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Reaching the upper reaches of the Billboard charts and platinum success with their first two albums, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip and CrazySexyCool, R&B group TLC appeared to be sitting on top of not only the music industry, but the world itself. Behind the scenes, the story was starkly different than anything fans could've have imagined, which they found out when T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in light of a financial dispute with management and production company Pebbitone.
In addition, the controversy surrounding Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and the 1994 arson incident toward then-boyfriend and NFL player Andre Rison's Atlanta home also cast a dark shadow over the group. The subsequent years consisted of the trio attempting to put the pieces together in hopes of recapturing the magic they had shown they were capable of making prior to the drama. Hooking up with longtime producer Dallas Austin, TLC went about crafting FanMail, the trio's long-awaited follow-up to CrazySexyCool.
Featuring production by Austin, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Cyptron, Jermaine Dupri, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Daryl Simmons, Carl So-Lowe and more; FanMail marked the return of one of the beloved acts in R&B.
With the 20th anniversary of its release upon us, REVOLT looks back at TLC's FanMail and list seven reasons why the album is a certified classic.
1. The Album Concept
Having endured public embarrassment from filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy while at the height of their career, as well as battling internal friction, TLC appeared to be on the brink of imploding. However, during the trio's most tumultuous moments, kinds words from their devoted legion of fans kept them motivated and inspired. This led the group -- at the behest of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes -- to name their comeback album FanMail as a show of appreciation for their patience and support during their lengthy hiatus.
2. The Lead Single
With a track record for rolling out monstrous hits, TLC's first single being a home run was essential in setting the tone for their comeback. And T-Boz, Chilli and Left Eye rose to the occasion; churning out what became one of the biggest songs of not only the year, but the decade. That song was "No Scrubs." Co-written by Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs and former Xscape members, Kandi Burruss and Tameka "Tiny" Cottle; "No Scrubs" served as a rallying cry for women tired of being pursued and approached by undesirable or financially unstable men.
Released at the top of February 1999, the track quickly skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, where it stayed for four consecutive weeks. The success of "No Scrubs" was historic. It became the first song to peak with over 140 million audience impressions, as well setting a record for most weeks at number 1 on the Rhythmic charts with 15 weeks.
A pop culture sensation, the song would inspire a response called "No Pigeons" by rap group Sporty Thieves, which peaked at No. 12 on the pop charts due in large part to the popularity of the original. Of all of TLC's hits and fan-favorites, "No Scrubs" is regarded by many as one of the group's signature songs and has gone on to transcend generations.
3. Women Empowerment Anthems
One song from the album that struck a chord with listeners was "Unpretty," a song promoting self-confidence among women in the face of pressure to conform to societal standards of beauty. Co-written by T-Boz and Dallas Austin -- and with production by the latter -- the song was unveiled as the second single from the album and soared to No. 1 on the pop charts, a position it held for three consecutive weeks. Accompanied by a Paul Hunter-directed music video depicting internal struggles various women go through, "Unpretty" continued TLC's trend of making statements with their lyrical and visual content.
4. The Deep Cuts
The success of TLC's third album may be driven by its succession of singles, but also thrived in the marketplace due to multiple deep cuts that effectively round out the album. Viewers may have gotten a taste of the song at the tail-end of the "Unpretty" video. But, "I'm Good at Being Bad" in its entirety is one of the gems on the tracklist that standout. "I Miss You So Much" is a piano-driven ballad produced by Babyface and Daryl Simmons that casts Chilli as the lead, a role she resumes on "Come On Down," which is dominated by acoustic guitars provided by Dallas Austin. Additional highlights include the bouncy numbers "My Life" and "Lovesick." However, FanMail reaches its climax with the album outro "Don't Pull Out on My Yet." A steamy bedroom track in the vein of "Red Light Special," this straightforward salvo leaves the listeners -- particularly the fellas -- salivating for more.
5. Its Commercial Success
Despite nearly five years having passed since the release of CrazySexyCool, TLC's FanMail was one of the most anticipated albums at the time. While CrazySexyCool peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard charts, FanMail leap-frogged its predecessor in its opening week, debuting at No. 1 with 318,000 copies sold. The album held the top position for five consecutive weeks on the way to exceeding six million copies sold in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, FanMail has surpassed the 10 million copies sold mark since first hitting shelves, making it their second highest-selling album behind CrazySexyCool.
6. It Was Critically Acclaimed
In addition to its overwhelming commercial success, FanMail was acclaimed by critics of all varieties with the album receiving glowing reviews as their most progressive work at the time. The Grammy Award committee also took notice, bestowing eight nominations upon the album in 2000. These included nods for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. While TLC ultimately lost out in those major categories, they did take home hardware for three: Best R&B Album, Best R&B Song, and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. This gave the trio their most Grammy wins and nominations.
7. It Cemented Them As The Preeminent Female R&B Group of the '90s
The '90s was a glorious decade for R&B with countless soloists, duos and group's contributing timeless material. That being said, it's hard to dispute TLC's standing as the most successful and decorated female R&B group of their era. Over the course of three albums, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli accounted for chart-topping singles, tens of millions in album sales; and also helped bridge the gaps between hip hop soul, rap, and rhythm and blues. Their final studio album released with the original lineup intact, FanMail bookends one of the dominant runs we've seen in music over the past quarter-century and stamped TLC as modern-day legends.
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