TLC’s critically acclaimed album FanMail, debuted February 23, 1999. 20 years ago, the album represented the girl group’s dedication to their fans. Released following a five-year hiatus, FanMail modernized contemporary R&B with a fusion of R&B, Pop, and Hip-Hop sounds. The upcoming dawn of the new millennium created Y2K hysteria, allowing TLC to optimize the futuristic, computerized sounds throughout the album. Truly ahead of its time, FanMail debuted at No. 1 in 1999, and twenty years later, remains a testament of the modern woman.
Although commercially successful, FanMail was not presented without a hitch. In an interview from TLC’s May 1999 VIBE magazine cover, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili shared their conflicts with their record label on creative control on their album. Their hiatus stemmed from filing for bankruptcy and going in and out of court. The group as a unit showed signs of dismantling. Stuck in the political constraints of girl-groups and the music industry, Left Eye sought to record her own album and speak her own truth. Left Eye’s verses did not make the album cut on multiple tracks. Left Eye stated in the interview,
“It would mean something to me, so I was wondering if you could quote me on this one. Okay, here we go: I’ve graduated from this era. I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me. This will be my last interview until I can speak freely about the truth and present myself on my solo project.”
Despite all odds, FanMail came together, spending five weeks at No. 1 and earning eight Grammy nominations, including Album Of The Year. TLC won three of the eight Grammy nominations and has been certified six times platinum. At 17 tracks long, including two interludes, FanMail explores multiple sides of femininity. TLC encouraged women’s empowerment through sexual freedom, body positivity, self-love, and the power of saying no.
FanMail celebrates messages of women’s empowerment, body positivity, embracing sexuality and of course, the power to decline unwanted attention. The messages presented throughout the album relate to movements still relevant in music and pop culture. With songs such as “No Scrubs,” “Silly Ho,” “Unpretty,” and “I’m Good At Being Bad,” TLC’s FanMail created a powerful, yet vulnerable voice for decades of past, present, and future.
The most popular song from FanMail “No Scrubs,” empowers women not to settle for less, giving them the confidence to say no. The defiance of “No Scrubs” became an anthem that women sing from coast to coast. “No Scrubs” reminds women that they are not required to submit to men who do not meet their personal standards. The theme of being confident enough to say no also flows through “Silly Ho”. With “Silly Ho,” TLC fused techno sounds with R&B and Hip-Hop, T-Boz sings,
“I ain’t never been no silly bitch, waiting to get rich, from a nigga’s bank account. I have always had my own things, bought my own rings, not gon’ let you catch me out.”
Never shy about embracing their sexuality, T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli present a full-on good girl versus bad girl battle on “I’m Good at Being Bad,” switching back and forth from soft sensual melodic verses to raunchy, hardcore lyrics. The trio demands their needs be met sexually, with lyrics on physical desires from a male partner, as well as self-pleasure.
“I need a crump, tight nigga, make seven figures, laced with the platinum not the silver shit, nigga. Exhale cigar, ten inch or bigger, a lick it from the back type nigga.”
The vulnerability exposed on “Unpretty” shows the softer side of the edgy girl group. With “Unpretty”, TLC advocates inner beauty defined by the beholder, regardless if purchased or natural, unconventional or standard. Enabling women to embrace their insecurities and find their beauty within, “Unpretty” went on to be nominated for Song Of The Year at the 42nd Grammy Awards.
“I wish I could tie you up in my shoes, make you feel unpretty too. I was told I was beautiful, but what does that mean to you? Look into the mirror, who’s inside there.”
With FanMail, the group aimed to record an album strictly for fans, communicating directly with their most devoted followers and a message well received. The assertive nature of FanMail allowed TLC to evolve from young girl group into mature, powerful women able to not only make demands but to reach them. As the Pop and R&B sound moved beyond the 1999 computer synthesized beats, TLC’s FanMail faded to black, yet the themes and sounds presented remain influential on today’s music.