An interview with TLC by Jamie Foster Brown & Lorenzo (March 1995)
Part 1: The Hotel Meeting
They’re baaack! After two troublesome years, the funky hip hoppers, TLC, have released their slamming new album, ‘CrazySexyCool’. The first single, “Creep”, went all the way to #1 on the pop charts!
Amid their phenomenal success, the girls have had their fair share of problems: Left Eye pleaded guilty on Dec 29 to one count of first degree arson. She is spending some time in a halfway house with five years probation, a $10,000 fine, and a must pay restitution to the firefighters injured during the incident.
And, the group had serious management problems which resulted in major financial trouble. But that’s okay! These babies have bounced back stronger than ever under new management with some first rate producers.
I had two interviews with the group. The first appears in this issue. The second appears next month in the April issue. The first was in their hotel room over lunch, where my husband Lorenzo and I decided wanted to adopt them! When I met T-Boz later and reminded her, she said, “ya’ll don’t want us.” We know they’re bad babies, but they’re so cute! And smart.
T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli are truly entertaining… read on and they’ll “Creep” into your hearts, too.
Jamie: Do you think about death a lot? Are you afraid of it?
T-Boz: You know how you live everyday and sometimes take it for granted? When somebody close to me dies… not even really close, but somebody I know… if they die, it bothers me for like a week, I keep having dreams, because if you really think about it, it’s serious. It makes me straighten up for a while before I start taking life for granted again. It scares me when I think about me dying, but I know I’m gonna have to die.
So, if I do die, I don’t wanna die in no brutal way. I can’t even imagine going out like that. I’m like the last person to cry. Like, when they watch a movie and cry — I don’t cry. I laugh at stuff that’s brutal. I get a kick out of it. What made me cry — did ya’ll see Oprah when they talked about those little kids that killed those other little kids? That brought tears to my eyes. When that little white boy killed that 4-year old little boy, that’s the kind of stuff that gets to me. It hurt me so bad.
Jamie: What do you feel about death, Chilli?
Chilli: I think about it a lot. You know how you can meet somebody and it seems like you’ve known that person forever? And then you can meet somebody else — you don’t know if they’re good or bad — but your spirits just don’t mix together? I wonder, do we just keep coming back until we get it right? Things happen for a reason. Like, there’s a reason I cannot stand smoke. Not that it irritates me, I HATE it! What’s the real reason? I just try to go beyond and I rack my brain, because I can’t really figure it out.
Jamie: How can you go to clubs then?
Chilli: The only clubs I go to are the teen clubs. They don’t smoke, they don’t drink, I get home by 1:30 and I keep up on the latest dances. To me, this world we’re living in — we are in hell! This is not a Godly place. God has got his people — Satan got his people, too. I believe in a bad seed. I ain’t about to sit up there and if a little kid goes and kills all these people — they don’t understand what happened. I don’t believe a kid is just going to wake up and say, “Well, I’m going to kill”. I believe Satan has got demons that can possess people.
That stuff is real. People overlook stuff like that and the only time we get on our knees and holler, “Oh Jesus, help me”, is when it’s a crisis. You can go out at night, dressed up, get fly as I don’t know what, go out and sin, but you cannot get yourself up and have a decent conversation with yourself about life and God and Godly things. People don’t get excited about that. But, if you say, “Girl, let’s go to the mall, child, and spend some money”, it’s “okay, girl, I’m coming”.
T-Boz: That’s almost like a girl who goes out, has sex and says, “God, please don’t let me get pregnant”, and then goes out and does it again. So that’s just another part of sinning or just not being right. That’s like somebody who says they’re Christian, but doesn’t walk right. God truly knows who means what, who has faith and who doesn’t.
Jamie: You’re Seventh Day Adventist?
T-Boz: Saturday is Sabbath for me.
Jamie: Are you afraid of death, Left Eye?
Left Eye: I think I can handle my death better than somebody else’s.
Jamie: Really. You mean you can handle the thought of it?
Left Eye: Yeah. I think about it a lot. But it doesn’t really bother me. It’s like, “Damn! Gotta go one day — gotta go”. I think about what it’s gonna be like after I’m gone. Well, it’s not gonna hurt me — I’m gonna be gone. So, it ain’t really shit for me to handle. I think about the people around me who are gonna have to be left here after I’m gone.
Lorenzo: How come you all think about death now? That’s strange for someone so young.
Left Eye: Sometimes I feel bad, and the only way to escape how I feel is to die. Sometimes I feel like I hope a car hits me or something can take me out of this mess and it won’t be my fault. I just get out of this shit and other f*ckers be like, “Oh well, too bad. Left Eye ain’t here, she died”.
*Someone comes in*
Left Eye: Can we get back to this death thing? I think about it. Those aren’t my final thoughts, cuz then I have thoughts after that. It’s like, “Nah, I can’t leave yet, cuz when I die I wanna be like Elvis”.
Lorenzo: How do you mean?
Left Eye: Reach my goals, reach my accomplishments, do what I got to do to help this person over here and get my family straight. I just can’t leave them. And then, when I die, no matter how it is, whether I do it on purpose or whether it just happens, I want people to remember me. I want people to talk about me.
Lorenzo: Do you want kids?
Left Eye: I don’t know. Monday I might. Tuesday I might not. My feelings change like the weather. Sometimes, I’m like, “Nah, the world is too messed up. I’m not gonna bring any children into it. I don’t want them to get caught up in the final days”.
Jamie: The final days when we get taken out of here?
Left Eye: Whatever the final day is. Not just the final days, but the shit that’s going around. But then, sometimes it’s like, “Yeah, I’m going to have kids”.
Chilli: It’s like a cycle. It keeps going, keeps going. When this world right here that we’re in… when it’s over — whenever it’s over, there might be another one. If you can think about it, it has to exist in some form. I want a husband who’s gonna love every single drop about me — shower me with love. And I want kids and I want to be together with this man til death do us part. I believe a man out there exists. I don’t know where he is, but I hope we find each other one day. I believe that years can go by and I can still wake up, look at my husband and still get butterflies.
Jamie: I have them.
Chilli: It does exist. You can’t rush. People get married for the wrong reasons. You got to know yourself first before you can get involved with somebody else and be like, “Okay, this is it, and we’re going to be together forever — you’re my husband.” Cuz a lot of the times, we don’t know who we are.
Jamie: The friendship part is important. Where did you grow up, T-Boz?
T-Boz: Des Moines!
Lorenzo: I don’t have an image of Des Moines. What’s it like?
T-Boz: I am from Des Moines and I will say it all day long, never deny where I’m from and proud of it, but Des Moines sucks. Atlanta is more country than the country itself!
