Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
5 Takeaways From 'TLC Forever': Left-Eye's Misunderstood Reputation, Chilli's Motherhood Revelation, T-Boz's Health Struggles & More
A&E/Lifetime's latest documentary, 'TLC Forever,' features never-before-seen footage and untold stories of the group's iconic legacy, from their tribulations to their triumphs.
During their exhilarating run, TLC smashed records, set new style trends, and shined a light on important issues like HIV/AIDS and body image. Their unique sound and willingness to take risks helped solidify their status as one of the best-selling female groups of all time. And now, their legacy is immortalized on film.
TLC Forever, a new documentary premiering on A&E/Lifetime on June 3, dives into the drastic highs and lows of the trio's 30-year career. Amid their many incredible achievements, there was also a lot of struggle, including bankruptcy, headline-making brawls, and tragedy. As Watkins jokingly declared at the 1996 GRAMMYs, "TLC will leave this business being remembered for a lot of things."
The nearly 120-minute film follows the iconic musical trio from their first meeting to Lopes' untimely death in 2002, and follows Watkins and Thomas as they prepare to perform at the 2022 Glastonbury Festival. It will be particularly special to fans, as the doc sees Watkins and Thomas watch the rare footage with longtime manager Bill Diggins in real time.
Whether you're familiar with TLC's story or are eager to learn more, TLC Forever is worth the watch. Below, take a look at five key takeaways from the documentary.
Left-Eye's Infamous Mansion Torching Was Misconstrued By The Media
In the spring of 1994 — a mere five months before TLC's best-selling CrazySexyCool dropped — Lopes sought revenge on her then-boyfriend, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. After she allegedly caught him cheating, Lopes set a pair of his sneakers on fire in a bathtub in his two-story mansion, which subsequently spread to the rest of the home.
Charged with felony arson, placed on a five-year probation, and sentenced to a $10,000 fine, the then 23-year-old rapper was never quite able to shake her "crazy" reputation brought on by the incident. However, TLC Forever uncovers details that give her actions more context.
In the doc, Thomas describes Lopes and Rison's relationship as "toxic," before adding that "it was always something going on." Months after they started dating, Lopes and Rison got into a heated argument in a grocery parking lot, where Rison allegedly assaulted her and fired a warning shot to stop bystanders from getting involved.
"I felt so bad for her, because when I walked in the room, I just remember the look on her face," Watkins says in the film, referring to the house fire. "Her nails were popped off, she was scratched up, bruised up and bleeding, and the whole world was looking at her like, 'What did you do?' And everybody didn't respond like they should've."
As many fans know, Lopes had protested CrazySexyCool's lead single "Creep," due to its lyrics promoting infidelity (especially amid the ongoing AIDS epidemic, which claimed nearly 42,000 lives in the U.S. alone that same year). Plus, the chart-topper went against what TLC had been known for: wearing condoms on baggy clothes as a way of advocating for safe sex.
Though the song was actually inspired by Watkins' own relationship woes, Lopes feared that Rison would think she was cheating on him, possibly triggering more alleged abuse within their tumultuous relationship. So, for the remix, she wrote a verse warning listeners of the consequences of creeping: "Creepin' may cause hysterical behavior in the mind/ Put your life into a bind and in time/ Make you victim to a passionate crime," she raps.
Chilli Re-Evaluated Her Relationship With Dallas Austin After Becoming A Mom
Early in Thomas' longtime romance with LaFace producer Dallas Austin, she became pregnant ahead of the trio's debut album, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, which jeopardized her future with the group. Not receiving much support from Austin and fearing then-manager Perri "Pebbles" Reid would find out, Thomas reluctantly had an abortion at the age of 20, calling it a "horrible experience" in the documentary.
"After that, I probably experienced some kind of breakdown. I couldn't forgive myself," she says. "I just felt this tremendous guilt for what I had done, and that guilt not being properly dealt with is what made me latch on more to Dallas."
In 1997, Thomas and Austin had a son named Tron, which acted in many ways as closure for the singer. "Once I had Tron, it really put the relationship I had with Dallas into perspective. It was clear that wasn't a functioning, healthy, loving relationship," she admits. They went their separate ways a couple years later, still working together creatively and co-parenting their son, who is now 26.
Left-Eye's Absence On FanMail Was Partly Due To Her Beginning A Spiritual Journey
Despite CrazySexyCool selling 15 million copies worldwide, spawning two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and winning two GRAMMYs, TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995 before going on a five-year hiatus that was prolonged by tension within the group. In the months leading up to TLC's third studio effort, FanMail — whose title was coined by Lopes and dedicated to the fans — Lopes expressed her dissatisfaction with the project after a handful of her songs were rejected by Dallas Austin.
"I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me," Lopes famously said in a 1999 interview with Vibe, which fueled rumors of a breakup. "This will be my last interview until I can speak freely about the truth and present myself on my solo project."
