Background and productionEdit
TLC entered recording studios in the spring of 1998 with Dallas Austin to start laying down tracks for their then-untitled third studio album. While Austin contributed to most of the tracks on the album and is even credited for being the album's executive producer, TLC also collaborated with Babyface, L.A. Reid, She'kspere and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. TLC is also shown to be more invovled with co-writing songs for the album, with Lopes and Watkins each having five songwriting credits and Thomas only having one. Tracks were recorded at D.A.R.P. Studios in Atlanta, Georgia from April to December 1998.
The album had a futuristic vibe to it, mixing in elements of electronic music with the group's traditional R&B and hip-hop sound. This style was effectively portrayed in the album's lead single "No Scrubs", along with its music video, which embraces a modern emphasis on female strength and independence. The album also featured a custom front cover art design with decoade-able binary code and pictures of the group members in metallic skin tones. The album's CD insert folds out to a poster of TLC and the names of thousands of people who sent them fanmail throughout their career. A limited edition of the album was also released and had an insert with a lenticular version of the cover placed in front of the original cover in the jewel case.
The album's title is a tribute to TLC's fans after their five year hiatus. The title came from group member Lisa Lopes, who also coined the group's first two album titles Ooooooohhh...On the TLC Tip and CrazySexyCool. There is an explicit version and a clean version of the album, with the latter of the two excluding curse words, some sexual remarks and some racial slurs. The explicit version comes with a Parental Advisory sticker, becoming their first album to do so. FanMail is also the final TLC album to be relased in Lopes' lifetime, before she died three years later.
Reception for the album was generally positive. Rolling Stone magazine declared FanMail "equal parts steely bitch and sweet sister, superfreak and misty romantic, self-centered coffee achiever and spiritualized earth mama."
FanMail became a global success and TLC's second best-selling album, behind 1994's CrazySexyCool. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and spent five non-consecutive weeks at number one. It also debuted at #1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. According to Nielson SoundScan, it sold 4.7 million copies in the United States and it was certified 6x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipments of 6 million copies. Internationally, the album reached the top 20 in New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom.
A total of three official singles were released in support of the album. The album's lead single, "No Scrubs", was released on January 23, 1999 and was the most successful out of all three singles. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became the second biggest single of 1999, coming in at #2 on Billboard's Year-End Hot 100 of 1999 chart. The follow-up to "No Scrubs" was "Unpretty", which also peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, spending three weeks at number one and peaking at #20 on the Year-End Hot 100 of 1999 chart. "Dear Lie" was released as the album's final single and though it managed to enter the top 40 in international music markets, it was widely considered a minor success compared to previous hits "No Scrubs" and "Unpretty", peaking only at #51 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
In addition to the three official singles, three promotional singles were released: "Silly Ho", "I'm Good at Being Bad" and "My Life". "Silly Ho" was released on December 29, 1998. It managed to peak at #21 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart and at #59 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "I'm Good at Being Bad" was released around the same time "No Scrubs" was and managed to peak within the top 40 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. However, My Life failed to chart since it was only released internationally.
FanMail TourEditFrom October 22, 1999 to January 29, 2000, TLC embarked on the FanMail Tour, which visited thirty-two cities in the United States and Canada. During the concert, TLC would perform tracks from their latest album FanMail, as well as tracks from their two previous studio albums, Ooooooohhh...On the TLC Tip and CrazySexyCool. In addition, the concert featured a five-piece band, seven dancers, plenty of futuristic special effects, and a giant-screen android named "Virtual Vic-E". Most dates were sold out and the group even had a PayPerView special of their tour, called TLC: Sold Out, which at the time became PayPerView's highest grossing televised special. The tour wrapped up in their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, the day before the Super Bowl XXXIV took place. Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell gave the group a key to the city and declared January 29 "TLC Day".
- "FanMail" - 4:00
- "The Vic-E Interpretation - Interlude" - 0:18
- "Silly Ho" - 4:15
- "Whispering Playa - Interlude" - 0:52
- "No Scrubs" - 3:34
- "I'm Good at Being Bad" - 5:38 (original explicit version) / 5:25 (clean version) / 4:37 (new explicit version)
- "If They Knew" - 4:04
- "I Miss You So Much" - 4:59
- "Unpretty" - 4:39
- "My Life" - 4:01
- "Shout" - 3:59
- "Come on Down" - 4:18
- "Dear Lie" - 5:12
- "Communication - Interlude" - 0:51
- "Lovesick" - 3:53
- "Automatic" - 4:31
- "Don't Pull Out on Me Yet" - 4:33
- "U in Me" (Japanese bonus track) - 3:50
On initial pressings of the album, "Whispering Playa - Interlude" featured a sample of "Cold Blooded" by Rick James playing in the background. The sample was removed on subsequent editions, likely due to copyright reasons, with the background music being a clip of another TLC song, "U in Me", instead. Initial pressings of the album also featured a sample of Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby" during "I'm Good at Being Bad", but the sample was removed during later pressings of the album with no substitute.
- "It's Alright" - 2:48
- Leaked on a UK radio station in January 2002.
- "I Need That" - 3:52
- Released online by TLC as an exclusive track to MP3.com, a sponsor for their FanMail Tour, that their fans could download. In exchange, MP3.com could donate ten cents to the Sickle Cell Disease Association each time the song was downloaded. Produced by Ricciano Lumpkins for PWPX, LLC. Written by R. Lumpkins, L. Lopes, and S. Chunn. Left Eye's rap was later reused on the track "Whoop-de-woo" from Now and Forever: The Hits.
- "Let's Just Do It" - 4:47
- Recorded by Left Eye featuring T-Boz on backing vocals. Was later remixed and released as the lead single off of Left Eye's 2009 posthumous album Eye Legacy.
- "...Baby One More Time"
- Offered to TLC, but was rejected. Was later given to Britney Spears and the song became the hit single that launched her career.
- "Where My Girls At?"
Another song rejected by TLC, 702 recorded it and it became their biggest hit. Chilli would later comment about it and said she wished they had the song and "it was so TLC."
At the 2000 Grammy Awards, the album received 8 nominations, including one for Album of the Year. The album won three awards. Singer/songwriter Kyla covered "I Miss You So Much" for her sixth album Heartfelt, and Rapper/Singer Drake recorded a cover of the opening track, FanMail, for his song I Get Lonely Too. A remix features Jeremih,while another extended mix and mashup features TLC. The songs are featured on The FanMail Mixtape and It's Never Enough mixtape on DatPiff.com.
- Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins – vocals, lead vocals
- Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes – vocals, rapping
- Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas – vocals, lead vocals
- Dallas Austin – arranger, vocals, producer, executive producer
- Tameka Cottle – arranger, background vocals
- Kandi Burruss – arranger, background vocals
- Babyface – Synclavier, acoustic guitar, guitar, keyboards, producer, drum programming, executive producer
- Jermaine Dupri – producer, mixing
- Debra Killings – background vocals
- Ricciano "Ricco" Lumpkins – producer, engineer, keyboards, Synclavier, drum programming