In all my excitement over the latest New Kids News of a 2015 summer tour, I almost forgot that on this tour I’ll finally be getting the chance to see some of my earliest role models perform. TLC, even before the Spice Girls, helped to shape the sassy, independent and sometimes crass woman I would become. And now, after all these years, I get to see them live. Well, 2/3 of them. But Lisa Lopes will be there in spirit. I’m sure of it. Or I would be if I believed in that sort of thing.
As a little girl, not too long after falling head over heels in love with those “five bad boys from the beantown land”, I discovered an album called, “Oooooooh…On the TLC Tip”, and songs like, “What About Your Friends” helped me work through some really tough 3rd grade drama. Was I a bit too young to listen to these three brash beauties? You bet. But I already knew all the words to “Baby Got Back”, so it was much too late for me anyway. I was never going to be a member of the D.A.R. or have a coming out party. In a white gloves and waltz kind of way. Not a double vagina kind of way. Once “CrazySexyCool” came out, my friends and I would spend every afternoon blasting the album and “playing TLC”. As in, we each pretended to be a member of the group and performed the album in our bedrooms, from top to bottom. Even the strange interludes. And we always fought over who got to be Left Eye. Because she had the super-cool raps. You can’t say, “I seen a rainbow yesterday…” and stop there. You know how it goes. And I bet you get mad when “Waterfalls” comes on the radio and that part is gone. I know your life.
TLC wasn’t just important to me and my elementary school clique, it was arguably the most important “girl group” of our time. I’m going to say of all time. Because this is my blog. They were at the very least the first all girl group to have a diamond-classified album in “CrazySexyCool”. And they did it all while flexing their socially aware, feminist muscles and while living just like the regular people who bought their record. They each made less than $50,000 a year even at their most successful. They were poster women for my (and most of my artist friends’) current “starving artist” plight and had to eventually declare bankruptcy after being unable to re-negotiate their ridiculously unfair contracts. I’m getting retroactively mad right now. In your face, LaFace! You misogynist bullies.
Lack of funds didn’t stop TLC from banging out hit after hit and forcing the pop-culture swilling public to swallow some hard truths about safe sex (by covering themselves in day-glo condoms in their early music videos and effectively un-tabooing the prophylactic for young fans), female sexuality (by demanding satisfaction in “Red Light Special” and again, by covering themselves in day-glo condoms and proving that women can take protection into their own hands, and over their own left eyes), HIV and dangerous drug culture (by making “Waterfalls” their biggest hit of all time while crooning that “three letters took him to his final resting place”) and by being fierce females in general. Their music videos flipped the sexuality script on popular mid-nineties chart-toppers, bringing strong, sexually confident women into the living rooms of suburban-subdued kids in subconscious search of role models. “Red Light Special” still brings a blush to my cheek in the way only an early-life learning experience can.
Their third album, “FanMail” came in 1999 at the cusp of my adolescence. I was in the 8th grade and really celebrating crushed velvet tops, tattoo-inspired choker necklaces and bright blue roll-on glitter. “No Scrubs” hit the airwaves and puffed out the chests of myself and my ragtag group of precocious friends. We didn’t want no scrubs, either, when the time came for that to be an option. We were ready to make choices that proved we valued ourselves and our worth and only sort of giggled if someone “holla’d at us from the passenger side of their best friend’s ride”. Because, I mean, we were 14 and it was a car. The second single from that album was a game changer in the music industry of the end of the 20th Century. “Unpretty” brought harsh realities about body image into mainstream media and was delivered into the ears of self-conscious girls via Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins’ signature low-and-slow voice. The video featured scenes of thinspiration-fueled purging and followed Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, who has spoken about being teased as a teen about her flat chest, through her struggle with deciding against getting breast augmentation surgery at the insistent request of her boyfriend. It gave us the other side of the beauty machine and we were ready for it.
Just a couple short years after FanMail was released, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was killed in a car accident and my 17-year old self was devastated. She had felt like a friend. My history with the ladies of TLC runs deep. From condoms and baggy jeans, through House Party cameos (Sex As A Weapon was no joke) and on to admissions of creeping and the resistance of Scrubs, I was a fan. I’m expecting a lot of memories and emotion when the ladies take the stage, and I’m hoping that if not spirit, Left Eye will be there in hologram. We have the technology. Let’s let her speak about that rainbow she saw yesterday. I ain’t 2 proud 2 beg. Yep. I did it. I ended the blog in a song lyric. Sort of.