News came this week that TLC plans on touring again. Yes, even the "L." In our post-Coachella hologram world, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes will be joining the tour through use of video projections, announced exactly ten years after her death in 2002. Cue heavy, sad sigh.
I remember MTV News sharing the sad update about Lopes' death, just eight months after we had lost another beloved 90's R&B singer, Aaliyah. It felt like too much to lose both of them. It may not have been capital A art to all music critics, but I was deflated. I had spent much of the '90s in their spirited company. Lopes' death signaled the end of a moment for urban female musicians that was probably inevitable, but certainly came in the wake of her death.
It had been a good run, but by '02 groups like Xscape and En Vogue had already slowed down their performing; considerable talents like Zhane and Groove Theory's Amel Larrieux seemed to never achieve their full potential. Newer, younger girls with blonder hair and mixed messages were starting to dominate the conversation, as room was made for Britney and Christina and that '90s R&B aesthetic gave way to something more pop-oriented. It was a new decade; we had lost a lot from the '90s, and a new moment emerged.
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But here we are again, picking up this conversation, after the literal death of a cultural moment nearly a decade past. Certainly, cycles are nothing new and we've seen '90s production trends referenced by artists like Rye Rye and festival favorite Dominique Swain. Musicians like Drake and The Weeknd make no secret of the influence that Aaliyah and her drippy Timbaland-produced tracks had on them.
Interestingly, Robyn is an artist who had success in the era and still borrows from the aesthetic in her current work. SWV's new album sounds like it was produced in 1997 and I say that as a compliment. I wonder, though, if now it won't be enough to simply seek the influence of those who came before us in a sample, or a reference, or even a "true" reunion tour. What is the cost of sending the trendsetters out on tour no matter how the cards have fallen?
The possibility of digital rebirths give fans something new to wrestle with. Do you even want to see it? Do you want it to come full circle? As a teenager I memorized every Left Eye verse. Her quick and witty delivery brought something fresh to the female rap game, which, at that point, was a little oversexed. She was confrontational, but she was funny. If you think there is no power in a teenage girl repeating, "So I choose to explain it's evident, Left Eye don't mean the rest of my body is irrelevant," in her car, you are wrong. Admittedly, some part of me was thrilled at the chance to relive it again.
Still, Left Eye was the "crazy" in TLC's CrazySexyCool motto. To project her digitally is to make her predictable and safe. The excitement of the live performance is the danger, and danger lives squarely in the soul. Where, in the inevitable hologram of your favorite late artist, lies the soul?