Jamie: Where are you from, Left Eye?
Left Eye: Philly. I left Philly when I was three and returned when I was twelve.
Jamie: Where were you before?
Left Eye: My dad was in the service, so we lived in Kansas; came back to Philly; went to Panama, stayed about four years; then we moved to Jersey. My mom took us to Florida; then we went back to Philly.
Jamie: How come you love each other so much?
Left Eye: It’s like natural. The day we met — click.
Lorenzo: When did you meet?
Left Eye: ’91
T-Boz: Sometimes I forget because it seems like we met twenty years ago.
Lorenzo: Tell me, Lisa, when did you first start entertaining? Did you start in church or school when you were a kid?
Left Eye: I remember one year in school, I tried to be everything — drama club, choir, whatever. Whatever they were having, I tried to be in it. I remember when I was in junior high school, they had auditions for a talent show and me and my little creative behind tried to outdo everybody and just totally messed myself up.
Left Eye: I had a routine to this old song. I had a baton, I had my little dance step, I did some break dancing and I sang. And in this one song, I really messed it up. I was standing at the mic signing, and as soon as the break came on, I jumped on the floor like a snake, and I had my baton over here… and I grabbed the baton… and threw it up… and it went over there! The next day, they had a list placed in all of the hallways telling who made it, and my name was not on the list.
Jamie: We’re you ever a majorette?
Left Eye: No, man. I always started stuff, but I never finished it. I was one of those people who had the flags, but never made it to rehearsals.
Jamie: How old were you when you did this?
Left Eye: I was probably in the seventh grade, so 14?
Jamie: That’s some funny stuff. And you did all that by yourself?
Left Eye: Hm hmm.
- TLC in their hotel room (1995)
Lorenzo: Did you do any performing when you were four or five years old?
Left Eye: Oh, yeah. When I was about 4 or 5, me and my sister and brother — we went to Florida. My mom took us to Florida. We always did things together and I was the ringleader. We did shit like put a play together before my mom came home from work, and as soon as she walked in the door, it was like, “Sit down! We got a show for you!” and we would do the play from beginning to end. I don’t care if it was a musical, just a straight-up play, singing some songs — we always had a show to put on for my mom. Always, from when we little on up, we joined dance contests, and it was me and my sister. We were always partners.
Jamie: Is she older?
Left Eye: My sister is three years under me.
Jamie: What are your brother and sister doing now?
Left Eye: My brother is in college. My sister skipped out this semester, and she’s in some kind of Peace Corps or something.
Jamie: So, you’re not the oldest then?
Left Eye: Yeah, I am. My sister is three years under me.
Jamie: Chilli, what was your childhood like?
Chilli: My first words when I was a baby was, “I love you”. I couldn’t say it that good, but it’s like my mother’s mom used to call me a half-breed. Out of six kids, my mom was her first. She took everything out on my mother because my mom’s father broke her heart. So she didn’t like my mom. So it’s like my great-grandmother, who we called Big Mommy, raised me and my mom. So it’s like, because she didn’t get the love from her own mother, they showered me with love. So either I was going to be affectionate or I was not. And I am.
Lorenzo: Did you entertain people when you were little?
Chilli: I used to break dance. I was in this group called the Showcase Babydolls. You remember Cyndi Lauper? I did her song, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in a talent show. I didn’t think I was gonna win. I had to do that with the Showcase Babydolls and I won. I learned to break dance and I got better than the girl who taught me. It was a trip. It seemed like everything in this business just came naturally for me. That’s why I feel like it’s my destiny because of how everything just fell into place, being in the right place at the right time.
Lorenzo: So, did you think you would become a star one day?
- Chilli shows Jamie some love (1995)
Chilli: I always wanted to be a star, but I never tried to go out and do anything like that. I was signing in a church every day of my life. To this day, I sing and dance in the mirror. I can’t help it. It’s just something I just do. But my childhood was crazy because I was like surviving — trying to live — because the kids used to always try to beat me up.
Chilli: You know how it is. You’re in the projects and I was always called the half-breed.
Jamie: Half white? Or half what?
Chilli: My father… all of his people are from India. I don’t really know them. I’m looking for my father. His name is Abdul Tahil Ali. And I’m not Muhammad Ali’s daughter! People keep asking me that! No kin to him. And I’m not light skinned. I got long hair, but I ain’t light skinned. Just wanted to clear that up.
Jamie: What’s wrong with being light skinned?
Chilli: I ain’t saying nothing is wrong with it! But why can’t you be brown skinned and get problems, too? You know how people stereotype everything. But anyway, that was just how I grew up. I was always fighting girls… and boys, too. I didn’t get no peace, honestly, until I went to high school. I was in the eighth grade and these girls were in the seventh grade, and they tried to spray mace on me. It was just really crazy. I’m still glad I went to college, though. I hate it that I didn’t finish, and it’s true that, when you stay out for a while, you say, “I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna go back”, and then you don’t even think about going back anymore.
Jamie: How long did you go to school?
Chilli: Two years.
Jamie: What did you study?
Chilli: Communication art. My minor was business management. I never really wanted to be out front like how we are now because I didn’t think it was ever possible to happen. I was like, “If I just could get behind the scenes”. I love fashion and wanted to be a fashion consultant or a buyer for a major department store for clothes. I love the runway. I love all that kind of stuff.
- T-Boz on the ‘Red Light Special’ video set (1995)
Lorenzo: T-Boz, what’s the first thing you ever did to entertain?
T-Boz: I was sitting there thinking about the stuff I did in my life and it’s funny. I did do a lot of little stuff. When I grew up, my mom was in this group in church called the Viduwells. I had to grow up being “little Gayle”. That’s my mom’s name, Gayle. Because my mom was the singer in church, it was like, “Come on, little Gayle. Sing your momma’s song!” And her song was, “Going Over Yonder”. My solo song church every Sunday would be, “Oh, Sinner, You’re Gonna Be Sorry!” (laughs). And on special days they would say, “Come on, little Gayle, you gotta do your momma’s song”, and pretend I was my momma. That was the cute thing in church.
But I didn’t keep up anything. I would start stuff and stop all the time. I had all kinds of interests in everything. I was in the Little Miss Black Des Moines pageant and I had to do this acting skit. My mom was so scared because the whole month, I wouldn’t practice in front of nobody. I think I’m still that way now. If you push me and say, “Let me see it”, I won’t do it until show time. I’d say, “No, I’m telling you mom. I’ve got it!”. She’d be like, “Go stand in the mirror and do it”. I was like, “Mom, don’t embarrass me”. That night, she was on pins and needles. But I did it. I got my trophy and stuff.
Jamie: You won?