Around the same time, Lopes challenged Watkins and Thomas to record solo albums and offered a $1.5 million prize for whichever member sold the most copies. Lopes' raps can only be heard on three of FanMail's 17 tracks — and while a lot of her absence was certainly due to internal conflict, Watkins and Thomas confirmed that where Lopes was creatively "just didn't match" with what Austin was producing. At the time of Lopes' passing, she was on a 30-day spiritual retreat in Honduras, parts of which were recorded and released as 2007's posthumous documentary The Last Days of Left Eye.
T-Boz Struggled With Depression After Brain Tumor Diagnosis
In 2006, Watkins privately battled an acoustic neuroma, a potentially fatal brain tumor that sat on her facial, hearing and balance nerves. The then 36-year-old underwent surgery to remove the tumor, a risk exacerbated by her ongoing complications from sickle cell anemia since childhood.
"[The doctor] said in case something goes wrong and I can't save either your hearing or your face or your balance, give me the order that you want to save yourself," she said in the doc. "This industry is about your face, your voice, your dancing — that's my whole job. So, they took my balance, I saved my face for the most part, [and] I only lost three percent [of my hearing] at the time."
Watkins added that she felt depressed and unattractive for many years after the surgery, until her mother changed her perspective. "I remember looking in the mirror one day and I started crying, and my mom said, 'No.' She said, 'Look, this is just your journey back to normal. This is not how you're gonna stay, this is not how you're gonna be. This is only your journey back to how you started,'" she recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, okay, if I look at it that way, then all I gotta do is survive this and get through it and I can be cool. And then the fight kicks in that I'm living, I'm going to survive this, I'm going to beat this."
Now 53, Watkins is still going strong. However, the film gives viewers a deeper look into just how much preparation is required for her to be able to perform without compromising her health. Before and after hitting the stage, Watkins must receive enough fluids and oxygen to keep inflammation at a minimum.
T-Boz & Chilli Were Faced With An Ultimatum Right After Left-Eye's Death
Watkins and Thomas discuss the immense amount of pressure they faced from their label to move forward without Lopes, who tragically passed away at 30 years old in a car accident during her Honduras trip. "After Lisa passed, the record company said they were gonna put out a greatest hits [album] if we didn't finish [3D], so we kinda felt forced to go back into the studio," Watkins said in TLC Forever. "We were given an ultimatum." Thomas added, "We had tunnel vision, let's just finish it."
Despite going platinum, 3D was seen as a commercial failure by TLC's standards, selling fewer than 700,000 copies and its lead single, "Girl Talk," peaking at No. 28 on the Hot 100. Following their first live performance without Lopes at Z100's annual Zootopia concert in 2003, the music industry seemingly wrote them off — but Thomas said she never felt it was truly over. It wasn't until their VH1 Super Bowl Blitz concert in 2014 that promoters started reaching out, which eventually led to the biggest performance of their extraordinary career: taking the stage at Glastonbury last year.
"The greatest reward is when you don't have the No. 1 song anymore and you're able to sell out your tours," Thomas says as the film wraps. "That means you have a great body of work that can stand the test of time, and time has told us that we did good. We did alright."
Photo: M. Caulfield/WireImage for VH-1 Channel - New York
15 Songs That Will Make You Dance And Cry At The Same Time, From "Hey Ya!" To "Dancing On My Own"
Whether it's "Tears of a Clown" or "Tears in the Club," take a listen to some of the most sneakily sad songs by Outkast, TLC, Avicii and more.
In 2003, OutKast scored their second No. 1 hit with "Hey Ya!" The timeless track has an upbeat energy that makes you want to shake it like a polaroid picture — until you happen to catch its rather unhappy lyrics.
"Are we so in denial when we know we're not happy here?" André 3000 sings on the second verse. The line that follows may sum up its contrasting nature: "Y'all don't wanna hear me, you just wanna dance."
The ability to make listeners feel (and physically react) to a wide range of emotions is part of the genius of songwriting. Tunes like "Hey Ya!" — a sad narrative disguised by an infectious melody — is one trick that has been mastered by Outkast, R.E.M., Smokey Robinson, Robyn and many more.
If you've ever happily boogied to a beat before realizing that the lyrics on top are actually a big bummer, you're certainly not alone. BBC and Apple Music both call such tracks Sad Bangers, a fitting name for what's become an unofficial genre over the past half-century.
In light of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, GRAMMY.com compiled a list of 15 songs that will both get you in your feelings and get your body moving.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — "The Tears of a Clown" (1967)
The upbeat music on this Motown classic was written by Stevie Wonder, a 25-time GRAMMY winner who is deft at crafting tearjerkers that will tease your body into joyful dancing. The bassoon-bottomed song registers at 128 beats per minute, a tempo that's still favored by modern dance music producers. So when Smokey sings, "The tears of a clown/When there's no one around," you'd be forgiven for also welling up just a little bit while you're in the groove.
