Condoms as fashion accessories?
"It's our fashion statement," jokes Left Eye (real name: Lisa Lopes) of TLC, the Atlanta-based rap/R&B vocal trio that's zoomed into the pop Top 10 with the racy, controversial single "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg." The group is known for wearing condoms pinned to trademark baggy, psychedelic-colored outfits.
"By making it a fashion statement we're doing something more important--making a social statement," says Lopes, who works with T-Boz (Tionne Watkins) and Chilli (Rozonda Thomas)--the initials of their nicknames making up TLC.
"Kids listen to performers and we have a duty to give them certain critical information. We wanted something eye-catching, so when kids see the condoms, they ask why do we wear condoms and talk about condoms? That brings up the issue of safe sex. The point is to make condoms something kids aren't afraid of or ashamed of."
Other songs on the group's debut album, "Oooooohhhh . . . on the TLC Tip" (LaFace/Arista), are similarly risque, shrewdly blending hip-hop beats with adult street humor. But most of it, produced and written by a team that includes Dallas Austin, L.A. Reid and Babyface, isn't raunch for raunch's sake.
Mixed in with the racy rhymes are some messages geared to ending stereotypes. "We're not hard-core feminists," insists Lopes. "We like men and we like to have fun with them. But we also want men to think about females in different ways."
But getting some of the messages across hasn't always been easy. TLC, which is managed by singer Pebbles, has performed on Arsenio Hall's TV show wearing the condoms and singing "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg." But they say some other TV shows won't book them unless they eliminate the condoms and clean up the lyrics.
TLC decided to skip the shows, says Lopes, who worries that the group's stance may scare off potential tour sponsors.
"We'll have to deal with that when it comes up," Lopes says, hinting that compromise is possible. "We might do something like having a table to pass out condoms to the kids. But regarding the safe sex issue, we'll do something ."