20 Years Of ‘CrazySexyCool’: Why TLC Is More Important Than Destiny’s Child

Remembering TLC’s groundbreaking contributions to girl group fame In the age of Beyoncé

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the musical contributions of others in the midst of Beyoncé. It’s 2014, and we’ve come to the conclusion that there’s Beyoncé and there’s “everyone else.” It’s been that way since Destiny’s Child. It’s that way today. And it’ll be that way tomorrow. When Beyoncé first emerged circa ‘98 — flanked by Kelly and those other two girls — in Destiny’s Child, they were a breath of fresh air to R&B. Musically, lots of changes were happening. Hip-hop was going through this crazy shift, as we were scrambling for kings following the loss of ‘Pac and Biggie a year or two prior. Napster would arrive in ‘99, placing a moratorium on drastically innovative music because the industry was too preoccupied with trying to still make money in a drought. It was the era where both Jay Z and Beyoncé flourished before finding each other. For Beyoncé, it was the slow rise above her sistren to ultimately make her mark as a solo great. Destiny’s Child was a vessel; they worked with solid producers, they had choreographed dances, they had full-bodied voices. But the reality was that they were merely a backing band for Beyoncé (much like the harsh truth of the Jackson 5). Still, from that came something amazing. But collectively, what did Destiny’s Child actually do to change music as a group? The answer is not much. There were many who led a charge greater than DC3; TLC being one of them. 1992’s Ooooooohhh… On the TLC Tip was like the unruly child of the Salt-N-Pepa era, where sexual liberation was the motto but the Atlanta trio took it further. T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli each brought their je ne sais quoi to the mix: T-Boz stood up for the right to have an opinion, Left Eye stood up for the right to get off, and Chilli for the right to be loved. Together they made one powerful woman, a Hip-Hop-meets-R&B riot grrrl who had as much to say about sex as she did about the world. Their debut single “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg” was an eye-opener, both in lyric and aesthetic. The girls wore condoms on their clothes (with Left Eye even rocking one over her eye) as they preached about safe sex backed by the beauty of an orgasm. Album cuts like “His Story” traced the Tawana Brawley trial, a hot topic of the late ‘80s involving rape allegations. Even a single like “Hat 2 Da Back” was a battle cry for any female who chose pants over a skirt. TLC had something to say and they delivered that message throughout their entire career.

Twenty years ago, their follow-up album CrazySexyCool arrived and destroyed any rumblings of a sophomore curse. TLC was a little older, trading baggy condom-studded pants in bright colors for form fitting outfits (they still wore pants though). The Grammy Award-winning album hit the Top 3 on Billboard and was certified diamond. The album brought their traditional breed of gender role reversals, as tracks like “Creep” highlighted infidelity on behalf of the woman and “Kick Your Game” schooled men on the proper way to approach a lady. There’s even an interlude called “Sexy” where Chilli calls a guy who thinks she’s provoking phone sex when she’s really in the bathroom. There were lessons woven in, especially on the colossal single “Waterfalls,” a track that tackled everything from street violence to AIDS.
TLC went on to deliver other songs like “Unpretty” (off 1999’s FanMail), with their success coinciding with groups like Destiny’s Child by that point. Fame outweighed revolution by then as TLC was getting up there in age (for girl groups) and gracefully passed the torch. Losing one important member of their trio with the passing of Left Eye in 2002 had a lot to do with it as well. TLC didn’t add a new girl; they didn’t find a “Michelle.” Each part represented the whole in such a way that none could be replaced. Outside of Beyoncé and maybe Kelly Rowland, Destiny’s Child proved that members were interchangeable. So how could anyone disposable contribute to something huge? It would be unfair to not give a group like Destiny’s Child their proper credit in making their mark in R&B history. But in the world of acts that changed the game, TLC has them beat. The crazy, the sexy, and the cool made us see the world differently, and that makes them irreplaceable.—Kathy Iandoli (@kath3000) ALSO SEE: 10 Songs TLC (Probably) Influenced What Millennials Should Know About… TLC’s CrazySexyCool TLC’s Most Tweetable Lyrics