Gloria Gaynor — "Never Can Say Goodbye" (1975)
Gloria Gaynor reimagined the Jackson 5's 1971 pop hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" for the disco era. The sweeping string arrangements and trotting beat helped to fill dance floors, and to make the poignant song about holding onto a love of her own. Other cover versions by Isaac Hayes and the Communards also capture the contradictory vibe.
Tears For Fears — "Mad World" (1983)
British duo Tears For Fears became internationally known after outfitting their first danceable hit with a depressing and dramatic chorus that's hard to shake even 40 years after its release: "I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had." Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith would later release more uplifting fare, such as "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" and "Sowing the Seeds of Love."
Kate Bush — "Running Up That Hill" (1985)
Kate Bush has had three twirls through charts around the world with "Running Up That Hill," beginning with its 1985 release and then as an unlikely Summer Olympics closing ceremony song in 2012.
"And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God/And I'd get him to swap our places/Be running up that road/be running up that hill/With no problems," she sings in the chorus of the racing track, longing to be more worry-free.
More recently, a placement in the Netflix drama Stranger Things in 2022 earned the weepy, minor key-led dance number a whole new generation of fans. The English artist was recently named a 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
Midnight Oil — "Beds Are Burning" (1988)
Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett channeled the rage he felt from early climate change and the lack of Aboriginal land rights in the Australian Outback into "Beds Are Burning." The powerful dance tune flooded airwaves and dance floors around the world in the late '80s, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"How can we dance when the Earth is turning?" he sings in the rousing chorus. "How do we sleep while the beds are burning?"
Garrett clearly had a personal connection to the song's yearning message: He later dedicated his life to environmental activism as the leader of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and became an elected Member of Australia's House of Representatives.
Crystal Waters — "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" (1991)
A house music hit about a woman without a home, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" helped New Jersey singer Crystal Waters achieve international success despite a somewhat somber subject. A subsequent parody on the sketch comedy series "In Living Color" drew attention to the contrast of having happy and upbeat instrumentation with dispiriting lyrics.
"She's just like you and me/But she's homeless, she's homeless," rings the chorus. "As she stands there singing for money/La da dee la dee da…"
R.E.M. — "Shiny Happy People" (1991)
This upbeat collaboration is between rock group R.E.M. and B-52's singer Kate Pierson.The jangly guitar pop makes you want to clap your hands and stomp your feet, but the lyrics make you question if everything is indeed quite so shiny and happy.
The song is rumored to be about the massacre in China's Tiananmen Square, because the phrase "Shiny Happy People" appeared on propaganda posters. Pierson isn't so sure about that, though.
"I can't imagine that R.E.M. was thinking at the time, Oh, we want this song to be about Chinese government propaganda," she said in a 2021 interview with Vulture. "It was supposed to be shiny and happy. It was a positive thing all-around."
TLC — "Waterfalls" (1994)
"Waterfalls" was a worldwide hit for TLC in 1994, thanks to its sing-along chorus and funky bassline. The song's insistent bounce softens a firm lyrical warning that pulls people back from the edge: "Don't go chasing waterfalls/Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to/I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all/But I think you're moving too fast."
"We wanted to make a song with a strong message — about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd," Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas shared with The Guardian in 2018. "The messages in 'Waterfalls' hit home. I think that's why it's our biggest hit to date."
Outkast — "Hey Ya!" (2003)
André 3000 sings about loveless relationships to a whimsical, time-shifting dance beat on this Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping smash. The seriousness of the song — which André 3000 once explained is about "the state of relationships in the 2000s" — got lost among many listeners.*
Its unhappy lyrics were masked by André's peppy singing, as well as the song's jangly guitar and keyboard-led groove, which infectiously doubles up in speed at the end of every four beats. Even Outkast themselves couldn't help acknowledging the song's juxtaposition in a 2021 tweet.
Robyn — "Dancing On My Own" (2010)
A penultimate example of a sad banger is "Dancing On My Own" by Swedish pop star Robyn. The rueful song — a top 10 hit in multiple countries — commands you to shake your stuff, while also picturing yourself watching your ex move on at the club. Calum Scott's 2016 cover really brings out the sadness that can be obscured by Robyn's uptempo version.
"Said, I'm in the corner, watching you kiss her, oh no/And I'm right over here, why can't you see me?" Robyn sings in the chorus. "And I'm giving it my all/ But I'm not the girl you're taking home."
Fun. — "Some Nights" (2012)
fun. (the trio of Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess) is best known for the zeitgeist-grabbing pop-rock power ballad "We Are Young," which is about the relentlessly positive enthusiasm of youth out on the town. The title track to their 2012 album Some Nights (which contains "We Are Young") is a much dancier, yet sadder song.
