VH1’s CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story couldn’t have been anything but made for TV. The laughable melodrama, the deliberate caricature of group manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid as a conniving music industry Mrs. Geppetto—the sadness that those events were anchored in reality—and Lil Mama’s uncanny “becoming” of the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes amounted to what we all agree was an amateur yet entertaining biopic.
Almost everyone (on Twitter, at least) watching this tale about an Atlanta trio’s ascension from obscurity had a collective re-revelation: TLC was something special. It’s evident as soon as the movie opens, with Drew Sidora as Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, all baggy clothes and cartoonish competitive flailing that recalls moments like TLC’s “Hat 2 Da Back” music video, where the real T-Boz postures in front of a brick wall (the customary ’90s R&B video backdrop), full of tomboy swagger.
While the moment and tweets have passed, a few eye-openers remain in the CrazySexyCool aftermath—that we should all finally forgive Lil Mama’s VMA stage crash and burn, that TV biopics can be financially viable today given the ratings on CrazySexyCool (4.5 million viewers) and that TLC as a girl group is still unmatched.
Destiny’s Child picked up the empowerment torch, sure, but Bey’s team was always the prissy relatives to TLC’s BFFs from the block. From safe sex to unity to depression, nothing was off limits for T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli. (Remember “Somethin’ Wicked This Way Comes”…“Sometimes I feel like there’s nothing to live for”??). TLC’s messages were more important. Silly and sincere, these were three extremely popular black women singing about critical issues and selling millions in the process. Even as they were initially cobbled together to fit an archetype, there was nothing manufactured about their agenda. They’re the best we’ve ever had.
And that’s the biggest realization from watching The TLC Story: the girl-group plague has never been more glaring. Imagine a TLC of today singing and rapping about birth control, gay rights and mental health over smooth melodies. Another all-black female R&B group having a chemistry, cultural and commercial impact as remotely comparable as TLC is hard to picture. Are young women still huddling in their basements singing cover songs and dreaming of making it big together, or are they hiking to singing competitions solo and snapping selfies on line?
The void—and the reasons for it (petty squabbling, greed, solo dreams)—have been noted and discussed much post-D.C. And with Danity Kane reuniting for a project that’s only marginally anticipated, these convos will continue. Nothing’s been the same for too long. No doubt, record labels are working on cranking out some manufactured multicultural squad from the assembly line. But while the boy bands have their resurgence, now would be a good time for some sisters with voices to share in the prosperity. To achieve anything close to another TLC, however, there’s a hard fact to face: Maybe we need another Pebbles. —Clover Hope (@clovito)