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K-Pop Veteran KAI Feels Freer Than Ever On 'Rover': "It's Going To Be A Very Memorable Period For Me"
KAI

Photo: Courtesy of SM Entertainment

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K-Pop Veteran KAI Feels Freer Than Ever On 'Rover': "It's Going To Be A Very Memorable Period For Me"

On KAI's third solo mini album, Rover, out today (March 13), the EXO and SuperM member finds freedom through the multiplicity of sounds and concepts that have defined his 11-year journey.

GRAMMYs/Mar 13, 2023 - 05:36 pm

When K-pop's emblematic group EXO debuted in 2012, each member was assigned a superpower as part of their overarching lore. Kim Jongin, then a fresh-faced 18-year-old, was given the ability to teleport, promptly appearing and disappearing throughout their many music videos. He also received an alias: KAI, whose Chinese character "开" means "to open."

Eleven years later, KAI has manifested his nickname; his individual success has opened doors to three solo albums, countless world tours as part of EXO and supergroup SuperM, and several luxury brand contracts (he is an ambassador for Gucci and a representative for Yves Saint Laurent Beauty). It makes sense that he sees himself as someone who can't be constrained — and that he named his third EP Rover.

As the title insinuates, embodying multiple things at once has always been KAI's specialty. He is notoriously shy off-camera, an introvert who stays silent unless spoken to, but who unravels in winding thoughts and warm laughs when comfortable. At the same time, he is also one of K-pop's most lethal performers, with a voice that is as soft as sinful, and ballet-trained movements that spellbind any audience.

Rover is KAI's latest self-actualization. In a Zoom call with GRAMMY.com, he is all smiles as he mentions that this album is the truest to his creative desires so far. Whether visually or sonically, the six-track collection (plus a second installment of his conceptual video series, FILM : KAI, to be released on March 20) fuses everything that he is known for: the teleporting, the hypnotizing dance moves, the many characters he can embody, and his versatility in approaching rhythms that go from reggaeton to R&B.

He ponders about the limitations of social media and receiving love in tracks like "Black Mirror," and "Say You Love Me," while longing for freedom in "Bomba" and the project's title track. "Here I am in your face/ Focus on every single expression/ Y'all buzzin', catch me if you can," he sings in the latter, making reference to one of his favorite movies. In the music video, he also hints at Billy Elliott, another formative movie in his life, while adopting multiple personalities and namesakes. There are no boundaries to KAI's artistry, after all.

Ahead of the release, GRAMMY.com caught up with KAI about the meaning of freedom, his relationship with social media, and how it feels to be an idol for over a decade.

You ask to be called "Mr. Rover" in the EP's title track. Who is Mr. Rover?

That's me! [Laughs.] [The song] has a story about a wanderer and a message of wanting to be free, and since I want to be free on stage, and as an artist in general, Mr. Rover is me.

What is freedom to you?

I put a lot of thought into that, but honestly, I still don't know. I do feel free, and I do feel freedom when I'm on stage, and in order to feel that true freedom, I think it's not just throwing away something that's inside of you. It's more like trying your best and putting more effort into that freedom that you're seeking.

A lot of my fans say that I seem very happy and free on stage. I really want to be like that. I realized that, in order to be free, there's a lot of things that I have to try harder behind the stage.

Indeed, one of your main characteristics is that on stage you are very confident and charismatic, while off stage you are a little more shy and warm-hearted. What's on your mind when you're on stage?

I don't think that much when I'm on stage. This is intentional, because I try not to think about anything and just do my best. Just enjoy that moment. If I think a lot, then it'd be difficult for me to concentrate. I really want to get to that level where I don't have any thoughts and I can just feel free and do the performance as it is.

On stage, you can usually see me smiling and laughing a lot, but that's because the more I get nervous, the more I start smiling and laughing, and the more I enjoy it. Once I feel a sense of pressure is when I truly start to enjoy [it]. I realized that I must be crazy to be enjoying all this nervousness. [Laughs.]