"What do I stand for?" Ruess asks as your feet shuffle along to the beat. "Most nights, I don't know anymore."
Avicii — "Wake Me Up" (2013)
Avicii collaborated with soulful pop singer Aloe Blacc for this worldwide chart-topper that is considered one of EDM's peak anthems. The slapping beat masks the track's sad, self-reflective lyrics about being lost.
The Swedish DJ/producer's 2018 death by suicide adds an even heavier air to Blacc's impassioned chorus: "So wake me up when it's all over/When I'm wiser and I'm older/All this time I was finding myself, and I/I didn't know I was lost."
Flume featuring Kai — "Never Be Like You" (2015)
"Never Be Like You" isn't the fastest cut in Australian DJ/producer Flume's bass-heavy discography, but the wispy track still has an irresistible bump to it. Canadian singer Kai begs her lover not to leave her ("How do I make you wanna stay?"), but her lovely tone still manages to keep the song hopeful.
FKA twigs featuring The Weekend — "Tears In The Club" (2022)
Perhaps the most overt selection of this entire list is "Tears In The Club," which finds FKA twigs and The Weeknd taking to the dancefloor to shake off the vestiges of a bad relationship. The singer/dancer has been candid about being in an abusive relationship, and the song is a lowkey bop that's buoyed by despairing chants such as, "I might die on the beat, love."
Everything But The Girl — "Nothing Left to Lose" (2023)
Nearly 30 years after DJ/producer Todd Terry helped introduce Everything But the Girl to the international dance music community with a remix of "Missing," the duo leaned into their electronic side on "Nothing Left to Lose." A single from their first album in 24 years, Fuse, "Nothing Left to Lose" features a squelching electronic bassline that contrasts the song's helpless yearning.
"I need a thicker skin/ This pain keeps getting in/ Tell me what to do/ 'Cause I've always listened to you," the pair's Tracy Thorne sings on the opening verse. Later, she makes a demand that fittingly sums up the conflicts of a quintessential sad banger: "Kiss me while the world decays."
Photos (L-R, clockwise): GAB Archive/Redferns, Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images, Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
The Evolution Of The Girl Group: How TLC, BLACKPINK, The Shirelles & More Have Elevated Female Expression
From the Supremes to the Spice Girls, take a deep dive into the history of girl groups — and how their songs, performance and vocal power changed pop culture.
For more than eight decades, girl groups have harmonized their way into the collective consciousness, bringing female empowerment to the forefront — and changing culture along the way.
Of course, girl groups have come in many forms: there's the family-friendly Andrew Sisters, the funk rock-infused Labelle, and the R&B-leaning Destiny's Child. As the construct of the girl group has evolved, so has their cultural impact — while acts like the Supremes helped push popular music in a more diverse direction in America, J-Pop and K-Pop groups have helped girl groups be viewed through a global lens in recent years.
What has tied all of these groups together is their infectious and inspirational records, which have encouraged women to express themselves and feel empowered in doing so. Groups like the Spice Girls and the Shangri-Las, for instance, have helped women express all sides of themselves, reminding the world that there is joy and beauty in contrast.
As Women's History Month nears its end, GRAMMY.com celebrates all of the powerful women who have been part of the girl group evolution. (To narrow the field, we characterize a girl group as acts with a minimum of three members and a focus on vocal performance; hence why you won't see bands like the Go-Gos or the Chicks on this list.)
Below, take a look at how girl groups have changed in both construct and impact for nearly 90 years — and counting — and listen to GRAMMY.com's official Girl Groups playlist on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Though women have no doubt sung together since the beginning of time, the formal concept of the girl group came sometime in the '20s or '30s, with the rise in popularity of tightly harmonizing family acts like the Boswell Sisters and the Hamilton Sisters (the latter of whom would become Three X Sisters). The groups really started to see a rise in popularity around the beginning of WWII — perhaps because the entrance of more women into the workforce opened peoples' minds to the idea of the pop girl group, or perhaps because the soldiers overseas sought comfort and mild excitement via the groups' smooth sounds and attractive looks.
The Andrews Sisters, who officially formed in 1937 as a Boswell Sisters tribute act, would become the most popular of the sister acts, riding tracks like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,""Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" and "Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out The Barrel)" straight to the top of the charts. They're considered one of the most successful girl groups of all time, selling an estimated 80 million records and counting. Other girl groups followed the Andrews' act, including the Dinning Sisters, who released "They Just Chopped Down The Old Apple Tree" as an answer to their rivals' hit.
The Andrews Sisters continued to be popular well into the '50s, inspiring similar close harmony acts like the Chordettes, who found success with tracks like "Mr. Sandman" and "Lollipop," and the Lennon Sisters, who became a mainstay on "The Lawrence Welk Show."