T-Boz: I won. I forget what place, runner-up or something like that. This girl beat me. She was playing the violin. I couldn’t top that. So I did this little skit on personal appearances. I had to wear this little hat with freckles, like a little boy with suspenders. I was in stuff like modern dance classes. I was a majorette.
Lorenzo: Oh yeah?
T-Boz: Yeah. I was never a person that liked to audition because that wasn’t me. For some reason, I didn’t think I’d make it. I’d shy away from that. But if you say do something I thought I was good at, I’d be like, “Move out the way, honey. Okay?”
Jamie: Did you break dance, too?
T-Boz: No. But ya’ll… I was twelve, right? That was the only time I was limber. I ain’t never been that limber no more since then. I’d go to dance class. Ya’ll hear my knee pop? That’s why.
Jamie: So did you think you really wanted to be a performer?
T-Boz: I’d always see myself on stage with a microphone. That was my dream. In high school, they would say, “what do you see yourself doing in five years from now?” Some people would be lawyers and doctors, some people be dead. I would be, “Shit! Not me! I’m gonna be on TV, somewhere”. I never knew how it was going to happen. I used to tell my mom, “One day you’ll see me on a poster board somewhere. You’re going to see my face”. I wouldn’t talk about it to nobody but my family, cuz you’re friends be like, “Yeah, right”. And I knew I wasn’t meant to be in the back because, just like everyday life, I don’t like people telling me what to do on the job. I don’t like being under people, I don’t live happy like that.
So, when I got out of high school, I worked in hair salons, I modeled in hair shows — I just liked fashion. I was going to go to college in New York. I was going for fashion design, but I wanted to be the star. I was only going to take basic courses and go for two years to junior college, but meanwhile, try to be a star. It worked out, I’m glad I stayed in Atlanta. I finally got my dream, and really it doesn’t feel that it’s true.
Jamie: Why do you all feel that you got your dream?
Chilli: Everybody that’s chosen, to me, isn’t going to be level-headed. But those aren’t the ones that always stay at the top. This fame has not done anything to us. We are still down-to-earth. We are the most loving people that I know, honestly speaking. We’re so giving. You can get blessing from someone else and that’s still a blessing from God. When you’re put in a situation like we are — you take advantage of that and do for others, because if you do that, and it’s from the goodness of your heart, it’s gonna come back tenfold.
So that’s why I think we were chosen and we’ll be here for awhile, because we’re still the same TLC — silly, crazy girls who are never going to change. Good things… it has to come. It has to be our turn this time, because we didn’t get it the first time, and we’re still the same. We don’t have all of the little demons around us anymore, blocking all the good stuff that comes our way.
T-Boz: I still don’t understand why I’m here. I must be blessed, period.
Jamie: Why do you all think you haven’t had children? So many girls your age have.
T-Boz: For me, I’ve never been pregnant and I don’t believe in abortion, so I know if I’d gotten pregnant, I would’ve had my baby. My mom just told me yesterday, “I was the same age you are now and I had kids”. I said, “That just means you and me are different”. I want to be at the stage where everything is positive in my life — stable, have myself together — not so negative and chaotic.
That’s when I would want to bring a child into this world. I want to be able to do things in my life — be happy and bring the baby into the world right. A lot of people don’t realize, when you bring your child, unborn in your stomach, around a lot of negative stuff and negative people, it really affects your kid. And I’m not goinf to do that to my child.
Jamie: Lisa, do you think you were “chosen” to be a star?
Left Eye: I don’t know. To me, it’s like my job. Just like everybody else has a job. The reason that this in particular happens to be my job is because I put myself into it. I kept myself around entertainers. If I wasn’t in the show, I was making clothes for the show. If it wasn’t a spot for me to dance — I would do anything — and that was my love. Ever since I was little I kept myself in it. That’s all my thoughts were — I’m going to be an entertainer. It just happened that way. I took chances.
Jamie: A lot of kids feel that, but they don’t make it.
Left Eye: A lot of kids can’t say, “I’m gonna sew everybody’s outfit”. I was just very talented and I used all of my talents. I played the piano in church, I was just so much into being an entertainer and I didn’t know what I’d be doing — acting, singing, dancing, modeling — but I did everything and I lived in that. I might not have gotten the chance, but I think it was just meant to be because I can do too much shit.
Jamie: You cook, too?
Left Eye: Yeah, throw down! Everything I do is a gift because nobody didn’t teach me how to do nothing.
- Left Eye in 1995
Jamie: Are you the most talented in your family?
Left Eye: My mom is very talented, but hers is like, she can draw, sew, design clothes. She does interior decorating. She’s very good at it. And my dad is musically inclined. My dad plays every instrument, from the harmonica to the drums, piano, saxophone…
Suddenly, TLC had to leave for a promotional event. We all planned to get together later and go to a movie. But TLC didn’t get back to their hotel until late at night. So, we planned another interview on another day. The second interview appears next month. That one is full of juicy stuff, like how Andre and Left Eye met, T-Boz talks about how she fought off two cars that tried to purposely force her off the road, and Chilli asks us to help her find her dad.
TLC have hit the road for the first time in years, but the rising tensions between T-Boz, Chilli, and enfant terrible Left Eye are making for a crazy, sexy, and very uncool ride.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in cyberspace. As TLC kick off their first tour in merely five years to a less-than-capacity crowd in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Oct 22, a crescendo of computerised bleeps and blats envelops the arena. A mammoth robotic vixen — Virtual Vic-E (pronounced “Vicky”) by name — appears on the huge screen at the rear of the stage.
It’s disorienting and dramatic, a Matrix moment. You half expect to hear Laurence Fishburne welcoming you to the real world, but soon Vic-E is introducing the flesh-and-blood stars of the evening: Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, 28 (“Personality: crazy”, Vic-E intones), Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, 29, (“Personality: sexy”), and Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, 29, (“Personality: cool”), the Atlanta-based trio whose multiplatinum third album, ‘FanMail’, has spawned two of 1999’s most inescapable anthems, “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty”.
As the group launch into set opener “Silly Ho”, they dance with jerky, machine-like precision, their shimmering silver outfits making them look like androids. You find yourself fearing they’ll take this Devo-like shtick too far. Not to worry…
“What’s up with the lights?”, demands Lopes testily between songs, calling the attention of 5,500 fans to some unseen glitch. “This ain’t how we programmed the lights for the show”.
Ah, Left Eye. The most controversial member of the group — it was she who, in 1994, was arrested for burning down the house of her then beau, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison — can be counted on to inject some chaos into the mix.
