Fanmail: The Women’s Empowerment Album That Still Stands 20 Years Later

TLC behind the scenes of the group’s album photoshoot. (Source: Google")

TLC behind the scenes of the group’s album photoshoot. (Source: Google")

1999 was a simple time; kids played with Pokemon, downloading music from the internet was becoming a new thing, and the DVD player was replacing VCRs. The music at the time was complex but still at it's best; bubble pop acts like *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Mandy Moore were everywhere, you couldn't escape them. Hip-Hop was diverse as well; you had the grit of DMX, the family-friendly hip-hop of Will Smith, the flashy designer styles of Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, and neo-soul fusion of Lauryn Hill. Most of all who could forget the Latin Pop craze happening at that time. Girl groups were still a thing. By this time, groups like En Vogue, SWV, and Xscape have released their last projects before their hiatus, while groups like 702, Destiny's Child, and Blaque were getting their feet wet. The Spice Girls were still dominating the charts...and the rest of the world, but the US had one girl group you couldn't count out just yet...and three girls who put Atlanta on the map, TLC.

Five years after they released their iconic sophomore album, CrazySexyCool, TLC came back on the scene with a fresh take on relationships, women empowerment, and introduced us to self-care, an album called Fanmail. After a few years of battling family issues, their record label, health issues, and dealing with the men in their lives, TLC went into the studio to create an album specifically for their fans. In an interview with MTV News in 1999, Lisa explains that FanMail was a love letter to their fans, especially those who sent them fan mail during their hiatus. "They have supported us through everything," she said. "It's not just the 'I like your CD' kind of mail. It's 'Tionne, how are you? How's your Sickle Cell doing?' It's 'Lisa, why'd you burn down Andre's house?' It's 'Chilli, congratulations on your new baby.'"

TLC on the set of “No Scrubs”. (Source: Google)

TLC on the set of “No Scrubs”. (Source: Google)

It didn't take a lot for TLC's fans to receive and welcome them back with open arms; After working on their third album during the spring,and summer of 1998, they released their first single, "No Scrubs" (written by members of Xscape and reality stars Kandi Burruss and Tameka "Tiny" Cottle), at the beginning of February. Fans and the public adored the song. The catchy tune with a message of not settling for less with a man resonated with women..and let's be honest some men...across the globe, landing the number one spot on Billboard's Hot 100 list, and was number one and in the top 10 in across other countries. The video for "No Scrubs" was also beloved by many viewers and those who grew up in the MTV's TRL era; with a futuristic style, resembling Michael and Janet's video for "Scream", the three girls dance, serve space-age looks, and spread the importance of independence and being self-sufficient. The video won Best Group Video at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, and that was just the beginning.

TLC on the set of “Unpretty”. (Source: Google)

TLC on the set of “Unpretty”. (Source: Google)

1999-2000 was period for TLC of winning awards for their music and style achievements and strides (including three Grammys), performing at award shows, and going on a tour, their Fanmail tour, which broke records for being the highest selling tour for a girl group, grossing over $72.8 million. While TLC made headlines for publicly feuding with each other, including the infamous TRL appearance where only T-Boz and Chilli showed up, it didn't stop the success and the message of TLC. Songs like "Fanmail", "I Miss You So Much", and "Dear Lie", show the groups vulnerable side with their fans and their love life. "Silly Ho", much like "No Scrubs", shows the groups independence and the need to not conform to a man's standard. Then there's "Unpretty", a song originally written by T-Boz as a poem. This is the song that encompasses what the group stands for and what made the groups stand out from other female acts at the time; empowerment for young girls and role models for a media hammered generation. "Unpretty" for most of us who was alive at that time, was the first song that talked about self-esteem, self-love, self-care. Before Lady Gaga's "Born This Way", and before Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful", "Unpretty" was the anti-bullying anthem that encouraged all of us to look inside ourselves and find the beauty within ourselves. It was the song that shook a people living in an era eating disorders and unrealistic body images (which unfortunately we are still going through).

TLC holding a moonman they won at the 1999 VMAs. (Source: Google)

TLC holding a moonman they won at the 1999 VMAs. (Source: Google)

Fanmail has an impact on 90's/early 2000's music and pop culture, but this album for many of us holds a sentimental place in our hearts. This is the last album with all three members of TLC present. Lisa 'Left-Eye' Lopes released a solo project after the end of the Fanmail tour, Supernova, that got little fanfare, in 2001. The following year, Lisa, a group she managed, and some friends and family members took a trip to Honduras. In a place where Lopes went to find peace, it would ultimately be a place of tragedy; on April 25th, 2002, Lisa 'Left-Eye' Lopes dies due to head trauma from a car accident.

Since Lisa's tragic and sudden passing, T-Boz and Chilli have released two albums, released a biopic about the group's road to success, and have continued to tour and celebrate the legacy of TLC. Although there are times when fans can be sentimental about the missing presence of Left-Eye, Fanmail is an album we can cherish and refer back to when we not only want to relive the magic of TLC, but to be empowered and remember our worth through a timeless album. Since then, there's been a few girl groups who tried to imitate and recreate the attitude, sass, and feminist power Fanmail (or any TLC) has, but it's something about T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli that can't be recreated and can't be touched.

TLC set a standard that became a way of life because although we're now vulnerable and can admit, just like you, I get lonely too, I can also assure you that no one in 2019 is dealing with a scrub.