Around the middle of the decade, girl groups started pulling a bit more from the doo-wop movement, with songs like the Bobbettes "Mr Lee" helping pave the way for a wave of all-Black girl groups to come. The Chantels — who had come up together singing in a choir — quickly followed with "Maybe," which solidified the genre's style with a blend of rock, pop, doo-wop that would act as a sonic template for years to come.
In 1961, the Shirelles found quick success with tracks like "Tonight's The Night" and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which became the first girl group cut to go to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. The group would have five more hit singles throughout the decade, and inspired acts like the Marvelettes, whose "Please Mr. Postman" would become the first No. 1 single for Motown Records.
Keen to seize on that success, Motown invested heavily in creating more girl groups, crafting trios and quartets out of various singers that they might have previously eyed for solo work or even passed on signing. That kind of business-minded molding is what yielded Martha and the Vandellas, the Velvelettes, and a little act called the Supremes, who would go on to become the most successful American vocal group of all time, according to CNN. The success of the Motown acts — the majority of whom were all Black — was also a sign of American culture's increasing acceptance of the integration of popular music.
Having seen the success that Motown had in consciously crafting its girl groups, other producers and small, independent labels sought to capture some of that lightning in a bottle for themselves. The Philles label cashed in on the sound of the Crystals and the Ronettes, while Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller signed the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups to their Red Bird label. Tracks like the Shangri-Las' "Give Him A Great Big Kiss" offered a surprisingly real perspective on teen girl crushes, while "Leader Of The Pack" helped bring female perspective to a subgenre of songs about macabre teenage tragedies previously dominated by all-male acts like Jan And Dean and Wayne Cochran And The C.C. Riders.
First formed in the '60s as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, Labelle pushed the genre out of the sock hop and into the nightclub, becoming one of the premiere girl groups of the '70s. Their funky, rock-infused singles were unlike anything girl group aficionados had heard before, and in 1974, the group captured America's heart with "Lady Marmalade," a slightly suggestive song that broke out of the discos and into the collective consciousness. Other acts originally formed in the '60s found similar success, like the Three Degrees, who had a number of hits, including the sunny and soothing "When Will I See You Again."
Sister Sledge also capitalized on the disco boom, crafting lasting hits like "We Are Family" and "He's The Greatest Dancer." The Pointer Sisters went through a rainbow of genres, including R&B (1973's funky "Yes We Can Can") and country (1974's "Fairytale," which won a GRAMMY for Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal in 1975), before finding their biggest success at the beginning of the next decade with tracks like the sultry "Slow Hand" and the more frantic "I'm So Excited."
Girl groups went through a bit of a lull in the '80s, as the culture trended toward hair metal and hip-hop. Some acts still managed to break through, capturing listeners' hearts with dance-friendly cuts imbued with Latin freestyle flair. Full of synths and syncopated percussion, freestyle burst out of clubs and parties in New York and Philadelphia, finding a particular hold amongst Hispanic and Italian-American audiences.
Miami's Exposé was one of the decade's biggest freestyle acts, blending girl group harmonies with synthetic sounds for hits like "Point Of No Return" and "Seasons Change." Two New York groups, Sweet Sensation and The Cover Girls, had freestyle success that bridged the '80s and '90s. Sweet Sensation's "Never Let You Go" tore up the dance charts, and while the Cover Girls' "Show Me" and "Because Of You" weren't quite as popular, they still hold a special place in the hearts of freestyle fans.
Girl groups roared back in a big way in the '90s, thanks in part to the emergency of new jack swing and a renewed interest in R&B's smooth vocal stylings. En Vogue was one of the first groups to go big in the '90s, with debut single "Hold On" first hitting the Billboard charts in 1990. Their biggest tracks came later in the decade, with the powerful "Free Your Mind" and "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" showcasing the quartet's vocal range and character.
Two groups from Atlanta also came to prominence around the same time as En Vogue. First was the street-savvy quartet Xscape, who harnessed the sounds of 1993 with tracks like "Just Kickin' It."
TLC had a more dynamic arc, first bursting into the collective consciousness with the new jack swing-infused "Ooooooohh… On The TLC Tip," which featured three top 10 singles, including "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg." The group's baggy pants and hip-hop aesthetic pushed girl group boundaries, in part because its members actually acknowledged their sexual desires, as well as the need for everyone to have safe sex. Later in the decade, TLC would rise to even higher heights with tracks like "Waterfalls" and the GRAMMY-winning "No Scrubs," the latter of which was actually co-written by two members of Xscape.
Destiny's Child initially emerged from Houston in the late '90s as a quartet, though they'd later lose some members and gain new ones, ending up as a trio. While it was hard to ignore the sheer star power of Beyonce, the threesome did generally function as a group, producing a string of danceable earworms, including "No, No, No," and "Bills, Bills, Bills." By the time they disbanded in 2006, Destiny's Child sold tens of millions of records and earned three GRAMMY Awards (and a total of nine nominations).