Where the baby-faced Chilli projects a palpable sweetness and T-Boz is a combination earth mother and homegirl, Left Eye radiates danger and unpredictability. Prior to her solo spot in the show, during which she performs a magic act, she rattles off definitions of the word ‘crazy’: “Unsound of mind, mentally unbalanced, deranged…” She savors each phrase like a choice morsel.
As it turns out, her magic tricks won’t cost David Copperfield any sleep. But of them provides an analogy with what’s really going on with TLC these days.
“Here we have a string that’s been treated with nitroglycerin”, says Left Eye, grinning loopily. “And here we have a lighter…”
One week earlier, Chilli and T-Boz are sitting high above the crispy autumnal splendor of Central Park in a plush suite in New York’s Trump International Hotel & Tower. Conspicuous in her absence is Left Eye, who’s flown home to Atlanta after a fitful few days of press and radio appearances.
It’s noted that 48 hours before, Lopes had arrived late to and left early from an EW photo shoot, seeming to hold herself apart from the group. She was also a no-show for TLC’s appearance on MTV’s Total Request Live earlier in the week.
Such apparent lack of unity feels particularly significant now, with the group embarking on their first-ever headlining tour, just months after a Vibe cover story in which Left Eye proclaimed she’d “graduated from this era” and could not “stand 100 percent behind this TLC project”. With Left Eye working on her first solo album, inquiring minds want to know: Is the biggest-selling female trio in history in danger of being reduced to a duo?
The question elicits a textbook pregnant pause, during which Chilli and T-Boz exchange pointed glances. With a sigh that roughly translates to screw it, Chilli decides to let it all hang out.
“Honestly, we’re tired of saying things, covering up, making it seem like it’s one thing and it’s really not. We’re stressed”.
T-Boz: “And Lisa doesn’t respect…”
“…Respect the whole group. TLC has to stick together…”
“She doesn’t stick with us.”
“She doesn’t stick with us. And we have to argue to bring her back and focus… She wants to go solo and do other things, so that’s what she’s focused on, which is not fair to us”.
Once the emotional floodgates open, the pair vent — often heatedly — for 45 minutes, railing about Lopes’ alleged derelictions and disloyalty, and at one point break into an a capella version of the old O’Jays hit “Backstabbers”.
They tell how, prior to the recording of ‘FanMail’, Lopes sent their label, LaFace, a letter saying she was quitting, an action that temporarily froze the group’s finances before she changed her mind (“The most evil, selfish, heartless thing anybody could ever do”, says Chilli); how she seems to undercut them by dissing them in interviews and ditching rehearsals; how she’s bitter that every one of the eight songs she’d written for ‘FanMail’ were rejected; how she’s become distressingly capricious about decisions that affect them all.
T-Boz says they’re “tired, tired, tired” of it. “We want her in the group, and she knows that”, Chilli continues. “So it’s almost like she feels she has the power to dangle meat in front of some hungry dogs, like, ‘I can do what I want, because I know they want me here’. So she takes advantage. We’re covering up for her because we don’t want the fans to be mad at us. But we’re mad at her”.
“We lied on MTV, saying she was sick”, adds T-Boz, referring to the TRL taping. “She was not sick”.
“She was at the hotel, upset [with us],” says Chilli. “Left Eye is only concerned about Left Eye”.
The tirade is fearsome. A TLC handler drifts into the suite and turns a whiter shade of pale at the tenor of the conversation. “You guys gonna talk about the tour at all?” she prompts, hopefully.
“We talked about the tour the other day”, snaps Chilli. “This is very important. What was I saying?”
Err, essentially that Lopes is jeopardizing what TLC have worked for since the release of their first album, ‘Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip’ in 1992. Surely, though, with the tour about to start and millions of dollars at stake, she wouldn’t jump ship now. Would she?
“She has commitments that she has to [honor]”, asserts Chilli. “We just want to let everybody know what we go through. This is what T-Boz and Chilli have to deal with”.
Producer Dallas Austin, often referred to as the fourth member of TLC, chuckles when asked about the Left Eye situation. “They’re like sisters”, says Austin, the father of Chilli’s 2-year-old son, Tron. “I’ve seen this for years. Lisa started playing into a lot of bad stuff in the press because she feels it’s her job. She’ll admit it, too, like, ‘It’s my job to keep the press going’.
She does this wacky stuff, and the next day she’ll change her mind and the girls will get p—ed. They did that Vibe story and Lisa said, ‘I’m not into TLC’. Then she does another article and says, ‘I love the girls to death and I’ll never leave’. Lisa does it as a part of her character, kind of like the guys in Oasis”.
Just what makes this apparent human time bomb tick? Born in Philly, Lopes was raised in a household dominated by an alcoholic father, and she gravitated to music as an escape. In 1991, she and T-Boz were in am embryonic version of TLC. They caught the attention of Perri “Pebbles” Reid, then wife of LaFace co-owner L.A. Reid, who became their manager: When Chilli signed on as the third member; TLC was born.
While Lopes’ first few years with the trio were scandal-free, her reputation as a loose cannon took hold after she was convicted of torching Rison’s house in 1994 (a crime for which she was fined and sentenced to five years’ probation). Soon after, she entered rehab for her own drinking problem.
Austin confirms that Lopes was angered to the point of destruction by the fact that none of her songs were chosen for inclusion on ‘FanMail’. “She turned in eight songs, and they weren’t up to par”, he says. “It’s crazy, because she’d quit the group, then a couple of days later be like, ‘I’m back’. She cries wolf a lot.”
And what of the wolf-child herself? “Wow”, she says some days later; when confronted with Chilli’s and T-Boz’s charges. She takes a few moments to collect her thoughts, then, with seeming indifference to her group mates frustrations, coolly acknowledges a history of intragroup disagreements. She readily admits to being wilful, to missing rehearsals, to being preoccupied with a solo project, and, perhaps most significantly, to quitting TLC.
“I guess it was about a year and a half ago, right before we started working on ‘FanMail’. The process was taking such a long time, the record company wasn’t really adamant about pushing TLC, so that was my attempt to raise eyebrows and get some attention. I wanted to make [LaFace] think, How important is TLC? Is it important enough that if one of us were to leave, you guys would get on the ball? That was my way of doing it. As soon as that happened, chaos broke out. As soon as I sent the letter, T-Boz and Chilli called me and said, ‘Please don’t leave the group, let’s just do it one more time’. I said, ‘That’s not a problem”. From my perspective, me sending that letter did not take away or add to the relationship me and Chilli and T-Boz had. The problem was that we had different views and we wanted to go in separate directions.”
Just how different are those views? Lopes claims she never wanted to tour in the first place. Her TRL sick-out was a form of protest, an unwillingness to play the promotion game. “I don’t think [touring] is the best move for us. We have an agreement where we can’t make big money decisions unless it’s unaminous. But sometimes they like to think that two thirds rule. That’s the part that p—ed me off.”
