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Episode 257: TLC – The Biggest Girl Band in American History

“Life is tough…and it’s also miraculous.”

T-Boz and TLC sold 70 million albums, becoming the bestselling girl band ever in America.

Along the way they declared bankruptcy, she battled sickle-cell anemia, the death of one of their bandmates and best friends, a brain tumor, everything.

She’s 47 today and beat two life sentences the doctors declared on her.

People say, “Well, she sold 70 million albums! That’s success!”

When you do your absolute best today, even though you know tomorrow everything can change – that’s success.

I had T-Boz on the podcast to celebrate the release of her new memoir, “A Sick Life” which I highly recommend.


TLC sold 70 million albums and is the #1 selling girl band in America.

But to stay creative, T-Boz and her bandmates, Left-eye, and Chili had to constantly develop music that stayed fresh and relevant. 15 years after they started, they released their 5th album


I always say “Reinvention is every day” ever since my book, “Reinvent Yourself” came out.

But I’ll be honest, just as hard is remembering every day that “reinvention every day”.

The straight and narrow and supposedly easy path is constantly whispering to me to follow it.

But don’t.


Other groups were R&B, other groups were rap, other groups were funk.

How do you be the best?

T-Boz (funk) + Left-Eye (Rap) + Chili (R&B) = TLC = 70 million albums


Sickle-cell anemia is debilitating. You’re not supposed to live. The blood cells don’t want to deliver oxygen to the rest of your body. The pain is incredible.

T-Boz’s brain tumor took three years to recover from. The death of her best friend and band-mate took 2 years to recover from.

Going bankrupt after selling tens of millions of albums forced her to start from scratch.

Reinventing in a constantly changing music business is the downfall of many artists. For their last album, TLC even used Kickstarted to fund it as opposed to a record label.

Success is about reinvention and persistent every day.


A lot of creatives don’t want to read the contracts or fine print. TLC didn’t read it as well and ended up making almost no money on their first 30 million albums.

At one point they even held up music legend, Clive Davis, at gun point, asking, “Where’s our money”.

They went bankrupt and had to start from scratch.

Don’t outsource your financial well-being and the security of your family to others.


No matter who you are, life is going to happen. “Life is tough”. T-Boz had painful sickle-cell anemia since birth and often had to be hospitalized mid-album, mid-tour, mid-whatever.

“When I was seven they told me I wouldn’t live past 30. I’m 47 now.”

“They told me I couldn’t have kids. I have two now.”

“When they did brain surgery, they told me I might never sing again. I’m on tour now with our latest album.”

Then she lost her best friend and band-mate, Left-eye, to a car crash. She was depressed for two years.

Then she had a brain tumor that required surgery and three years of physical therapy to recover from.

“I still can’t whistle,” she told me.

“Try,” I said. So she did. She couldn’t whistle. “I can’t move the muscles on the left side of my mouth.”

But throughout the podcast she laughed. “And I’m going back on tour tomorrow.”


T-Boz has written songs, performed them, did the choreography for TLC’s videos, conceived of the videos, written a book of poems, written movies, and now this memoir.

People sometimes say, “I can’t be creative”. Or, “I don’t have the talent”. Or “I can do X, but not Y”.

Not true. Creativity is a muscle. Find some small way to be creative every day and the muscle gets developed. For me, today is the first day I’m going to try to do standup in the same day at two different clubs. I’m scared.

Find one thing scary and challenging and creative every day.

What happens then? Everything.


A lot of pop music today is created by people who have reverse engineered “the hit”. There’s even a book about it, “The Hit Factory”, about a group of kids in Sweden who have basically written most hits you’ve heard in the past year.

But the key to TLC’s success was that they were always writing the songs that were important to them:

“Unpretty” – about staying true to your looks and not trying to change them to fit another person’s desires. “Waterfalls” – about staying true to your dreams but not caving in to the shortcuts that destroy many lives. Hit after hit.

“That’s the point of being an artist, right? You feel something and you have to get it out.”

List today what your real values are. What do you believe in? What’s important to you? What’s scary to you?

It’s a hard process to figure out who you are and what you stand for. But this unlocks the creative well and supercharges all of your relationships.

Honesty with others begins with honesty to yourself.


The best way to live a full life tomorrow is to live the fullest life you can today.


“Life is tough. And for many years I’ve felt like I’ve worked to get sick and worked to get better, just to get sick again. I’m learning to find a balance and just live. You lose people and you fall ill and bad things can happen.

“But it’s also really miraculous. You can have babies you were told you’d never have. You can bring joy to millions of people with your music. You can feel love and happiness and faith.

“You can decide that you’re stronger than any obstacle and you can empower your- self to survive. I know things can get really dark, but you’ll always feel better if you hold on. The light always returns.”

[photo: T-Boz and I don’t always agree on everything. But even arguments can be fun.]