Out west, Wilson Phillips' Chyna Phillips, Wendy Wilson and Carnie Wilson were channeling the sounds of their respective parents, who had been members of the Beach Boys and the Mamas & The Papas. Their songs featured vocal harmonies and were largely about emotional longing, pushing back against the dance and funk that ruled much of the radio dial throughout the '90s.
Girl groups were also gaining major traction in the U.K during the '90s, spurred by a boy band boom in the country around the same time. Two groups — All Saints and the Spice Girls — were actually assembled by managers, something that didn't help allay naysayers' concern that much of pop music at the time was wholly manufactured. (Another U.K. mainstay, Ireland's B*Witched, came together organically.)
Regardless, both All Saints and the Spice Girls found commercial success, with the latter becoming absolutely massive not just because of catchy pop romps like "Wannabe," but because of the quintet's singular personas and the strength of their "girl power" messaging. The Spice Girls even starred in their own movie, "Spice World," which came out at the height of Spice-mania in 1997 and drew instant comparisons to the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."
Girl groups continued to reign in the early part of the 2000s. A number of 2000s girl groups formed on television as part of reality programming, with U.K. sensation Girls Aloud forming on the ITV show "Popstars: The Rivals" and Danity Kane both forming and developing over three seasons of Sean Puffy Combs' "Making The Band." TV acted as a great launching pad for these pop acts, as fans were often emotionally invested in the group's success from watching the show so when a new single dropped, they were quick to get on board.
Girls Aloud and Danity Kane — as well as their peers, like Dream, 3LW, and Blacque — made pop music that was sexy, confident, and larger than life, with expensive-looking music videos to match. The songs also often crossed over from pop to urban radio.
Another of the most successful (and sexiest) girl groups of the 2000s also formed in a fairly roundabout way. The Pussycat Dolls found success with tracks like "Don't Cha" and "Buttons," but the actual origin of the Pussycat Dolls name and brand came almost 15 years earlier when an L.A. based choreographer named Robin Antin launched a burlesque troupe. After her club events and dancers became more and more popular (even posing for Playboy), she was urged by Interscope Records' Jimmy Iovine to attach the name to a pop group.
Antin recruited five singers who could hold a tune and looked the part, including Nicole Scherzinger — who initially got her start in Eden's Crush, another group formed on a TV show, the U.S. iteration of "Popstars" — and the Pussycat Dolls quickly strutted onto radio dials and Billboard charts with their catchy multi-tracked (and often risqué) hits.
Girl groups were also getting huge around the globe in the '00s, with Spain's Las Ketchup producing the insanely catchy pop ditty conveniently named "The Ketchup Song," Sweden's Play crossed over to commercial success in the American market, and the U.K.'s Atomic Kitten formed purely as a songwriting vehicle for Orchestral Maneuvers In the Dark's Andy McCluskey and Stuart Kershaw. Members of the latter would come and go throughout its career, but songs like "Whole Again" (which was also recorded by Play) have stood the test of time.
Though modern K-pop culture had begun in South Korea in the late '90s, it started to really pick up steam in the '00s, with both boy bands and girl groups benefiting from the surging Hallyu or Korean wave. One of those, Wonder Girls, found quick success in the late '00s with genre-spanning tracks like "Tell Me" and "Nobody," thanks in part to the pop act's ability to perform English versions of their songs while on tour with the Jonas Brothers.
Two of the 2010s biggest girl groups also came from televised reality competition shows. Little Mix, a quartet, was formed on the U.K.'s "The X Factor" and came to redefine the girl group era in Britain, selling more than 60 million records and topping the charts with high octane singles like "Cannonball" and "Shout Out To My Ex."
Stateside, Fifth Harmony was birthed on "The X Factor," where all five members had competed individually the season before but failed to advance. But after producers brought them back to compete as a group, Fifth Harmony was born, with viewers picking the name and ultimately helping them take third place in the competition.
The quintet emerged from the show signed to judge Simon Cowell's record label, Syco, and like so many great girl groups before it, embarked on a tour of malls and talk shows before eventually releasing a pop record tinged with both hip-hop and R&B. Fans latched on to songs like "I'm In Love With A Monster" and "Work From Home," the trap-laced monster hit that has garnered billions of hits on YouTube since its release.
The K-pop wave also continued in the 2010s, with groups like Girls Generation and Twice, both of whom broke the mold of a traditional girl group by having eight and nine members, respectively. At the same time, a J-Pop act, AKB48, rose to popularity, with a structure girl groups hadn't seen before — it has 80 members in total, with the group being divided into different "teams" that members are elected into by rabid fans. All three acts were literally and figuratively massive, selling tens of millions of highly produced bubblegum pop LPs and larger than life dance singles.
The success of K-pop girl groups shot to a new level when BLACKPINK entered the scene in 2016, forming after its members joined a girl group academy and underwent what amounts to girl group boot camp. The result is a fine-tuned musical machine that's produced pop hit after pop hit — including "Boombayah" and "DDU DU DDU DU" — as well as music videos that have been viewed billions of times online.
