Why you should care
These groups preached love, self-respect and sisterhood — a message we could use in an age of Mariah and Nicki catfights.
Their silky harmonies and soulful, sassy lyrics were irresistible, their sienna lipstick and matching outfits impeccable. In the 1990s, R&B girl groups dominated the urban music scene with their signature brand of sexy, funky girl power.
Today fans are left to reminisce over VH1’s Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story, which aired in October, and mourn the sad state of sisterhood since the split of Destiny’s Child. The surprise release of Beyoncé’s eponymous album last Friday affirmed that in 2013, the stage has room for only one diva.
The R&B girl group era launched with En Vogue’s 1990 debut, Born to Sing, before hitting a crescendo with TLC’s CrazySexyCool and ending all too soon with Destiny’s Child. These groups followed in the hip-swaying wake of Motown groups like the Supremes and the Shirelles, featuring beautiful women belting R&B tunes with spunk and charisma. And boy could they sing.
But these groups were more than gorgeous and talented. They were revolutionary. True, their songs might not have been overtly political like those of their hip-hop contemporaries. But they were still bold and empowering, tackling sex and relationships from a woman’s perspective. TLC warned us not to go chasing waterfalls or messing with scrubs, and when the haters got us down, En Vogue urged us to free our minds.
They were still bold and empowering, tackling sex and relationships from a woman’s perspective.
By singing and performing together, these groups defied the stereotype of women hating on other women. Sure, they all experienced their share of drama, but you gotta hand it to them for at least preaching female friendship — a message that has all but faded in an age when Mariah Carey compares American Idol with Nicki Minaj to being in hell with Satan, and Rihanna and Ciara continue to diss each other online and on-air.
So if Bey’s latest album has you nostalgic, dim the lights and rewind your Walkman to when saxophone-laced beats and multipart harmonies ruled the airwaves with our R&B girl group recap.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas burst onto the scene in 1992, decked in huge DayGlo pants, T-shirts and Doc Martens. Although commercial success made them the highest grossing female group of all time, they set themselves apart by blending infectious hooks with socially conscious lyrics about safe sex, racism and body image. Off-stage, they continued to defy authority, from wearing condoms on their clothes to Lopes torching a bathtub filled with her boyfriend’s shoes. Turmoil continued to affect the trio, culminating in Lopes’s tragic death in 2002.
Their satin mini-dresses and heels oozed glamour, while their clean arrangements and dizzying melisma showcased their vocal prowess. But En Vogue did more than sway and shoo-doop their way into our hearts. Their songs were sultry yet smart, like the anthemic “Free Your Mind.” Member Dawn Robinson left En Vogue at the end of the decade, starting an on again, off again relationship with the group before leaving for good in 2011.
Sisters with Voices (SWV)
SWV was formed in 1990 by three school friends with big church voices. The New York City trio’s heartfelt vocals, paired with earnest lyrics about the emotional roller coaster of falling in love, make the perfect soundtrack for a late night with your girlfriends gushing about your newest crush. SWV disbanded in 1998, but came back together in 2010 and continue to tour. Their soul-stirring tracks still resonate with listeners. Chris Brown sampled “Right Here” in his 2011 track “She Ain’t You.”
Xscape was smooth, sultry, mellow — and damn sexy. Sure, the Atlanta quintet cooed the classic odes to love. But they also unabashedly expressed their sexuality in tracks like “Can’t Hang,” in which a woman asserts that her sexual prowess is on par with any man’s, and “My Little Secret,” about a woman cheating on her S.O. After splitting in 2005, some Xscape members escaped to reality TV. Kandi Burruss joined Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle co-stars in BET’s T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle with her husband, rapper T.I.