Besides freedom, what are three main words that you associate with this album?

The first one is "SNS" [Social Networking Service, or what Koreans usually call social media], because it's actually a theme in the album. To add up, the album also has a message of loving yourself and not caring about what others think. 

As in one of my tracks, "Black Mirror," when the display screen is black, it tells you to see yourself reflected there and to love yourself more. "Say You Love Me" [is] a song about desiring love. On SNS, we care a lot about likes, followers, and what other people think or how they see us.

The second keyword is "performance." It is a very important part of this album, because I really did what I wanted to do. There are a lot of performances to see and hear altogether, so when I was preparing [them], I tried to show different aspects of myself.

And my third keyword would be "happiness," because that is the emotion I felt the most while preparing for this album. I really enjoyed it, and I felt a lot of happiness in my daily life. I think that it's going to be a very memorable period for me.

Since your first keyword is SNS, what is your personal relationship with social media?

Honestly speaking, if I wasn't a celebrity, I think I wouldn't have been using SNS at all. But since I am, I do have to [use] it, and I think of it as a way to communicate with my fans. 

In my album, tracks such as "Black Mirror" or "Rover" have a message of being free and loving yourself, and I [prepared] a lot of curated content to show to my fans. I do have a desire for [my fans] to like that, but I want to say that it doesn't matter because, as a human, it's the same for me. I watch YouTube too, I watch all those [Instagram] Reels at night before I go to sleep. So you know, after all, I'm doing the same thing [as everyone].

Your second keyword is performance, and you seem very happy that you could do everything that you wanted for Rover. What new things were you able to show through your performances this time?

The ["Rover"] music video is very well-made and fun, and another FILM : KAI is coming out soon. The first FILM : KAI was released before my first music video [for "Mmmh"], so the role of it was to explain the whole concept and help the listeners understand what I was trying to say.

This time, FILM : KAI is coming out after the music video [for "Rover"], so I think it could be a chance for the viewers to organize their thoughts and compare with what they have been thinking while watching the music video, so they can realize some different charms [within it].

You talked about your first album, KAI (开), and now you're on your third album. What are some of the differences between them, and what have you improved on since your solo debut?

For the first album, when preparing the songs, it was more about finding what I wanted to do as KAI and what I'd like to show people. For the second album, it was more about focusing on what people would like to see and what they wanted from me. I did feel a bit pressured and stressed, but it was one of the steps in the process of trying to find what I really want to do. 

For my third album, I was able to find what I want to do and start doing it. As an artist, I grew a lot, but that's why I think it was a new challenge. It's something new that I'm attempting.

If it wasn't for the first or the second albums, the third one wouldn't even exist. I even had some songs that I saved during the [previous] albums because I thought I wasn't prepared before, but now I'm ready to release them to the world. As a soloist and an artist, I'm just developing and growing. There may be a lot of lacking skills still, but this album is very special to me, and I like it a lot.

You've been an idol for more than a decade now. What is the most important thing you learned so far?

Being an idol is a job too. The line between my daily life and my life as a celebrity is very ambiguous. From time to time, I could feel more stressed out, and as it is a job where I can share emotions with the public, there's a bit of pressure on that too.

The most important thing to do is to take care of my mental [health] and mindset, and this realization was a chance for me to grow. I've been thinking deeply on how to become a better person, how to live a happy life as a human being, and I think that, as KAI, I really want to share more positive and happy thoughts with my fans and the people all around the world.

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SuperM Talk 'Super One' & Finding Unity In The Covid Era

SuperM

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SuperM Talk 'Super One' & Finding Unity In The Covid Era

GRAMMY.com catches up with the K-pop supergroup ahead of their first full-length album, out on Sept. 25

GRAMMYs/Sep 24, 2020 - 08:00 pm

Last year, K-pop group SuperM made history when their self-titled debut EP premiered at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart. A miscellany of a boy band featuring seven cornerstones from four different acts signed to South Korean company SM Entertainment, the newly formed act’s star power and the virality of their immensely memeable first single "Jopping" made them a must-watch act of 2020. Now, they’re back with their first LP, Super One.