Spurred by the devotion of their fans (known as the BLINKs), BLACKPINK has also managed to rack up an impressive roster of accolades. They were the first Asian act to headline Coachella, the first female K-Pop artists on the cover of Billboard, and have amassed the most subscribers of any musical act on YouTube. But they're not the only female K-Pop act helping girl groups stay alive: Groups like Mamamoo and Red Velvet released hit after hit in the 2010s, and 2NE1 captured hearts everywhere with tracks like "Lonely" and "I Am The Best." In 2012, 2NE1 set out on what many consider to be the first world tour by a K-pop girl group, visiting 11 cities in seven countries.
A British girl group whose members pull from their individual cultures to create a unique, hip-hop influenced sound, Flo was also influenced by artists like Ciara and Amy Winehouse. Though they've only been together for a few years, their unique retro sound became almost instantly popular in the UK, with debut single "Cardboard Box" racking up almost a million views on YouTube within days of its release in early 2022. Other hit singles, like "Immature" and "Summertime" have followed.
Another thoroughly modern girl group, Boys World, was formed after managers found videos of five different women singing online and then contacted them to see if they wanted to team up. They said yes, launched a TikTok account, and moved into a house together in Los Angeles. Their thoroughly online approach to becoming a girl group has captivated audiences, along with their empowering anthems.
The K-Pop wave has continued to surge as well, with BLACKPINK headlining Coachella in 2023 and the quickly rising NewJeans earning the distinction of being the very first female Korean act to play Lollapalooza later this summer. Like so many girl groups before them, both acts continue to break boundaries and impact the culture at large, proving that the genre is as vital as ever.
While they may not be as abundant as in decades past, the girl group movement certainly hasn't shuttered. And with a diverse array of women still captivating audiences around the globe, girl groups will likely continue to spice up your life for years to come.
ReImagined At Home: Watch Sweet Taboo Perform Flavorful Cover Of TLC's "No Scrubs"
In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, watch Latinx girl group Sweet Taboo add their own flavor to TLC's 1999 GRAMMY-winning R&B classic "No Scrubs"
Searching for the ingredients for the perfect girl group in 2021? Three Latinas from Los Angeles have just the thing you need.
Made up of rapper ICP Bre and singers Jen Torrejon and Sami Ramos, Latinx girl group Sweet Taboo describe their sound as a fusion of Latin, rap and R&B elements.
That unique blend is on full display in the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, as Sweet Taboo charismatically cover TLC's 1999 GRAMMY-winning R&B classic "No Scrubs." (The original TLC version of the song won the GRAMMY for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal at the 42nd GRAMMY Awards, which took place in 2000; the album on which the song was featured, FanMail, won the GRAMMY for Best R&B Album that same night.)
Despite only having two songs to their name, Sweet Taboo are bubbling towards stardom thanks to their captivating covers and promising singles like "Lil Bit" and "Used to It." From DJ Khaled to Kehlani, household names have already taken notice of the Los Angeles group, who are currently working on their debut, self-titled EP.
If you enjoyed Sweet Taboo's performance of "No Scrubs," check out more episodes of ReImagined At Home below.
Photo: Russell Webster
Remembering Chucky Thompson In 10 Songs: From Bad Boy Hits To Go-Go Jams
With a penchant for marrying rugged, percussive beats with classic soul samples, Chucky Thompson's ear and passion came to define '90s R&B and hip-hop—hear 10 of his iconic tracks here
Carl E. "Chucky" Thompson originally wanted to manage artists, but his passion for rugged beats, soul samples, and maintaining loyalty to his collaborators led to his ear changing the face of '90s R&B and hip-hop. A self-taught musician, the Washington, D.C. native cut his teeth playing percussion for go-go music legend Chuck Brown's band, The Soul Searchers, before joining Sean "Diddy" Combs' in-house production team at Bad Boy Entertainment, The Hitmen, following the success of Mary J. Blige's My Life album in 1994.
"Certain things are just life and God," Thompson said during a recent GRAMMY.com interview, "that situation came from me being in the right place at the right time."
News of his untimely passing shook up the music industry, but the GRAMMY nominee left us timeless music as an architect of hip-hop soul. Here are 10 hits and album cuts that the beloved Chucky Thompson produced for several immensely talented artists--spanning genres--that meant the world to him.
"Be With You," Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige had been crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul following the triple platinum success of her 1992 debut LP, What's the 411? but was in search of material for her 1994 sophomore effort, My Life.
Frustrated by the demos not immediately grabbing her attention, along with her collaborators from the first album raising their prices, Thompson took some siren-sounding keys reminiscent of West Coast G-funk for the intro and slowed down the tempo with some hollow go-go music drumming to make the hairs on Blige's neck stand up. It set the tone for Blige to make her classic, most personal album to-date and for Thompson to take on a lion's share of My Life's production.