Obviously, there is plenty of ill will all around. Given the unpretty picture painted by T-Boz and Chilli (who joke about replacing Left Eye with Virtual Vic-E if things don’t improve), and Left Eye’s righteous, if not unruly, stance, it’ll take a load of tender loving care to hold these women together. The pressure-cooker conditions of their tour — which includes 17 US shows in 1999 and will continue globally through October of 2000 — won’t help. But Austin, for one, is keeping the faith: “At the end of the day, all of them know TLC is their home. Left Eye wants attention. But she knows that if she drops out of this thing, that attention’s not gonna be there”.
Now Lopes is firing back. On Nov. 11 the singer sent EW a letter characterizing Thomas and Watkins’ statements as ”merely shouts from those who only have a fractional understanding of what business is in this business.” Lopes then went on to make a startling proposition to her fellow band members and TLC’s label, LaFace Records. ”I challenge Tionne ‘Player’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Hater’ Thomas to an album entitled The Challenge,” writes Lopes, ”a 3 CD set [consisting of] three solo albums,” one from each TLC member. Lopes proposed LaFace offer a $1.5 million prize to the ”winner,” who would be determined by Billboard.
”I was thinking we could release three singles at once and see whose does the best,” says Lopes in a subsequent phone interview, ”but I’d have to talk to [LaFace co-owner] L.A. Reid to see what his ideas are.”
While Reid declines to comment, LaFace COO Mark Shimmel isn’t completely dismissing the scheme. ”We’re always open to new marketing ideas and concepts,” he says, ”but it’s got to be something where everybody sits down and agrees to it, not something that’s discussed long distance in the middle of a concert tour.” For their part, Thomas and Watkins released this statement: ”We think it’d be best to paraphrase the great poet Iyanla Vanzant…. ‘At a time when unity is so desperately needed it is significantly lacking…. Unity does not mean we will all believe in or do the same things. It means we will agree to do something without battling over how and why.”’
Though it sounds like her gauntlet won’t be picked up, Lopes remains defiant. ”I just want to present the challenge—they don’t have to take it,” says the woman who was once arrested for burning down a boyfriend’s house. ”I just want credit for my ideas, because I am the creative force behind TLC.”
How this will affect the tour remains to be seen. Even before the current fireworks, the intra-group tensions were evident in their shows. At various points during their Oct. 31 gig at the Baltimore Arena (for which roughly 3,000 of the venue’s 12,500 seats remained empty), Watkins and Thomas high-fived each other while pointedly ignoring Lopes—who, in turn, did her best to avoid all contact with her partners. And during the rendition of ”What About Your Friends,” Watkins glared at Lopes while singing the lyrics ”What about your friends/Will they stand their ground/Will they let you down again?”
Better question: Can TLC keep from imploding? “I hope so,” says Shimmel. “The yin and the yang of what pushes at TLC also keeps them together—and they’re still together.” For now, anyway. But given Lopes’ penchant for playing with fire, both literally and metaphorically, how long can that last?
An excerpt from LISA “LEFT EYE” LOPES’ Nov. 11 letter to EW:
…Let it be understood that I am interested in making multimillion-dollar business deals. It seems that my two group members are not. This poses a serious conflict. Therefore, I propose The Challenge.
I challenge Tionne “Player” Watkins and Rozonda “Hater” Thomas to an album entitled The Challenge. A 3 CD set that contains three solo albums. Each…will be due to the record label by October 1, 2000…. I also challenge [TLC’s producer] Dallas “The Manipulator” Austin…to produce all of the material and do it at a fraction of his normal rate. As I think about it, I’m sure LaFace [Records] would not mind throwing in a 1.5 million dollar prize for the winner…. Billboard will determine the winner….
After careful analysis of the tangled political web woven by my associates, I place the burden of TLC’s future in their hands. The challenge is on the table ladies and gentlemen….
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
Left Eye also forwarded a letter to Jamie Foster Brown for use in her magazine, Sister 2 Sister, which was published in it’s entirety along with a detailed conversation with Lopes on her frustrations within the group.
In January 2000, Chilli reassured the media that TLC were ok. “Everything is fine with us,” she said by phone. “Lisa is just Lisa. She does this all the time. She’s always going off about something.”
Yeah, but this time Lopes sounds pretty fed up. Sure enough, the more you talk to Thomas, the more she stops trying to save face.
“It used to be no big deal, you know? Everyone got so used to Left Eye always being the rebel, always the one saying something outrageous. But the sad part is that after a while, the things she would say did affect us. Certain people didn’t want to work with us because of things she said. We had this ridiculous reputation and it only had to do with Lisa, and T-Boz and I are like, ‘Whatever, don’t say anything and it will blow over.’ But that doesn’t always work.
“We’ve even told her stuff like that before, you know, like when people are talking about us. But she just doesn’t listen. She does what she wants to do.”
That’s putting it mildly. It could be argued that Lopes has long been the crux of TLC’s persistent problems, dating back to when she wigged out and torched then-boyfriend Andre Rison’s $861,000 home. That fit of rage cost her $10,000 in fines, five years’ probation and a stint in rehab — and in the long run it contributed to TLC’s bankruptcy in 1995, a battle fought mostly with the group’s original manager, Perri “Pebbles” Reid, but which was compounded by debts incurred by Lopes’ behavior. It’s estimated that one-third of the $3.5 million in debts TLC had then amassed stemmed from the arson.
So when Lopes mouths off, everyone listens. “I’d rather not solve all of this through the media,” Thomas said. “I would rather sit down and talk about it. But then sometimes you can’t do that.”
For the record, Thomas won’t predict whether TLC will split after this tour. “I have no idea what the future holds,” she said resignedly. “There’s just too much going on right now to think about that other stuff.”
Indeed, if there’s a group that has always lived in the now, it’s TLC. In a roundabout way, that’s partly what has sparked breakup rumors before.
After the group’s hip-hop-laced debut, Ooooooohhh … On the TLC Tip, blew up big time in 1991, the trio took three years to follow it up. When it did, it was with an entirely new look and sound.
That second album, the unstoppable CrazySexyCool, which was certified diamond status (10 million copies sold) in November, was an enormous success, spawning the massive singles Waterfalls, Creep and Red Light Special and earning two Grammys and four MTV Music Video Awards.
And then TLC disappeared. For almost five years. And those absurdly long breaks between albums have brought more speculation than anything.
Thomas knows it, though she says it still takes her by surprise when people are put off by the wait.