Out on Sept. 25, SuperM's first full-length album features 15 tracks, some that listeners have heard before, like pre-release singles "100" and "Tiger Inside," and B-sides like "Dangerous Woman" and "With You" that the act has performed in the past during concerts and televised performances. Split almost evenly between songs that are performed predominantly in either English or Korean and fronted by the lead track "One," a blend of two B-sides, "Monster" and "Infinity," Super One is all about meshing different elements together, whether it’s members of SHINee, EXO, NCT 127 and WayV into one whole, or running the gamut of different genres and languages in ways that are all at once familiar and innovative for members of some of K-pop's biggest acts.

Throughout all the multitudes of Super One, however, is one overall theme—serving up a soundtrack perfect for the age of corona. "I think we tried really hard to unify the messaging through the lyrics and through that bring a message of hope and unity to our fans and everyone who listens to it," said Taemin, the most senior member of the group, active in the industry since debuting with the group SHINee in 2008.

Coming out since the world first began reeling from the changes and ongoing impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Super One spends its length motivating listeners through a freewheeling medley of energetic, vibrant electro-pop anthems and mellowing out to offer up lackadaisical, breezy moments on hopeful tracks. Whether it’s the optimistic, sweet bounce of "Better Days" and "Wish You Were Here" or the hint of separate-but-together partying euphoria on "Together at Home" and the smooth sexiness of the groove on "Drip" serving up the type of confidence that comes with good times, SuperM have delivered an album that is oh-so-very 2020 but will live long beyond December.

This interview was edited for clarity, and conducted in both English and Korean.

You’re about to release Super One into the world, following the release of "100" and "Tiger Inside." How does it feel to be sharing your first LP after last year’s debut EP?

Mark: We feel really thrilled to let the whole world see it. We’ve prepared a lot for it. “100” and “Tiger Inside” were just the singles that only lead up to the main album, so we’re pretty excited.

Taeyong: Because we’ve been working on this first full-length album for such a long time, we think it’s that much more meaningful for everyone. We were really thinking of our fans when we were putting this all together. Because we released two singles ahead of the release, we hope our fans and everyone will have the same and rising expectations for “One.” We hope everyone receives a lot of strength and positive vibes through this album.

What is the meaning of Super One to you?

Mark: We believe that it is very appropriate for the situation that the whole world is going through, the message that we have. Not only are we trying to say that we can overcome all of our problems and all these difficulties as we work together, we also believe that—if you see in the album, there are a lot of songs in the playlist where it has an encouraging message. We just want to spread positivity around the world and really bring hope to the listeners, saying, "We can overcome it all." With that positive message, we really want to bring everyone together. That’s pretty much how we, SuperM, were brought together as well. Though we may be all scattered in different ways, when we come together we become very super. I guess that’s the main message and the aspiration also of Super One.

Your first album debuted at No. 1 on the Stateside Billboard 100 chart, so expectations must be high for this album. What sort of response are you hoping for now that Super One is going to be heard by the world?

Lucas: I just hope that, throughout this whole worldwide pandemic situation that we’re all going through, listeners and fans will receive strength and hope through our music.

Why is "One" the perfect single for SuperM to release Super One through, following the earlier releases of "100" and "Tiger Inside"?

Mark: We always thought that having "100" come out first, then "Tiger Inside" leading to "One," that whole picture was a strategy that we thought would be best because we wanted to build up as much anticipation as we can. We wanted to build our fans’ expectations a lot as well. Having "One" come out as the final product was something we knew was right because the song itself has a lot of power in it, it holds a lot of what we can sing and rap about. The potential of the song holds what SuperM can really express. I feel like "One" was one of those tracks we really wanted to explode with. It’s a song that represents the album the best way.

You mentioned that you were sharing a unified picture in releasing these trio of singles one after another. What were you trying to relay through this trilogy?