"Big Poppa," The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. unabashedly made a quintessential playa's anthem for the ages courtesy of Thompson's ear and console control in the winter of 1994. "Big Poppa," with its recognizable Isley Brothers "Between the Sheets" sample coupled with a looped bar that Biggie let out on Super Cat's "Dolly My Baby" remix, convinced listeners and pop radio that the rotund, Brooklyn-born emcee could charm the panties off the ladies and turn that charisma into platinum plaques.
"Think of You," Usher
Usher might be making a splash on the Vegas strip right now, but in 1994, he was just a teenage newcomer still trying to find his musical identity. Thompson was brought into the fold by Diddy to help give the future megastar some edge, so he flipped "Tidal Wave" by Ronnie Laws, a sample he recognized on Black Moon's classic banger "Who Got Da Props," to rub some of that new jack flavor off onto Usher.
That "Think of You" session is also when Thompson first met its songwriters, Faith Evans and Donell Jones: leading to him executive producing Faith's debut LP the following year. Featuring choreography by TLC member T-Boz and an appearance by singer/actress Taral Hicks in the music video, "Think of You" stalled at #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 but remains a favorite for Usher fans.
"CrazySexyCool - Interlude" & "Can I Get a Witness - Interlude," TLC
There wasn't a more successful (or doper) female group than Atlanta trio TLC in 1994. Their sophomore album, CrazySexyCool, was a chart-topping smash that spawned hits like "Creep," "Waterfalls" and "Red Light Special," but Thompson knew the power of making music short but sweet, too.
Playing guitar, keys and drums, Thompson split the playalicious funk groove into two snippets: one featuring T-Boz vamping, the other with Busta Rhymes breaking down the album title and lamenting on the essential qualities of fly chicks while Left Eye ad-libs under his scruffy vocals.
"Can't You See," Total ft. The Notorious B.I.G.
A few scales pulsate before it lays into its groove, thanks to the driving drums and bass riff on James Brown's well-sampled "The Payback." Bad Boy Entertainment's breakout female trio Total was joined by The Notorious B.I.G.'s suave, hot 16 bars to make their debut single first included on 1995's New Jersey Drive soundtrack before it landed onto the trio's debut self-titled project.
Thompson joined his fellow Hitmen producers Diddy, Herb Middleton and Rashad "Tumblin' Dice" Smith to give Total a sonic shoulder to cry on for a lover they can't seem to shake; arguably becoming one of Bad Boy's signature singles.
"You Don't Have to Worry," New Edition
New Edition reunited in full (all six members) for 1996's Home Again. Thompson, along with Hitmen cohorts Stevie J. and Diddy, dug in the crates, found James Brown's "Your Love," and gave the elder R&B boy band some street heat: so much that Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe turn their charm into spittin' a few bars. The album version totally satisfies the palette until the song's Trackmasters remix ups the ante, featuring a pre-superstar Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot.
"Soon As I Get Home," Faith Evans
Thompson really wasn't up to doing this song because he was heading to catch a flight back to D.C. A loyal person who always put the music first, he was convinced by Diddy per a plea from Faith to dust off a piano melody he wrote when he was just 16 years old. He expertly nestled it under the GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter's breathy, seductive vocals that she had recorded on her answering machine. Backed by some snapping snares, Faith's plea to an isolated significant other became the second single from her platinum 1995 self-titled debut project and one of her most recognizable ballads.
"One Mic," Nas
Nas is largely considered to be one of the greatest emcees in hip-hop, but in 2001, Thompson knew Escobar needed an anthem for an encore at his performances. The height of the JAY-Z/Nas beef was brewing between "Takeover" and "Ether," but the producer knew to take Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" to give Nas the space to show just how iconic he is. DMX was set to appear as a feature, but Nas wanted that moment all to himself.
"Woman," Raheem DeVaughn
Thompson loved and respected plus-size Black women, so for Raheem DeVaughn's 2008 LP Love Behind the Melody, he convinced his fellow D.C. native to make a song that strictly celebrates the curvy sistas. Inspired by keyboards that he heard on JAY-Z and Chrisette Michele's duet produced by Dr. Dre, "Lost Ones," Thompson helped DeVaughn walk his way towards a GRAMMY nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Woman."
"Hit the Floor," Rare Essence ft. Snoop Dogg
In 2020, Snoop Dogg wanted to show love to the go-go scene. The rapper/entertainer teamed up with go-go music legends Rare Essence, Thompson's favorite band, to make a joint that could uplift those sheltering-in-place. The rhythms meshed together the West Coast synths over the D.C. metro's signature tattering percussion to celebrate the insular grooves popularized by bands like E.U., Trouble Funk, Junkyard Band, and Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers.