TLC: Ten of the iconic group’s biggest hits ahead of their UK Tour
TLC are America’s biggest selling female group of all time, with around 85 million album sales to date, as well as numerous awards. The R&B trio burst onto the music scene way back in 1992 and enjoyed three hugely successful albums before the untimely and tragic death of rapper Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes in 2002. Founding members Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas put out two further albums as a duo and have toured extensively in recent years. This summer, they return to the UK after playing to a sold-out crowd in Camden’s Koko in 2017. It’s astonishing that the iconic and acclaimed group behind such monster hits as Waterfalls and No Scrubs have never properly toured here. That is finally set to change. In addition to performing a sell-out show at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, TLC will appear at Glastonbury, as well as Kite and Love Supreme jazz festivals. 30 years after their debut single, the group still enjoy incredible support from their devoted fans and those who appreciate and recognise the cultural impact they have had on popular music. We look at ten of their biggest hits ahead of their UK tour.
1. Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg
The late 80s and 90s welcomed a fresh musical movement in New Jack Swing. Producers such as Teddy Riley and Babyface ushered in the R&B sub-genre with artists like Bobby Brown and Bell Biv Devoe – the group formed by his former New Edition bandmates – at the forefront. It was also notable in Michael Jackson’s change in musical direction with his first major album without Quincy Jones as producer – Dangerous.
TLC jumped on this sound and dropped their debut single Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg in 1992. The song describes what the three women want in a partner, unashamedly exploring their sexual needs. With Left Eye’s raps complementing the raw and husky tones of T-Boz, which in turn blended with the smooth R&B of Chilli’s vocals, the group boasted the kind of effortless chemistry that can’t be manufactured. The music video featured the girls in vibrant baggy clothes adorned with condoms to promote safe sex, and firmly established them as trailblazing strong and independent women with a lot to say.
2. Hat 2 da Back
Continuing with a hip-hop-inspired sound, Hat 2 da Back turned the attention to femininity and the idea of women being judged by their clothes and appearances. TLC were true to themselves, shrugging off conventional image ideals and managing to make their tomboy style somehow sexy. Such empowering statement songs quickly became part of the group’s signature style – fun and fierce lyrics people could relate to over a danceable, well-produced beat and always with an important message at its heart.
3. Get It Up
Prince revealed TLC to be his favourite group when he introduced them at the MTV 1999 VMA Awards. The esteemed artist penned Get It Up for his group The Time back in 1981. The TLC cover is the band at their most funky. It was another well-received hit and featured on the soundtrack for the 1993 movie Poetic Justice, starring Janet Jackson and Tupac. TLC would go on to cover Prince’s If I Was Your Girlfriend on their critically acclaimed sophomore album CrazySexyCool.
Slowing things down to mid-tempo, Baby-Baby-Baby was the first single to not feature a rap by Left Eye. The Babyface-produced track was the most successful single from their debut album Ooooooohh…On the TLC Tip. With a smoother sound and a focus on R&B over hip-hop, the song served as a precursor for what the group would go onto with album number two.
With its infectiously catchy chorus and use of brass instruments, Creep re-established the once-considered tomboys of pop as sexy, sophisticated women. Exploring infidelity and payback, the song was divisive, with even band member Left Eye against its message. Regardless, Creep marked TLC’s first number one and is arguably one of their most recognisable singles.
Gone was the hip-hop-infused New Jack Swing of the first album and in its place, a smoother, laid-back R&B sound. Owing to personal struggles and a stint in rehab, Left Eye’s absence was noticeable. The rapper featured heavily on the first album and while she appeared on a handful of songs here, CrazySexyCool was a far cry from its energetic predecessor. It remains one of the most successful R&B albums of all time and is TLC’s undisputed masterpiece.
The song TLC is most associated with, Waterfalls broke new ground by tackling the subjects of drug abuse and HIV. It wasn’t the norm for such socially conscious songs to receive so much airplay in 1995 – but people were there for it. Waterfalls was the group’s second number one, enjoying seven weeks at the top spot of the US Billboard chart. It made waves internationally and to this day is considered a modern classic.
7. Red Light Special
Embodying the sexy in CrazySexyCool, this is TLC at their most intimate. Another mid-tempo ballad with T-Boz’s slick vocals luring listeners into an infectious summer groove. Definitive 90s R&B.
8. No Scrubs
Five years after the release of CrazySexyCool and an embittered bankruptcy battle, TLC made a monumental return with the female anthem No Scrubs. A global smash, the song once again cast the group in a new musical direction. In 1999, there was much fanfare about the impending Millennium and how society was becoming increasingly reliant on technology, with email fast becoming one of the most popular means of communication. TLC capitalised on this, incorporating futuristic sounds with contemporary R&B and an overhauled look. With a completely fresh sound, No Scrubs continued TLC’s message of female empowerment while reminding the music world of their unique and incomparable talents as a group.
TLC followed the success of No Scrubs with the Dallas Austin-produced Unpretty. Penned by Austin and T-Boz, the song afforded the group another number one. Inspired by an episode of the talk show Ricki Lake, Unpretty examines the pressures society inflicts on people – and especially women – to appear beautiful. Unrealistic standards and self-worth are dominant themes in a single that successfully moves away from TLC’s typical R&B sound in favour of alternative pop-rock. The result is a memorable addition to both the TLC and modern pop canon.
10. Way Back
TLC’s fourth album 3D was rushed and released by their label in the wake of Left Eye’s death. Subsequently, it felt disjointed and lacklustre when compared with their previous efforts, although still served as a cohesive and accomplished R&B/pop album in its own right. Fast forward to 2017, and TLC secured funding via their fans, which included Katy Perry and Bette Midler, to make one last studio album.
Lead single Way Back radiates old-school R&B, with the group reflecting on the good old days of James Brown, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and Prince, as well as being an ode to their loyal fanbase. Featuring Snoop Dogg, this feel-good track might not have enjoyed the success of the group’s previous offerings, however, it has become a firm fan favourite and a suitable embodiment of all that TLC were and continue to be.
TLC are on tour in the UK from 24th June until 3rd July 2022. For further information and future events TLC’s website here.