Mark: I feel like each is great in their own way, but they all are connected as well. They’re all very different. Even if you just see “100” and “Tiger Inside,” the concept, the visuals, the pictures, the sounds, they’re all really, really different. But if you see the whole playlist of the album, they’re actually quite connected because all the songs have one central message on the album. “100,” we really wanted to give our 100% power and energy for fans to receive. “Tiger Inside,” the message was to not hide your power, to not hide the inner wildness you have inside and really release it out. And “One” is to bring all that energy together to overcome something we think we may not be able to but we can if we work together. It’s all about overcoming and collaboratively working together to overcome something we all want.

“One” is a blend of two songs, “Monster” and “Infinity,” how does it feel for you to be blending these songs together?

Ten: I think the concept that we put two songs and mix it together is very new, but also SHINee’s [2012 single] “Sherlock” is a mix of two songs, “Clue & Note.” With this album we think it’s a good idea to put the songs together because both songs, “Monster” and “Infinite” are very strong, they’re both ear-catching. That’s why I think it’s a very good idea to put it together, and I think the fans are going to love the mix too. 

Speaking of… Taemin, firstly, congratulations on the release of your new album Never Gonna Dance Again!

Taemin: Thank you!

You’ve done this blending of songs into a single before as SHINee. How does it feel revisiting this creative style again with SuperM?

Taemin: I personally think that this is one of K-pop’s biggest strengths, the fact that there are so many different styles of music and genres that can be mixed into one song and they’re all so catchy. Since we [already] did this with “Clue” and “Note,” it was really cool for me to see that creative process happen again. If you think of K-pop in general, it includes so many different styles of music. Even in one song, you’ll see multiple genres, multiple drops, multiple tempos, key changes, etc. I actually heard that when the producing team was making this song, it was really hard to make it sound really seamless and natural, making sure the key and tempo and everything matched when they mixed these two songs. But I personally think it was really fun to see this all come together and happen. Seeing a more creative and fun kind of music production process is always what makes K-pop new and exciting all the time.

The album is bilingual, and split pretty evenly between English and Korean tracks. How do you feel about showing this duality? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s ever been done before in K-pop, splitting an album with different language tracks quite in this way.

Taeyong: When I’m recording [in English], it’s very fun but it’s like English studying, a little bit. It’s because English pronunciation is important. I think our fans like our English songs a lot. They and our Korean songs are really good. They’re really dope. Really a bop. 

Several songs, like “Better Days” and “Together at Home” seem inspired especially by the global corona pandemic. Why was it important to you to share these sorts of songs with listeners?

Mark: We structured the entire album to appropriately fit what’s going on in the world right now. So that’s why we thought of this entire message. “Together at Home” and “Better Days” are the songs that really represent that feature the most in a way. Taeyong and I actually wrote some of the lyrics for “Together at Home.” When we received the message of the song for us to get the inspiration, they were talking about how we can talk about the Beyond Live [concert platform] that we used. We could think of that as a way for us to get inspired so we can think of ways to write about ways we could reach our fans at this time. So we actually wrote stuff about that on the song. We really wanted to put that in there. That’s why if you see the lyrics, we’re talking about how we’re always indoors but still kind of connected in a virtual kind of way, however we can [be]. Stuff like that really fits what’s going on right now, so we hope the fans can relate.

Is there a song that any members feel particular fondness for?

All: “Wish You Were Here!” [Members sing.]

Mark: I guess we all like “Wish You Were Here” the most. [Laughs.]

Lucas: Yeah!

Mark: It’s so catchy. It’s easy to listen to and so catchy. That’s why I like it.

Kai: I like the chorus. It’s very bright so I can get uplifted by it. I think it suits the album a lot.

Taemin: It would be great to hear fans’ covers of that song. I think it’s a song people will want to cover, and it’d be cool to collab with someone on it as well.

You’ve been together as SuperM for a while now, but who surprised or impressed you while recording and preparing this album?