“I know a lot of people thought we had broken up [before FanMail came out], maybe because Lisa was doing [MTV’s] The Cut and no one had heard from me because I was pregnant, though no one knew. When it finally came out, people would say to me, ‘I didn’t think you’d have to wait as long as you had to this time. We thought you’d have this thing out at least a year sooner.’ You just never know what’s going to happen.”
She is quick to point out, though, that the long gaps between releases help give them renewed perspective.
“Everything between the last album and FanMail has changed. Fashion has changed, music has changed. But we didn’t stay in the past, even though that’s where a lot of people thought they would see us. For us, having Dallas to guide us has always been a blessing. He’s always been able to reinvent TLC’s sound, put us on the next level. That was why we didn’t work with the hot producers at the time when we recorded the album. I know Lisa talks about wanting that, but we just wanted to keep our chemistry tight.”
And what if she did finally make good on all her threats and left? “If she ever decides to leave, that’s why TLC would break up. It definitely wouldn’t be anything else.”
As hard as it may be to believe, Thomas claims all of this strife dissipates the minute the show starts.
“When we’re onstage, everything disappears. The chemistry that we have between us takes over. That’s the magical part. Nothing, not TLC or anyone else, can change that. When we’re up there performing, everything else is in the past.”
They’re the sexiest female stars in the world, making, yes, even All Saints look a little ordinary. We talk to TLC about men, ‘scrubs’ and erm, condoms as fashion accessories.
By Pete Robinson | September 11, 1999
TLC are exhausted. The whirlwind campaign for “No Scrubs” the album “Fanmail” and new single “Unpretty”, has all come to a head and now, for a few minutes at least, R&B’s foremost sex symbols can have a little sitdown, sip a few drinks, and talk dirty for The Sex Issue.
But first there is something to clear up. “Unpretty” has caused widespread confusion, to the point where respected music pundits such as, erm, Doctor Fox have spluttered comments along the lines of “Hey! But these babes are hot!”. What Foxy hasn’t considered, of course, is this is the point: that the insecurity in the song must be really bad for three (ahem) “beauties” to feel worthless. Except, as Left Eye explains, “that’s not what the song’s about at all, either.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with good-looking people or bad-looking people,” she elucidates. “You can make me feel Unpretty, depending on how you see me through your eyes, but it shouldn’t be that way. What it all boils down to is being able to see inside of yourself and of other people, without necessarily using your physical eyes. We’re saying that we limit ourselves to our physical senses, but in fact there’s a life force, there’s an energy behind all of us and that’s what counts the most. We get too distracted by our physical senses to see and hear what’s real”.
But while “No Scrubs” has it’s precursors in musical history, there aren’t that many songs that challenge the listener with such a tricky subject matter as “Unpretty” — there must have been some catalyst for the single being recorded in the first place?
“Well, part of it”, concludes Chilli, “is that one day we were talking about breast implants in young girls. I feel really strong about that. Big breasts doesn’t mean you’re beautiful — it has nothing to do with beauty. If you naturally have them, then that’s one thing, but if you don’t, that’s okay, y’know?”.
“It originally came from a book of poetry I’ve written called ‘Thoughts‘”, T-Boz clarifies. “Actually, ‘Unpretty’ was the first poem I had ever wrote — then Dallas Austin, our producer, read it and he was like, ‘let’s make this into a song’. So we took a lot of the words from the poetry and made it into a song. So yes (claps) ‘Unpretty’ is my work! My little poem!”
House-burnings, bust-ups, ding-dongs and argy-bargies have plagued TLC ever since they stomped onto the pop scene in 1992 with the proto-Girl Power anthem “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg“, yet despite even bankruptcy a couple of years ago, they’re back on the toppest of all forms, and one can’t help but imagine (especially with the “stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to” aspect of ‘Waterfalls‘) that if Britain could call them their own, they’d be tabloid agony aunts by now: kind of a three-headed, PVC-catsuited Marje Proops.
But is there any romantic advice the girls have themselves been given, or that they can offer to those plotting their first expedition into the choppy seas of love and rumpo?
“I don’t know”, thinks Left Eye, who once torched a beau’s house, but who’s currently very much ‘with’ a new boyfriend. She pauses. “Uhhh… I’ve been given lots of advice. Um, oh man! I don’t know. Live and let live. I don’t know anyone who actually gave me that advice. (Laughs) but I do live by that!”
“You know what?”, squeals Chilli, jumping back into the conversation. “I’ve got my mom to thank for so much advice — I’m really sensitive now, but no way near as sensitive as I used to be when I was growing up. I mean, you’d just look at me and I’d cry. I would cry at the drop of a hat and at the time I always felt like my mom was too hard on me — kind of ‘Im only doing this because I love you’ stuff. My mom always told me to be strong and I always knew she was right there for me. She’s the reason I’m the woman I am today. All her advice was the best and I’d pass that on to anyone”.
T-Boz has the final tip. “Treat people how you wanna be treated”, she reasons. “Respect yourself, because if you don’t respect yourself, nobody else will. If you treat people good, that means you’re trying to be a good person. If you respect yourself, then you’ll do right by yourself”.
By now, you’ll be a little concerned about your chances of bagging a date with a member of TLC. Last year it would have been easy — why didn’t you give them a call then? Nowadays you’ll only need to hold a door open for them and they’ll deck you and call you a scrub. So how, exactly, might one chat up T-Boz, Left Eye or Chilli?
Best to cut to the quick: and while Chilli remains tight-lipped, her bandmates are happy to offer some quick, at-a-glance guides to their psyches.
“I am creative, intuitive, mental, physical and spiritual”, Left Eye announces.
“While I”, T-Boz adds, “am stubborn, funny, blunt, outgoing and a sweetheart. That’s me!”
TLC can almost boast an image that is very much their own. Yet for every ultra-cool item of clothing the girls have sported in their career, there must have been some hidden disasters. T-Boz, for example, has her own fashion crime: “An afro. I can’t believe my momma did me like that. It was so ugly! Ha ha! The afro did not look right on me. I look right in a haircut. “
“The worst thing that I have ever worn?”, Left Eye flams, clearly with something in mind. Probably the condom she used to wear under her (hence the name, etc) left eye. “Mmm.. that’s a toughie, because if I don’t look right, I won’t walk out the front door, mmh hmm hmm hmm. Um, and no one can make me wear anything that I don’t think looks right. There’s nothing I look back in TLC that looks bad. I’m pretty open-minded. I just try to be comfortable. Eww…!”
So what happened to the condom? She pauses, then laughs, “It’s the same reason why someone like Prince needs to take ‘Slave’ off his face. It’s just that people like fresh, new and innovative artists, so as long as you keep innovating and changing their ideas, people will keep looking to you for guidance”.
