Before the Spice Girls screamed “Girl Power!” and before Destiny’s Child had us all chanting about being “independent women”, there was another girl group on the pop scene whose talent and unique voice had already cemented their status as legends in the music game. From their debut 1992 album, Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, where they promoted the importance of safe sex, to later hits like ‘Waterfalls’, ‘No Scrubs’ and ‘Unpretty’, TLC have spent their career inspiring and empowering women everywhere.
I wasn’t yet in secondary school when I discovered their very first album. My aunty, who lived with us, had the tape – and I’d take it when she was out and listen to my favourite tracks, ‘What About Your Friends’ and ‘Hat 2 Da Back’. I’d play them on my walkman on repeat until I knew every single word and could sing them at the top of my lungs. As a shy pre-teen, I was captivated by the confidence of these three girls. By the time their second album CrazySexyCool was released, I was a die-hard TLC fan. ‘Creep’, plus lesser-known tracks ‘Kick Your Game’ and slow jam ‘Red Light Special’ were my favourites and provided a soundtrack to my teenage years. ‘No Scrubs’, from 1999’s Fanmail album was the ultimate anthem for me and my girls, echoing our disdain for the unworthy boys who regularly tried it on with us. TLC were the girls we wanted to have as friends or even the girls we wanted to be: never afraid to say what they wanted or what they would not stand for.
So when I heard that to coincide with the 25th anniversary of their seminal, culture-shifting album CrazySexyCool, TLC were doing a one-off show here in London, I was delighted. TLC have performed as a duo – Chilli and T-Boz – since the tragic death of founding member Lisa Left-Eye Lopez in 2002. I caught up with one half of the iconic duo for gal-dem, to talk about their legendary career, self-care and this summer’s show.
gal-dem: We can’t believe it’s 25 years since the release of CrazySexyCool! What do the songs on that album mean to you all these years later?
Chilli: They always meant something special to me – songs I could relate to whether it was something I experienced myself or other people experienced. The thing that really stood out to me with that album was that when you’re in the studio recording music, you never know what kind of impact and longevity they are gonna have – only time can tell you that. It’s just been a blessing that our catalogue has been that way – timeless music.
gal-dem: Do you have a favourite song on the album?
Chilli: It’s a song that wasn’t a single. It’s called ‘Case of the Fake People’. It’s like part 2 to ‘What About Your Friends’ from our first album.
gal-dem: Talking of your first album Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip, you came out in baggy clothes and Left Eye with a condom on her eye patch. Your whole energy was empowering for women. Was that a conscious decision?
Chilli: It was a conscious decision to just be authentic ourselves and just hope that people would be able to relate to us just being real. We knew there was a whole crew of women that felt the same way as we did – and still do – and when we saw [the response] it was like, ‘wow, we made the right decision’.
“Not everybody is gonna like you. You’re gonna hear more negative things than positive but that’s how life is. You have to develop thick skin – which I did not have coming into this business”– Chilli, TLC
gal-dem: How would you advise young women navigating the music industry today?
Chilli: You have to be yourself and really understand the type of artist that you are. There are many artists – and very successful artists – who do not know who they really are. You can still go outside of the box in different ways, but you have to be you and believe in yourself no matter what. Not everybody is gonna like you. You’re gonna hear more negative things than positive but that’s how life is. You have to develop thick skin – which I did not have coming into this business. My mum was really prepping me, not knowing what she was prepping me for. I was real lovey lovey and sensitive by nature, and she was like ‘you have to toughen up’ – this was before I got in the group. And once I got in the group I started experiencing a bunch of different things that weren’t so nice and her words would come to my mind. It was kinda like she was planting seeds that would harvest at the right times in my life.
gal-dem: How do you practice self-care when travelling?
Chilli: I take care of myself. I don’t drink the Devil’s juice – alcohol – I don’t smoke, I try to get the proper amount of sleep, I drink lots of water, I exercise and I eat right. I found that being that way and doing that over the years has been a great thing. Y’know, as you get older you can age gracefully or you can definitely speed up the process by not doing the right things when it comes to your health. Especially in the music industry when there’s a lot of travelling, late nights and all that kinda thing. So, I don’t party – I mean, every now and then I might go to an event or something like that but if there’s gonna be smoke there I won’t go – I’m allergic. It bothers my throat, makes me lose my voice. I just live a very clean life and so when I’m on stage, or at rehearsals or whatever, the stamina is there like it needs to be. People know us and love us for many things and one of those things is to be able to perform a high performance – lots of energy, lots of dancing. I don’t ever want to let them down. Along with myself – it makes me happy to be able to jump as high as I did when we first started.
“I might even jump in the crowd, do a little crowd-surfing. T-Boz is always on the mic saying ‘Don’t drop her!’”– Chilli, TLC
gal-dem: What brings you joy in your downtime?
Chilli: Simplicity works for me. I’m probably boring to some people! My son is my everything, we spend so much time together. I love going to the movies. I am the kind of person that, if we’re going to the movies and we’re late to miss the previews I am not happy! But generally, I just love to be at home. Especially if it’s cold outside. I think I am allergic to the cold! I’m so happy when we come to London it’s like spring, summer – this is the experience I like in London! [laughs]
gal-dem: We are so looking forward to the show. What can we expect?
Chilli: It’s gonna be high energy. You never know I might even jump in the crowd, do a little crowd-surfing. T-Boz is always on the mic saying ‘Don’t drop her!’ [Laughs] We’re so excited though, we love performing in London because the fans show so much love. We don’t get the chance to come out very much so when we do it’s super awesome – we’re so excited to see you guys.
TLC will be at London’s O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Monday 29 June 2020. Tickets are on sale now from Live Nation.