Mark: We’ve been together quite a while now and, more than discover an aspect we haven’t seen of each other before, it’s more like, "Wow." For example, I knew Baekhyun was good at singing, but like… It still surprises me to this day, if you know what I mean? There’s stuff like that. Something that I didn’t know was that Baekhyun is good at art.

Baekhyun: We were together, and when we were in LA living together, from the beginning [as SuperM]. As time passes, we feel more like family and I feel every one of us is growing more into our roles as individual members of the group.

Were there any memorable moments from the creation process of this album?

Baekhyun: We actually shot a reality show together. Obviously, the album production process itself is always memorable, but in addition to what we’ve always done – preparing for performances, practicing together, recording the songs, etc. – outside of that, we had a chance to be a part of these shows that will air soon. These shows were where we got to spend a lot more time together, and we could showcase our chemistry to our fans and viewers. Those memories were really fun because we got to travel and do stuff together.

Transportation and speed have been themes that carried throughout your songs and music videos, where you regularly are seen traveling in different types of vehicles, whether it’s space ships or helicopters. At a time when people aren’t able to travel, what do you feel this represents?

Kai: If you look at our past music videos there are motorcycles, there are tanks, there are a lot of cars, and I think that goes well with SuperM’s concept as a group. That’s why they were featured in our music videos and past songs. We can’t really travel right now because of the pandemic and everything that’s going on, but we hope that, just like these modes of transportation can take you somewhere, our music and this album can be a mode of transportation that takes you to a place of hope and takes you to that higher place where everyone can enjoy themselves and be happy. 

What are your favorite lyrics on the album?

Mark: For me “Wish You Were Here”’s, “After all these years, I wish you were, wish you were here” is my favorite. Because the melody is really cool.

Taemin: In “So Long,” there’s a chorus where Mark sings “차가운 표정으로 맞이하는 절정 (An ending with the coldest face*)” I like that part. It’s really addictive, that part in particular.

Mark: I don’t know if he’s teasing me. [Laughs.]

You’re all part of different groups under SM, so what do you think makes Super One a distinctly SuperM album?

Taemin: If you listen to our first mini album, there were songs that were like unit tracks. It wasn’t every member on the album on every track. This album is different because every member participated in all of the tracks, and I think that it’s distinctly SuperM just because we were kind of able to create this album with one unified messaging. There’s so many types of songs, types of genre, on the album, but I think we tried really hard to unify the messaging through the lyrics and through that bring a message of hope and unity to our fans and everyone who listens to it. I think that makes it distinctly SuperM.

What are your goals for the rest of 2020? What do you hope to achieve with this album?

Lucas: The biggest goal that we want is we really want to be able to meet our fans if possible in 2020, because we miss them so much. If that can’t happen, another goal that we have is that through the Super One album we bring a lot of strength and hope to anyone who listens to it.

Ten: We might have more online events, like Vlive [livestreams] or Beyond Live [concerts]. Maybe those kinds of things can happen. We’re still thinking of ways to get close to fans even though everything is far apart nowadays. We’re going to find all our fans. So don’t be sad, don’t worry, just have fun. Hope you guys stay strong during this period. We’re going to do our best to meet you guys.

Baekhyun: That’s right.

*Translation provided by SM Entertainment.

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Cross-Pacific Pop: Album Sales Boom For Asian Breakout Solo Artists

Lay

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Cross-Pacific Pop: Album Sales Boom For Asian Breakout Solo Artists

Asian solo projects help redefine bandmembers, such as Lay Zhang, with music that is reaching American album-buyers in a big way

GRAMMYs/Oct 31, 2018 - 04:46 am

We called Lay Zhang a musical diplomat when he was named promotion ambassador for GRAMMY Festival China last April. A Chinese founding member of the Korean-market boy band EXO, Lay's Oct. 19 release, Namanana: 03, has entered new territory for any Mandarin-pop album.

Lay debuted at No. 21 on the Billboard 200 with 23,000 traditional album sales boosted by another 1,000 equivalents from streaming and other digital. The album's 22 tracks are half in Mandarin Chinese and half in English, recreating each of the 11 songs as bilingual.

