Rihanna wore her most daring outfit with exposed nipples to the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards (CFDA) in New York earlier this month. Photo: Reuters
Rihanna has responded to criticism by touring American girl-band TLC, which knocked the singer for appearing semi-naked in social media and in public, by posting a topless picture of the trio on her Twitter account.
The photo is believed to be from a shoot for Vibe magazine during the 1990s. Rihanna’s move has widely been interpreted as .
Then there were three: (From left) TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes with T-Boz and Chilli accepting an MTV award in 1999, with Sean Combs behind. Photo: AP / Ron Frehm
Last week Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins said of Rihanna: “Every time I see you, you don’t have to be naked” during a television interview, while Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas told Fairfax pop stars taking their clothes off was
T-Boz has since reacted by questioning how her criticisms got aimed at Rihanna, who she likes. She also pointed out that she hadn’t even seen the notorious picture of the topless young singer.
TLC is in the middle of their first ever Australian tour and play a second show in Sydney on Monday before playing in Melbourne on Wednesday and Perth on Friday. The controversy has to some extent overshadowed the story of TLC’s long and painful comeback, which began when the trio’s rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes died of injuries after a car crash in 2002. At the time, TLC was one of the biggest pop acts on the planet.
The tragedy would lead the group’s surviving members on a painful, decade-long journey to re-establish themselves.
Bonded by intermittent dramas – illnesses, addiction and management woes – as well as rapid success, TLC was known worldwide from the mid-1990s and has sold 65 million records. Had tragedy not intervened, the group may have surpassed the Spice Girls and The Supremes as the best-selling girl group in music history.
“After she passed away, it put a dampener on me in a lot of ways,” Thomas says. “We were definitely meant to be together, just the three of us; our backgrounds and how we got together and how success hit really fast for us.
“Even though we went through so much, we never broke up, even though people assumed we did. We supported each other’s solo projects. The chemistry we had was undeniable.”
Life as a group without Lopes has been difficult, Thomas says. “We were blessed to have her as long as we could and we miss her so much.
“I’ll look stage right and I see Tionneand look stage left and I don’t see Lisa. She is a huge piece missing from our lives.”
Thomas and Watkins released an album in 2002 with Lopes’ already-recorded vocals, titled 3D. The album sold well, but the TLC juggernaut slowly ground to a halt in the years that followed, especially after the plan to replace Lopes with reality-TV show winner Tiffany “O so” Krispie failed. Despite the release of two greatest-hits collections and several appearances together, singing TLC songs, no new music followed and the group seemed consigned to history.But interest in TLC’s music continued and over the years they reunited for several one-off performances. In an effort to appear as a trio again, Watkins and Thomas angered fans and Lopes’ family last year by enlisting Japanese pop star Namie Amuro to sing the hit Waterfalls.
“We knew we didn’t want to stop, we just didn’t know how to carry on,” Thomas admits. “We’d say ‘do we have guest rappers? What do we do?’ For a while it was very tough.”
Things picked up from mid-last year with the successful roll-out of their 20th anniversary. TLC toured, signed a new contract and completed its first new song, Meant To Be (featuring just Watkins and Thomas) in 11 years. The song was on yet another compilation, released a week before a successful telemovie about the group’s history, CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story, featuring Lil Mama (who became famous by joining Jay Z and Alicia Keys on stage uninvited in 2009) as Lopes.
Lil Mama sang Lopes’ parts at the 2013 American Music Awards, but despite being a convincing replacement (Thomas said “they’re cut from the same cloth”), she wasn’t been invited to join as a member.
Instead, Lopes has been shown on big screens behind Watkins and Thomas at recent shows. Resurrecting Lopes as a hologram has long been rumoured, but Watkins has suggested it might be emotionally too difficult for them.
Thomas says she and Watkins will pay tribute to Lopes during their Australian shows but declines to say how: “We don’t want to give it away.”
So who is TLC in 2014?
“I can’t say where we fit in [with R&B now]. We are just TLC,” Thomas says.
“We are smart and we are outspoken, we do things our own way. We are all about the true definition of girl power, we are touchable but we don’t make other females feel uncomfortable. We are feminists, but not all the way. We are just strong women.
“But we feel very lucky that people still love us.”
TLC’s second show at the Enmore Theatre is on June 9.
GIRLS WHO RAN THE WORLD
The most influential girl group of all-time, they were tightly controlled by Motown guru Berry Gordy, who made Diana Ross lead singer and a huge star. The other original members were Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, whose decline was chronicled in the Oscar-winning film Dreamgirls.
Sold 80 million records (estimated)
Known for A remarkable 33 BIllboard top 40 singles, including Stop! In The Name of Love, Where Did Our Love Go and You Can’t Hurry Love.
When Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland joined megastar Beyonce to reunite Destiny’s Child at last year’s Superbowl half-time show, many people would have been unaware the Texan group had included seven members during its tumultuous 16 years.
Sold 60 million records
Known for Say My Name, Independent Women Part 1, Survivor, for being Beyonce’s launchpad.
The legacy of the British girl group comprising Sporty, Ginger, Baby, Posh and Scary Spice is mixed: they were enormous fun, a symbol of “girl power” (although Madonna beat them to it) and a global phenomenon. But they arguably opened the door to marketing pop music to children. And their talent never matched their commercial success.
Sold 80 million records
Known for Wannabe, Say You’ll Be There, Spice Up Your Life, becoming a global brand.
Billboard named them number 2 on its list of the top 10 girl groups of all-time, a deserved accolade considering they really were a girl power group, promoting safe sex and independence and never pitching themselves at children. Had their rapper Lisa Lopes not died young, they may have ruled pop for years.
Sold 65 million records
Known for Waterfalls, No Scrubs.
Sisters Estes, Danielle and Alana Haim are a far cry from a pop sensation, but they are significant for being the first female guitar band to achieve chart success in many years. Their 2013 debut album cracked the top 10 around the world. They also cite TLC and Destiny’s Child as influences.
Sold 300,000 albums (estimated)
Known for The Wire, Don’t Save Me.