavPlenty, while Watkins co-starred with rappers Nas and DMX in Hype Williams’s 1998 film Belly.
Lopes started her own production company, Left-Eye Productions, and signed Blaque, a female R&B trio.
Under her guidance, Blaque released their 1999 self-titled debut album which was certified platinum and contained two top-ten singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
Lopes also hosted the short-lived MTV talent series The Cut (1998) which featured then-unknown recording artists Ne-Yo and Anastacia.
During and after the release of FanMail, Lopes made it known to the press on multiple occasions that she felt that she was unable to fully express herself in TLC. Her contributions to songs had been reduced to periodic eight-bar raps, and there were several songs in which she had no vocals.
The ladies eventually settled the feud. After the conclusion of the successful FanMail tour, the ladies took some time off and pursued personal interests. Lopes was the first to begin recording her solo album, Supernova.
Following the unsuccessful debut of her solo album, Supernova, Lopes started working on a second solo album.
On April 25, 2002, before the album was completed, Lopes died in a car crash while filming a documentary in Honduras, which would later be released as The Last Days of Left Eye in 2007 on VH1.
After taking a hiatus following Lopes’ death, Watkins, Thomas, and Austin decided that they would complete the remainder of their fourth album, to be called 3D.
A decision was also made that TLC would retire after the release and promotion of 3D, rather than replace Lopes and continue as a group. However, ultimately they chose to carry on as a duo.
Lopes appears vocally on 3D as she had already completed her vocals for two songs for the new album. Another two other songs featured her vocals from previously unreleased songs. Several of the songs eulogized Lopes. “3D” was released on November 12, 2002.
It turns out that no matter how successful they were, the girls never really recovered from their poorly negotiated contract deals, with Rozonda Thomas net worth $10 million, Lopes net worth being $5 million and Tionne Watkins a mere $1 million.
On January 19, 2015, TLC announced their plan to release their fifth and final album with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign.
They asked fans to help finance the project by donating a pledge of at least $5 to reach their goal of $150,000.
In less than 48 hours, they surpassed their goal and become the “fastest most funded pop project in Kickstarter history”.
Among other artists who donated were New Kids on the Block (donating $10,000), Katy Perry (donating $5,000), Soulja Boy, Bette Midler and Justin Timberlake.
The Kickstarter campaign raised a total of $400,000. In an interview published following the end of the campaign, Watkins and Thomas clarified that they would never split up following the release and promotion of the album, and that they would continue to perform together as TLC.
On July 28, it was reported that the group moved their new album again to the beginning of 2017 due to negotiating distribution deals for the album.
I would love to hear another album from TLC, however without Lopes, for me it’s just not the same.
Check out TLC – No Scrubs below.