This success shows that K-pop helps put artists on blast but U.S. album buyers are developing an appetite to go beyond the superficial frame of boy band marketing and fame, also known as "idol groups" in Korea.

The K-pop solo mixtape Hope World by J-Hope from BTS debuted at No. 63 last March on the Billboard 200 and rose from there to No. 38, making him the best-selling K-pop solo artist earlier this year, and Lay's No. 21 is more properly M-pop because of its Mandarin Chinese. That's despite Lay's K-pop roots in EXO.

But meanwhile on Tuesday Oct. 23, J-Hope's BTS bandmate RM delivered a mixtape of his own, titled Mono. With just three days of sales, it debuted at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 for Nov. 3. Traditional album sales were 16,000 plus 5,000 equivalents. Some tracks recall Brian Eno's solo albums, and its subdued and enveloping emotion allows RM's poetics and raps to reach out in a different way. As usual with RM, the word play in English is unexpected and the raps artistic, while his use of Korean, English, or Korean-English together goes wherever he decides to take it.

Terms like "K-pop" or "M-pop" can seem belittling marketing categories, like the term "boy band" or "idol group," but they are useful buckets to compare sales quantities. In general, cross-Pacific pop has had its best album-sales week ever in the U.S. for solo artists, and some tracks even have a Latin feel. However big this new listening culture might grow, it's attracting commercial attention and cash. That's a good sign for any artist who wants to write future chapters in this suspenseful series.

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Lay Zhang's Music Diplomacy: From EXO To GRAMMY Festival China

Lay Zhang

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Lay Zhang's Music Diplomacy: From EXO To GRAMMY Festival China

The multi-talented star lends his unique voice to raise awareness as Promotion Ambassador for the inaugural festival on April 30 in Beijing

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2018 - 01:00 am

Lay Zhang's many talents — which include the ability to speak Chinese, English and Korean, and years of artistry as the main dancer for EXO — add up to a unique combination he's putting to work to raise awareness for GRAMMY Festival China, coming up on April 30 in Beijing. As Promotion Ambassador for the festival, Lay will stand alongside Bravo Entertainment, China Music Vision and the Recording Academy to bring the exciting event to fruition in its inaugural year.

In addition to his role in the South Korean-Chinese boy group EXO, Lay is an actor, composer, record producer, songwriter, and author of Standing Firm At 24. Through all of his work, he has demonstrated that love is the center that motivates his personal drive.

Speaking to his solo composition "I Need You" during a Billboard interview, Lay said love "can sometimes be like a habit, but also refreshing and touching. I believe that love, from what I have felt, is being able to do even the smallest of things for your loved one thousands, if not tens of thousands, of times."

As Promotion Ambassador, Lay will lend his positive message of love to GRAMMY Festival China's multicultural footprint.

"This amazing event will be a real celebration of music and live performance," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy, "and a unique opportunity to embrace the integration of many cultures. I sincerely hope more and more music lovers in China enjoy the GRAMMYs, and share the excellence and happiness that music brings."

The debut GRAMMY Festival China will feature GRAMMY winners Daya and Macy Gray; GRAMMY nominees James Bay, Carly Rae Jepsen and OneRepublic; and GRAMMY winners Phoenix and Pharrell Williams. Chinese artists Williams Chan and Nicolas Tse also join the lineup. 

Tickets are available for purchase now at www.damai.cn.

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5 Takeaways From 'TLC Forever': Left-Eye's Misunderstood Reputation, Chilli's Motherhood Revelation, T-Boz's Health Struggles & More
TLC (L-R: T-Boz, Left Eye and Chili) in 1999.

Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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5 Takeaways From 'TLC Forever': Left-Eye's Misunderstood Reputation, Chilli's Motherhood Revelation, T-Boz's Health Struggles & More

A&E/Lifetime's latest documentary, 'TLC Forever,' features never-before-seen footage and untold stories of the group's iconic legacy, from their tribulations to their triumphs.

