On the evening of Saturday June 3rd social media was trending with the hashtag #tlcforever. Tionne ‘T-Boz’ Watkins and Rozonda ‘Chilli’ Thomas executive produced along with their manager, Bill Diggins, the group’s life story in a comprehensive documentary that aired simultaneously on Lifetime and A&E.
The social media embraced premiere was reminiscent of 2012 when TLC’s highly anticipated biopic ‘Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story’ sent viral shockwaves throughout Twitter and Instagram when released on Vh1 in 2012. After a decade and a new media landscape that dictates television consumption, TLC remains a story that resonates universally in more ways than one.
‘TLC Forever’ chronicles the group’s sudden rise to fame in the 90’s, but focuses on the themes of sisterhood, creativity, and resilience. With 85 million records sold to date the music industry has made countless unsuccessful attempts to replicate the energy of T-Boz, Left-Eye and Chilli. The group’s undeniable chemistry and ability to deliver social messages in a way that was informative and yet connected with culture was uncanny. “I think Lisa was the most creative person I’ve ever met,” says TLC manager Bill Diggins. It was Lopes’ creativity and lyrical talent meshed with Watkins signature vocal swag and Thomas’s soulful pop sound that made the group an anomaly.
That intangible chemistry earned the group four Grammys, an American Music award, four soul train awards, Diamond certification for the RIAA twelve times platinum for their Crazy Sexy Cool album and most recently the 2023 inaugural Legacy award from Variety magazine.
It’s hard to imagine the continued accolades have continued over 20 years after Lopes’ unexpected passing that affected not only her band mates but the entire music community. Thomas reminisced on how difficult Lopes’ death was and still is to process. “People would say it’s obvious how much you all loved her, but we love her we still love her; it will never be “loved” for us. She is always with us.”
TLC Forever sheds light on the devastation both Watkins and Thomas experienced after losing their sister/group member and being expected to be strong for fans and the industry when they were still grieving themselves. “We were given an ultimatum of putting an album out or doing a greatest hits album not long after Lisa died. We knew it wasn’t time for a Greatest Hits yet, so we pulled together an album, “Watkins shares. Hearing the phone call with Watkins and Thomas with MTV confirming Lopez’s death was heart wrenching and added context to the group’s ability to endure through the impossible.
The definition of persevering through the impossible was illustrated as Watkins allowed cameras into her hospital room while she received medication and fluids after suffering a sickle cell crisis. “Sometimes people see me and say I look tired. It’s because I am. When I get sick my skin gets pale, my lips get pink, and it gets dark under my eyes. I have gained some weight but sometimes when I look puffy, it’s because I’ve just been on fluids and that’s one of the side effects,” she explains. “People don’t understand what it takes to get her ready to tour and then even what must happen after she comes off the stage. They just see her doing her thing dancing and singing and they don’t really know all she is has to go through with to be there on that stage.”
“I remember LA Reid told me they were the closest thing to Rock-N-Roll that existed in Hip Hop and he was right. They are the definition of Rock-N-Roll,” Diggins says. The transparency that Thomas and Watkins leaned into sharing their personal heartbreak from loss, illness and losing the confidence of the industry gave fans a deeper level of respect for their wins. The documentary opens with Watkins tearfully sharing her deepest fear when being diagnosed with a brain tumor but ends full circle with the group performing two years ago to a sold-out crowd at Glastonbury. Throughout a career filled with hit records, trend-setting fashion, female empowerment, unthinkable pain and timeless music, Watkins and Thomas and the memory of their sister Lisa ‘Left-Eye’ Lopes remain undefeated and unwilling to give up their title as the best-selling girl US girl group of all time.
‘TLC Forever’ is streaming on Lifetime, A&E and Hulu