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TLC touch on industry friendships, Perfect Girls and the importance of lyrical content

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BY ROB LEVY for THE UNION LEADER

Time hasn’t stood still for this top-charting pop act of the ‘90s.

“What people love about our group is the lyrical content,” said Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas of TLC, the Atlanta-bred group behind the hit songs “Creep,” “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty.”

“We are always talking about something, whether it is a political thing (or) what is going on in the world,” Thomas said. “We still talk about girl-power stuff and female empowerment. We are always going to do that.”

TLC is out on tour as part of the I Love the 90’s – The Party Continues tour. Thomas and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins will co-headline the show with Naughty by Nature at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford. The bill also will include Color Me Badd, Rob Base, Coolio and C&C Music Factory.

TLC has released its first album in 15 years. It’s also the first since band mate Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died in 2002.

“Everything else can be new – the sound and music wise – and it is with this album. But we made sure the lyrical content is intact,” said Thomas of continuing the group’s outspoken voice.

The new song “Perfect Girl,” she said, is very different from the ensemble’s No. 1 90’s hit “Unpretty” in terms of its sound. Still, it touches on a comparable theme, about notions of unrealistic perfection.

“You take Instagram. These girls just post pictures of themselves all day,” said Thomas. “It is almost like a profession. By the time they post a picture, it doesn’t look anything like them because they have doctored it up.”

It’s all part of an unattainable quest, Thomas said.

“We are all flawed,” she said. “We bring light to that in that song.”

In another new song, “Haters,” TLC touches on cyber bullying.

“We always talk about things that are happening, but it’s in a fun way. We are not preachy,” she said. “You can sing along and it is fun, but at the same time you are singing along with something that is talking about something that is relevant.”

TLC was never afraid to speak out; for the anthem “Ain’t to Proud to Beg,” the group pinned condoms to their clothes as a fashion statement, and Lopes famously covered her left eye with one. It was all with an edgy nod to empowerment and safe sex.

In reflecting on their career, which took off with the 1992 debut album, “Ooooooohhh …, On the TLC Tip,” Thomas said they have learned many lessons along the way.

“This is a business,” she said. “Even though you can seem to be friends with execs and radio people, you are really not. It is all business. I’m sure there’s a level of respect there…

“At the end of the day, unless you are making a lot of money for the record company or there is a hot juice story about you, they are going to do their job. You can’t take it personal,” Thomas said.

She wishes she knew that “hard lesson” years ago, before conflicts arose in the group and beyond.

When asked how she would hope TLC is remembered by fans and general society alike, she said, “as an outside-the-box kind of group.

“We were a group that really stood for being yourself and being true to yourself,” she said. “We are real serious about that kind of stuff in everything that we do and say, both inside and outside the group. It’s who we are.”

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