The Story of Pop: 1999 (Chapter 18)

Retelling the tales behind some of the biggest UK chart hits of 20 years ago and the stars that made them hits, this is The Story of Pop: 1999. This week: a universally acknowledged turn of the millennium R&B classic from one of the most successful all female groups of all time…

If you look at the history of pop’s major girl groups down the years, there is one thing that is common to all of them. Well, actually two things; the rise to world domination, and the inevitable infighting and cattiness that turns things sour and brings it all to an end. And it’s not unfair to say that was something American R&B/soul trio TLC had in abundance once fame arrived for them.

Their first album, 1992’s ‘Ooooooohhh…On The TLC Tip’ had been a big Stateside success, but by the time they came to release the multi million selling ‘CrazySexyCool’ in 1995, home to global chart smashing R&B classics like ‘Creep’, ‘Waterfalls’ and ‘Diggin’ On You’, a series of well publicised internal dramas with their management, the law, the government, their record label and eventually between themselves had all threatened to derail their otherwise stellar career.

So it was nothing short of a miracle that they made it to a third album at all. But when that third album did arrive in the spring of 1999, it did so with an even greater impact than what had come before. ‘FanMail’ – so dubbed as a tribute to their fans who’d stuck by them through all the conflict – would eventually sell over 10 million copies worldwide and pick up three Grammy Awards, certainly helped in part by the success of its lead single that even to this day remains their signature tune.

A sassy, catchy, take-no-prisoners slice of Swiss watch engineered R&B that set the template for a lot of what would follow in the years after, ‘No Scrubs’ saw Rozanda ‘Chilli’ Thomas, Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes kiss off the song’s aforementioned no hoper ‘kind of guy who can’t get no love from me’, and coupled with a futuristic space-agey video, instantly struck a chord with a generation, the present writer included.

It was a chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100 in the States, but it had had a more slow burning trajectory where the UK was concerned. Debuting at #7 on its release at the end of March, it was six weeks later when it finally came to rest at its peak position of #3 at the start of May. It was still on the top 40 at the end of July, ensuring that it sold enough copies to be among the year’s top 20 biggest selling singles here in the UK.

The empowering acoustic soul pop of ‘Unpretty’ followed it into the top 10 that August, and ‘Dear Lie’ gave them another top 40 hit that December, but by year’s end tensions within the band had got to such a stage that they took a break to pursue solo projects – Lisa most famously as a guest rapper on ‘Never Be The Same Again’, a UK chart topper for Melanie C in her own first solo steps away from Spice Girls in March 2000.

They were in the process of reconvening and recording a new album at the start of 2002. Tragically however, Lisa’s contributions were to be minimal, when she was killed in a car crash in Honduras. After a period of mourning, Chilli and T-Boz pressed ahead as a duo, and their fourth album ‘3D’ was eventually released at the end of that same year, bringing to a premature close the career of TLC.

After bowing out the spotlight in 2003 however, the remaining duo have since reunited, and marked their 20th anniversary in 2013, and released a self titled fifth album last year that was well received. And more recently, it was revealed that ‘No Scrubs’ has continued to perform well in the streaming age more than any other single released in 1999 – proof that TLC’s legacy continues to cross generations and emerge triumphant over their history.

Don’t forget to follow our playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 1999. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments or Tweet us, using the hashtag #StoryofPop1999.

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