GRAMMYs/Jun 2, 2023 - 07:49 pm

When Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes, and Rozanda "Chilli" Thomas joined forces as TLC, the landscape of girl groups changed forever.

During their exhilarating run, TLC smashed records, set new style trends, and shined a light on important issues like HIV/AIDS and body image. Their unique sound and willingness to take risks helped solidify their status as one of the best-selling female groups of all time. And now, their legacy is immortalized on film.

TLC Forever, a new documentary premiering on A&E/Lifetime on June 3, dives into the drastic highs and lows of the trio's 30-year career. Amid their many incredible achievements, there was also a lot of struggle, including bankruptcy, headline-making brawls, and tragedy. As Watkins jokingly declared at the 1996 GRAMMYs, "TLC will leave this business being remembered for a lot of things."

The nearly 120-minute film follows the iconic musical trio from their first meeting to Lopes' untimely death in 2002, and follows Watkins and Thomas as they prepare to perform at the 2022 Glastonbury Festival. It will be particularly special to fans, as the doc sees Watkins and Thomas watch the rare footage with longtime manager Bill Diggins in real time. 

Whether you're familiar with TLC's story or are eager to learn more, TLC Forever is worth the watch. Below, take a look at five key takeaways from the documentary.

Left-Eye's Infamous Mansion Torching Was Misconstrued By The Media

In the spring of 1994 — a mere five months before TLC's best-selling CrazySexyCool dropped — Lopes sought revenge on her then-boyfriend, former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Andre Rison. After she allegedly caught him cheating, Lopes set a pair of his sneakers on fire in a bathtub in his two-story mansion, which subsequently spread to the rest of the home. 

Charged with felony arson, placed on a five-year probation, and sentenced to a $10,000 fine, the then 23-year-old rapper was never quite able to shake her "crazy" reputation brought on by the incident. However, TLC Forever uncovers details that give her actions more context. 

In the doc, Thomas describes Lopes and Rison's relationship as "toxic," before adding that "it was always something going on." Months after they started dating, Lopes and Rison got into a heated argument in a grocery parking lot, where Rison allegedly assaulted her and fired a warning shot to stop bystanders from getting involved. 

"I felt so bad for her, because when I walked in the room, I just remember the look on her face," Watkins says in the film, referring to the house fire. "Her nails were popped off, she was scratched up, bruised up and bleeding, and the whole world was looking at her like, 'What did you do?' And everybody didn't respond like they should've."

As many fans know, Lopes had protested CrazySexyCool's lead single "Creep," due to its lyrics promoting infidelity (especially amid the ongoing AIDS epidemic, which claimed nearly 42,000 lives in the U.S. alone that same year). Plus, the chart-topper went against what TLC had been known for: wearing condoms on baggy clothes as a way of advocating for safe sex. 

Though the song was actually inspired by Watkins' own relationship woes, Lopes feared that Rison would think she was cheating on him, possibly triggering more alleged abuse within their tumultuous relationship. So, for the remix, she wrote a verse warning listeners of the consequences of creeping: "Creepin' may cause hysterical behavior in the mind/ Put your life into a bind and in time/ Make you victim to a passionate crime," she raps.

Chilli Re-Evaluated Her Relationship With Dallas Austin After Becoming A Mom

Early in Thomas' longtime romance with LaFace producer Dallas Austin, she became pregnant ahead of the trio's debut album, Ooooooohhh... On the TLC Tip, which jeopardized her future with the group. Not receiving much support from Austin and fearing then-manager Perri "Pebbles" Reid would find out, Thomas reluctantly had an abortion at the age of 20, calling it a "horrible experience" in the documentary. 

"After that, I probably experienced some kind of breakdown. I couldn't forgive myself," she says. "I just felt this tremendous guilt for what I had done, and that guilt not being properly dealt with is what made me latch on more to Dallas."

In 1997, Thomas and Austin had a son named Tron, which acted in many ways as closure for the singer. "Once I had Tron, it really put the relationship I had with Dallas into perspective. It was clear that wasn't a functioning, healthy, loving relationship," she admits. They went their separate ways a couple years later, still working together creatively and co-parenting their son, who is now 26.

