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!