Do you still get recognised without the condom?
“Heh heh heh!”, she giggles, “TLC are too cool to not be recognised! Not be re-cog-nised!”
T-Boz, today, the picture of un-unprettiness, must at some point have looked f***ing awful. We all have at some point. When was the last time you went out looking an absolute wreck, when nobody would touch you with a bargepole?
“The last time? Well, that weren’t that long ago, honey! Umm (laughs) I don’t know, I feel like that occasionally. Sometimes you just have bad days and I just don’t feel I look good, which was probably last week! I’m the type of person if I’m tired or if I’m sick I have bags and dark circles — it runs in the family, so I think I look like a raccoon. A lot of people have complexes no matter who they are, but that’s my definition of feeling Unpretty”.
Looking like a raccoon. There we have it.
“So you liked the bit where we rubbed our butts?”, guffaws T-Boz, when the climax of the “No Scrubs” video — the trio backing up to the camera and patting their behinds — is brought up. “Really? Good, I’m glad you picked that part (laughs)”.
Yes, a saucy trio of vixens and no mistaking. Have they ever gone too far in their overt sexuality?
“I shocked my grandmother, I have to say!”, reveals T-Boz. Explain? “There’s this song called ‘Oh Honey‘ — it’s one of her favourites, but it’s nasty and she was like, ‘Oh dear! Oh my! I like this song but…’ cos the breakdown is really raunchy. Yeah, it blows her away, but I don’t really do anything that vulgar…”
OK. But what do TLC find really vulgar in other people? What would be the turn-off if a reader accosted you?
Left Eye: “That’s a hard one, because I can’t think of anybody who.. wait a minute. (Thinks). See, if I say that (thinks more). Uhhh… I don’t know. I don’t know, there’s a lot of sick people in the world”.
Who’s the worst? Who do you really, really horribly hate? Who’s the worst thing ever?
“I was gonna say Hitler”, she begins, not entirely unreasonably. “But I don’t even know the man, I don’t know. (Quiet laugh) there’s a lot of people who don’t have any respect for life and that’s a long list of people. Y’know, the mass murderers, the genocides… all those evil spirits”.
This hasn’t been much help. What about the perfect date — where could we take you? The movies?
“You know, I have a baby now,” states Chilli, flatly. “I don’t get to see movies. Dancing! Uh! Old school. Really bootie-shaking music. I love booty-shake music. There’s an artist out — JT Money — have you heard of him? JT Money is the bomb — I love his music. It’s a touch of bootie music. Are you familiar with Luke? That would definitely get me on the floor — dancing.”
Just — potential scrubs, take note! — don’t ask them to lend you a fiver when you go to the bar.
Was there much in the way of a backlash over the ideology behind “No Scrubs”?
“No”, Left Eye states, “but there was that Sporty Thievz song (‘No Pigeons‘). Which was pretty funny. But no, we haven’t been criticised at all. I mean when it comes down to it, there are so many female artists who have come out and sang songs with the same subject matter — (sings ‘Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ on but the Rent’ by Gwen Guthrie) ‘Gotta have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me…’ It’s not like we started anything new, heh heh”, she adds mischievously.
Sporty Thievz wanted you to pay for stuff, though.
“Erm, they said that, really? That they’d expect us to pay? Well, being that they want to go on the dates with us, I’d expect that they’d pay.”
Which is only polite.
“But if I was interested in going a date with the Sporty Thievz,” which judging from her tone she clearly isn’t, “I wouldn’t mind paying”. Cool!
So, date successfully over (hey, we can dream, can’t we?) we move on to… well, the interview is almost over. Let’s just go the whole hog. To the bedroom.
“The bad dream?” Left Eye mishears, though she’s probably along the right lines. “Oh, my bedroom! You wanna know what it’s like? Um, it’s eclectic and it looks like an oversized doll house”.
“My mom, you see, is an interior decorator and when I was a little girl and we couldn’t afford really nice things, she’d decorate our rooms with sheer pink material. She’d drape it from one corner of the ceiling to the other, she’d have it coming down and she’d have all different shades. She decorated for a lot of people in the industry, and she did my house so it looks like a princess’ castle”.
“Everything in my house is natural tone,” adds T-Boz. “Everything matches with my hair — even my dogs! Haha! I have a canopy bed with silk material hanging down, a whole bunch of pillows — I love pillows, and everything’s cream, tan and beige. And I love curtains — real elegant, like the fabric’s real thick, a silk type… and I have a real big TV”.
And, to conclude, one of the worst chat-up lines ever invented must be resurrected.
T-Boz, what do you like for breakfast?
“Well, I do like breakfast, but I’m just never up that early…”
“…Actually, today I ate French toast. And I love Pop Tarts.”
So with the image of T-Boz biting into a pastry snack and spontaneously spitting lava-hot jam across her posh kitchen, it’s time to leave TLC. Hopefully, readers, you’re now fully equipped with the knowledge to accompany the girls on a date. Keep us posted on your progress — but we can’t cover any medical costs.
Arson, bankruptcy, alcohol, abuse. For a group who used to dress like teenage girls, TLC have had to face some grown-up problems…
In the far corner of a London photographic studio, the three members of TLC are busy playing at being school girls. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas certainly look the part. Running through a selection of nursery rhymes, hand jives, and the occasional high pitched shriek, the girls could feasibly pass for 13-year-old teenagers and not the mid-twenty-something adults they actually all are. But then it’s easy to misjudge TLC.
Quite simple just to file them with SWV and Eternal, or the multitude of other vocal troupes in the business. But TLC are different. You can sense it in the intensity and emotion in all three girls’ voices when they drag themselves away from their playground games and finally to sit down to speak. You can sense it in their refusal to dwell on familiar themes of love and romance. And when, in a break for photographs, the trio begin singing to the tape that plays the first three tracks from Nirvana‘s “Nevermind” LP — not just like fans, but with obvious empathy for the sentiments expressed by Mr Cobain — it’s also obvious that something’s not quite right.
In many ways, TLC are your archetypal American pop group. One of the foremost examples of how a black musical sound, R&B, has infiltrated the mainstream consciousness of a nation and proceeded to sell in the sort of numbers — 7 million copies worldwide for their second album, “Crazysexycool” — not seen since the halcyon days of Motown.
Shortly into my conversation with the group, I realise TLC could do without all the theorising about their success. “Sometimes it seems like the people we’d least like to give credit to are the ones taking all the praise”, insists Lisa Lopes. “And that hurts”.