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Left-Eye's Absence On FanMail Was Partly Due To Her Beginning A Spiritual Journey

Despite CrazySexyCool selling 15 million copies worldwide, spawning two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and winning two GRAMMYs, TLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995 before going on a five-year hiatus that was prolonged by tension within the group. In the months leading up to TLC's third studio effort, FanMail — whose title was coined by Lopes and dedicated to the fans — Lopes expressed her dissatisfaction with the project after a handful of her songs were rejected by Dallas Austin. 

"I cannot stand 100 percent behind this TLC project and the music that is supposed to represent me," Lopes famously said in a 1999 interview with Vibe, which fueled rumors of a breakup. "This will be my last interview until I can speak freely about the truth and present myself on my solo project."

Around the same time, Lopes challenged Watkins and Thomas to record solo albums and offered a $1.5 million prize for whichever member sold the most copies. Lopes' raps can only be heard on three of FanMail's 17 tracks — and while a lot of her absence was certainly due to internal conflict, Watkins and Thomas confirmed that where Lopes was creatively "just didn't match" with what Austin was producing. At the time of Lopes' passing, she was on a 30-day spiritual retreat in Honduras, parts of which were recorded and released as 2007's posthumous documentary The Last Days of Left Eye.

T-Boz Struggled With Depression After Brain Tumor Diagnosis

In 2006, Watkins privately battled an acoustic neuroma, a potentially fatal brain tumor that sat on her facial, hearing and balance nerves. The then 36-year-old underwent surgery to remove the tumor, a risk exacerbated by her ongoing complications from sickle cell anemia since childhood. 

"[The doctor] said in case something goes wrong and I can't save either your hearing or your face or your balance, give me the order that you want to save yourself," she said in the doc. "This industry is about your face, your voice, your dancing — that's my whole job. So, they took my balance, I saved my face for the most part, [and] I only lost three percent [of my hearing] at the time."

Watkins added that she felt depressed and unattractive for many years after the surgery, until her mother changed her perspective. "I remember looking in the mirror one day and I started crying, and my mom said, 'No.' She said, 'Look, this is just your journey back to normal. This is not how you're gonna stay, this is not how you're gonna be. This is only your journey back to how you started,'" she recalled. "I said, 'Yeah, okay, if I look at it that way, then all I gotta do is survive this and get through it and I can be cool. And then the fight kicks in that I'm living, I'm going to survive this, I'm going to beat this."

Now 53, Watkins is still going strong. However, the film gives viewers a deeper look into just how much preparation is required for her to be able to perform without compromising her health. Before and after hitting the stage, Watkins must receive enough fluids and oxygen to keep inflammation at a minimum.

T-Boz & Chilli Were Faced With An Ultimatum Right After Left-Eye's Death

Watkins and Thomas discuss the immense amount of pressure they faced from their label to move forward without Lopes, who tragically passed away at 30 years old in a car accident during her Honduras trip. "After Lisa passed, the record company said they were gonna put out a greatest hits [album] if we didn't finish [3D], so we kinda felt forced to go back into the studio," Watkins said in TLC Forever. "We were given an ultimatum." Thomas added, "We had tunnel vision, let's just finish it."

Despite going platinum, 3D was seen as a commercial failure by TLC's standards, selling fewer than 700,000 copies and its lead single, "Girl Talk," peaking at No. 28 on the Hot 100. Following their first live performance without Lopes at Z100's annual Zootopia concert in 2003, the music industry seemingly wrote them off — but Thomas said she never felt it was truly over. It wasn't until their VH1 Super Bowl Blitz concert in 2014 that promoters started reaching out, which eventually led to the biggest performance of their extraordinary career: taking the stage at Glastonbury last year.

"The greatest reward is when you don't have the No. 1 song anymore and you're able to sell out your tours," Thomas says as the film wraps. "That means you have a great body of work that can stand the test of time, and time has told us that we did good. We did alright."

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