Monday, February 10, 2014

TLC, The #19 Female Artist of the Rock Era

In 1990, producer Ian Burke and Crystal Jones wanted to get a hip-hop girl group going, and Tionne Watkins and Lisa Lopes joined Jones in the group, originally known as 2nd Nature.   They auditioned for singer Perri "Pebbles" Reid, who in turn arranged for Antonio "L.A." Reid (then her husband) and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds to hear them. 

There are differing accounts of when and why Jones left the group, but in 1991, Watkins and Lopes signed production, management and publishing deals with Perri Reid.  By this time, the group had become known as TLC-Skee, and Watkins and Lopes recorded backing vocals for a client of L.A. Reid and Edmonds, Damian Dame.  While in the studio, the group found a third member in Rozonda Thomas, one of Dame's part-time backup dancers.

The group shortened their name to TLC, nicknaming Watkins as "T-Boz",  Lopes became "Left Eye", while Jones was "Chilli".  In 1992, TLC released their debut album Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip.  The lead single was "Ain't 2 (sic) Proud 2 (sic) Beg", a #6 song in the United States and #13 in the U.K. that was nominated for Best R&B Song at the Grammy Awards.

The album was certified quadruple Platinum within a year, and has now sold six million copies worldwide, one of the top-selling debut albums in music history.  "Baby-Baby-Baby" was the follow-up, which hit #2 in the U.S.

TLC was nominated for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist, Favorite Pop/Rock New Artist and Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop New Artist at the American Music Awards.  The single "What About Your Friends" gave TLC a third Top 10 song at #7.  

TLC opened a national tour for MC Hammer, then decided to terminate Perri Reid's management contract.  

Lopes had begun dating Andre Rison of the Atlanta Falcons and the two were living together by 1994.  After a fight between the couple in June, Lopes threw several pairs of Rison's newly-purchased shoes into a bathtub, doused them with lighter fluid, and set them on fire.  Soon, the house was on fire, and Lopes was arrested and indicted for first-degree arson.  Lopes was sentenced to five years' probation and a $10,000 fine. 

The group recorded "Get It Up" for the "Poetic Justice" Soundtrack and "Sleigh Ride" for the movie Home Alone 2:  Lost in New York.  Then in 1994, TLC released their sophomore album CrazySexyCool, which sported four Top 5 songs.  The first was "Creep", #1 in the United States and this time, the rest of the world, slow to the party, finally joined in.  The song hit #4 in New Zealand, #6 in the U.K. and #9 in Ireland.

"Creep" captured the Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group, and won a Billboard Music Award for R&B Single of the Year.  TLC won two other Billboard Music Awards:  Artist of the Year and R&B Artist of the Year.  "Red Light Special" was another smash, reaching #2 in the U.S. and #9 in New Zealand.

But the group came up with their biggest career hit and one of The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era* with their next release, "Waterfalls".  The song rocketed up to #1 in the United States, where it remained for seven consecutive weeks, and it also hit #1 in New Zealand and Switzerland, #4 in the U.K., Australia and Ireland, #5 in Germany and the Netherlands and #7 in Sweden.  "Waterfalls" was nominated for Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the Grammy Awards.

The accompanying video to "Waterfalls" was one of the most acknowledged of all-time, earning TLC MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Viewer's Choice and Best R&B Video.  The production also earned MTV nominations for Breakthrough Video, Best Editing, Best Direction, Best Special Effects, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.

CrazySexyCool sold 11 million copies in the U.S. and 23 million worldwide, and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album.  TLC was nominated for Favorite Artist of the Year and Favorite Soul/R&B Band, Duo or Group at the American Music Awards and CrazySexyCool earned a nomination for Favorite Soul/R&B Album. The album yielded yet another smash, "Diggin' On You", #5 in the United States, #6 in Australia and #8 in New Zealand.

TLC recorded the theme song to All That on Nickelodeon, which was aired for ten seasons.

Legal battles with their record company ensued, with TLC's members filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and demanding more money.  They renegotiated their contract with LaFace (Reid and Edmonds), and terminated all their deals with Perri Reid.  TLC recorded "This Is How It Works" for the "Waiting to Exhale" Soundtrack.

But work on the group's third album was delayed when producer Dallas Austin wanted $4.2 million and creative control.  Lopes started her own production company, Lopes Productions, and signed the group Blaque to a contract.  She also joined Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott, Lil' Kim, Da Brat and Angie Martinez on the remix of "Not Tonight", which received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

In 1999, TLC finally released the album FanMail, four years after their last album.  But the group was able to pick up right where they left off, with the album debuting at #1 on the Album chart.  "No Scrubs" was a huge hit, landing at #1 in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, reaching #3 in the U.K. and the Netherlands and hitting #4 in Germany and #5 in Switzerland and France.  TLC won Grammy Awards for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and "No Scrubs" was nominated for Record of the Year.

The video for "No Scrubs" won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Group Video, and was nominated for Viewer's Choice and Best Hip Hop Video.

The single "Unpretty" gave the group their fourth career #1, also reaching #3 in Australia and New Zealand, #4 in Ireland, #6 in the U.K., #8 in the Netherlands and Sweden and #9 in Switzerland.  It earned three Grammy nominations:  Song of the Year, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Short Form Music Video.

FanMail won the Grammy for Best R&B Album, was nominated for Album of the Year, and sold over 11 million copies worldwide.  A tour grossed more than $72.8 million, the highest-grossing tour by a female group.  

But Lopes wasn't happy, feeling she wasn't being used enough to rap.  She even went so far as challenging the other two members of TLC to each record a solo album, making for a 3-CD set, and let the fans decide which of the three was the most talented.

The members settled the feud, but Lopes still recorded a solo album, Supernova.  The album failed, and before she could complete work on a second try, Lopes died in a car crash while filming a documentary in Honduras.  

The surviving members of TLC completed the fourth album, 3D.  Lopes had already recorded her vocals for five of the songs, and the remaining work was done by Watkins and Thomas.  3D was released in 2002.  None of the singles caught on, however, with "Girl Talk" doing the best at #28, although the album did manage to sell two million copies in the U.S.

Although Watkins and Thomas have reunited for concert appearances, TLC has not enjoyed another Top 10 hit since Lopes' death.  

TLC has sold over 23 million albums in the United States alone and 65 million worldwide.  They enjoyed 11 Top 40 hits, with an incredible nine reaching the Top 10 and four #1 songs.

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