Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story aired on VH1 on Monday, October 21, 2013. It became the network’s highest rated broadcast in five years with 4.5 million viewers tuning in to have their questions about this dynamic trio answered. TLC is celebrating their 20th anniversary as a group, even in light of the death pf Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, the group’s rapper/lyricist in 2001. The group is known for such hits as “Baby Baby Baby,” “Creep” and “No Scrubs.” Much of TLC’s early appeal, the group came on the scene around 1992, was their unapologetic, badass, feminist style. They wore baggy clothes, colorful condoms underneath their glasses, edgy hairstyles, and weren’t afraid to talk about sex and sexuality. I mean the marched into Clive Davis’s office and took everything with their names on it off of the walls like they owned the place.
Watching their story really made me think about what a progressive time the 90s were for women. I mean if Lady Gaga had come on the scene in the early 90s, no one would have batted an eyelash. TLC was in the company of other powerful, musical women in every genre of music. Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Alanis Morisette, Salt N Peppa, Sinead O’Connor, En Vogue, Madonna, Da Brat, and Cindy Lauper were all chart-topping women who were unafraid to speak their truths, shave their heads, give their all, and shake their asses. They managed to have a fan base and sell platinum records, while keeping their clothes on and making bold, brazen statements about their experiences of womanhood.
Then something happened. Around 1998/1999 female artists became more feminine in the stereotypical way. Overalls and flannel were replaced with dresses and skin tight jeans. Tennis shoes were replaced with stilettos. And “I Aint Too Proud To Beg” and “U-N-I-T-Y” were replaced with lyrics that provoke less thought and more ass-shaking in all genres of music.
It occurred to me in watching the TLC movie, that though their lyrics are evergreen, their image would never make it in today’s music industry. I asked myself, “Is it just a fashion thing?” I don’t think it is. I think that as a society and economy we have become less tolerant of difference and women’s empowerment. The 80s saw George Michael, David Bowie, Paula Abdul, Parliament Funkadelic, The Commodores, Rapper’s Delight, The Runaways, and a whole lot of other people who were different, but not deficient. These acts would be outcasts in 2013, because now everything is globalized and standing out is intolerable. Of the women of the 90s that I listed above, Queen Latifah and Madonna are the only ones that consistently remain in the spotlight. And their images have become much softer.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE WOMEN ON THE EDGE??? Why did we decide that it is better to be charming than daring? When did we decide that we’d rather a love song than a song about love?
I don’t have an answer, just some food for thought…