So who really deserves credit for TLC’s success? For starters, a young woman called Crystal. It was Crystal who trawled the streets of Atlanta in a search for two girls to start her own group. And some time in 1990, Lisa Lopes and Tionne Watkins accepted her offer. Lisa was a rapper. She’d grown up in Philadelphia, but fled to Atlanta to escape family problems. Tionne had also experienced life in a broken home. First in Iowa and then in Atlanta. She worked as a manicurist, a shampoo girl and a hair model. She’d never really wanted a regular job. Besides, she could sing. “We all had very definite ideas about where we wanted to take it, you know?” says Tionne. “But it would have been a whole lot easier if both of us could have got on with Crystal. But it wasn’t meant to be. Me and Lisa, we decided to go off on our own”.
A friend of a friend introduced Lisa and Tionne to Pebbles — the wife of superstar producer LA Reid, and a moderately successful singer in her own right. Pebbles became the girls’ manager. It all made perfectly good sense. As did the entrance into the group of a third singer, Rozonda Thomas, whose sweet, child-like voice complemented the other two perfectly.
When TLC signed to LaFace Records — LA Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds’ newish label imprint — under the management of Pebbles, “we couldn’t have dreamed that things would work out better,” says Tionne. “We were three girls with plenty of ideas, with a woman manager who we thought could understand all about problems and look after all our needs. We really felt we were in control. TLC was always going to be about three female singers in the group getting their viewpoint across. That’s why we are happy. Maybe a little bit too happy, in fact.”
TLC’s 1992 album, “Ooooooohhh… on the TLC tip“, was, it has to be said, not a triumphant debut. The album contained two decent singles, “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” and “Baby-Baby-Baby”. Beyond that, the group were more notable for their image than their music. Dressed in ultra baggy, Day-Glo costumes, and with Lisa Lopes sporting glasses featuring a condom attached to the left lens, in an attempt to promote safe sex, they looked tomboyish and quite ridiculous at the same time; the very antithesis of the airbrushed, pouting genre of a female band. As if they weren’t yet ready to grow up.
It was in 1992 when TLC went off on a huge tour of the States, alongside Hammer, Boyz II Men and Jodeci. Already the cracks were beginning to appear. Arguments flared over management, money and the future direction of the group. The debut album had sold over three million copies, and yet TLC (particularly Lisa Lopes) were far from happy about their role in all of this. It was producer/songwriter Dallas Austin who’d written most of the tracks for the debut. TLC wanted more of a say in their future. Increasingly, they wanted more money too.
So exactly what were the main arguments that blew up on tour?
“We found out what the other groups on the tour were earning,” says Lisa abruptly.
“When you’ve come from nothing, even $4,000 seems like a lot of money,” argues Rozonda. “But when you start to realise you’re part of a very successful group, you start to wonder what’s happening to the rest of the money that your record and tour is making”.
“You start to get angry about being told that you always have to mention the names of certain people that we were working with in interviews,” explains Tionne.
But throughout the years since the group’s formation, Lisa Lopes had had her own personal problems too. In 1991 her physically abusive father died. Lisa’s subsequent success left her shouldering responsibility for the rest of her family. She bought cars for her mother and paid the college tuition fees for her brother and sister. And she also began to drink excessively. Lisa admits that for a while drinking affected her career. But most of all, it almost destroyed her relationship with her boyfriend and soon-to-be husband, American football player, Andre Rison.
“My father was an alcoholic, so I became an alcoholic”, Lisa says. “There was a drink around me all of the time. But then in other ways he was really strict. He’d beat me and my mother. So when I decided to run away from home, it was alcohol that I looked to for support.”
Lisa’s relationship with Andre Rison was anything but conventional. She’d met the sporting hero when she was 17. Violent altercations between the couple were common. In September 1993 passers-by claimed to have witnessed Andre striking Lisa and then firing a 9mm handgun into the air when they tried to intervene. Charges were dropped, but the stormy relationship lived on. Ten months later, Andre Rison’s $2 million mansion was destroyed by a fire in the early hours of the morning and Lisa Lopes was involved in the incident. “I started a small fire, but I didn’t expect to burn down a whole house”, admits Lisa today.
Whatever the reasons for the fire — the most popular thesis being that Lisa was drunk and that Andre was violent — it was settled in court. Lisa received a suspended sentence for arson and a stint in Charter Peachford, an alcohol rehabilitation clinic. Remarkably, the couple’s relationship lives on. They are due to wed next July.
Against this catalogue of disasters — the group ditched Pebbles in the process as well — it’s a near miracle TLC got around to recording their second LP. Even more so that “Crazysexycool”, with tracks like the poignant, elegaic “Waterfalls”, turned out to be the near-perfect example of R&B-influenced pop that it was. Although half the tracks were again written by producer Dallas Austin, this time around the personalities of all three members seemed to shine through far more strongly.
Ironic then, that today, almost one year after it’s release, TLC wish to distance themselves almost entirely from “Crazysexycool”. And that despite the album’s multi-platimum success, the trio announced that they were bankrupt three months ago, citing liabilities in excess of $3.5 million. Debts incurred, they claim, from attempting to live perpetually on advances. Lisa, Tionne and Rozonda each owe their production company, Pebbitone (owned by ex-manager Pebbles), $566,434. The trio also owe a further £387,000 to their label LaFace.
You seem to pride yourselves on the control you exercised over your career — doesn’t bankruptcy prove you were in no control at all?
“Of course, I can see how people will think that”, says Tionne. “I can see that people will probably be laughing at TLC. But until those people have been put in the situation we’ve been through, those people will never understand”.
For a group who’ve been as successful as TLC, the announcement that you are bankrupt still sounds rather absurd.
“You try surviving off of advances”, reasons Lisa. “One advance after another — all of which has to be repaid”.
Were you happy with “Crazysexycool” as an album?
“We were happy that the original concept for the album — the idea that the album title was meant to describe something every single woman felt — was our concepts”, Lisa insists. “But it’s hard to be happy about an album once you’ve declared yourselves bankrupt.”
“I went to the producers with a set of tracks I’d written and not a single one got used for the album”, bemoans Lisa.
TLC are your archetypal female American pop group. From the Sixties, when groups like The Ronnettes and The Supremes began to enjoy major-league success, through to modern times with bands like SWV and En Vogue, it’s almost always been the male producers who’ve held the upper hand and influenced the final direction taken.
Lisa Lopes claims she presented her producers with several new songs she’d written for “Crazysexycool”, none of which were used. One in particular, dealt with her relationship with her father. It hurt immensely when her producers knocked it back. Where do TLC go from here?
“Back to the court to get the money we’re all owed,” says Tionne defiantly.
“Hopefully a career in acting”, says Rozonda.
“Who knows?”, sighs Lisa.
by Lee Harpin / London / November 1995