The camera loves Chilli but does she love the camera? The singer from R&B supergroup TLC has been creeping to the top of the charts for two decades, but the fame and media attention that come with success haven’t always been easy to deal with. We chatted about using the media to your advantage, pushy paparazzi and how much everything has changed since Chilli and her cohorts first hit big “on the TLC tip”.
When you were an aspiring performer, how did you try to get some buzz and make a name for yourself in order to get that next level?
Chilli: I was in school and this guy told me about a group that LaFace Records had and they were looking for a dancer. He didn’t know I could sing. He knew I could dance. Long story short, I auditioned and they picked me to be a dancer. I remember Babyface and L.A. [Reid] had come by rehearsals and I just walked up to them and said, “I can sing. Do you want to hear me sing?” I started singing and he went back and told his wife, Pebbles. It was just perfect timing because Tionne and Lisa were looking for a third [TLC] member at that time. I met them the following week and I was in the group that night. The rest is history.
It’s interesting because so much had to fall into place for you to get that opportunity. You had to be in the right place at the right time, and you needed to have the skills to be ready to perform when that opportunity came up. It’s very different than today, where you can essentially create your own buzz by developing a following on social media from your own bedroom, regardless of actual talent. Which time period do you think is better for the music industry?
Chilli: I kind of think it was better when you had to jump through the hoops, simply because I think real talent got through those hoops. Today, because it’s so easy to put yourself out there, a lot of people just want to do it because it’s a fad kind of thing. It’s easier for them. You don’t have to have that same grind, and back even before I became an artist, people really had to work hard to do that—if it was truly your passion. You see what I’m saying? The work ethic of it all is different, and it’s much easier now…you can get on social media by doing anything, and it can go viral real fast.
It doesn’t even mean that you’re talented or it’s the best song. It’s just what today’s times are and I don’t know if it’ll always stay that way. I hope it goes back [to how it was] even though you can find people a lot easier through social media. I hope that people start really looking for true talent.
Thinking back to TLC’s heyday in the ‘90s, how would your lives have been different if social media existed back then?
Chilli: I know for a fact that my group member Lisa would have been the queen of social media. She [would’ve] loved that kind of stuff, where I’m the complete opposite. I refuse to do Snapchat, I’m not getting it, and I kind of like having mystery. Before, you could have the mystery of a celeb. You didn’t know too much. You only knew what they put out there as far as their work, their gift, and that’s it. Now, the personal stuff outshines what they’re really known for. Me personally, I don’t really like that.
I’ve always wondered if the overall accessibility of stars through social media has negatively impacted their live concert business for the same reasons you just mentioned. It just doesn’t feel as exciting to see someone live if you can just watch them in five up-close videos a day.
Chilli: That’s kind of tricky, because when I think about Beyoncé…She has an Instagram account and posts pictures, but she follows absolutely no one. She doesn’t interact with fans on Instagram. She’s just sharing pictures, or somebody in her camp or whoever’s running it is. She’s not that open with everybody. I think that’s great. Maybe that does have a purpose. Then you have someone like Rihanna who is very much involved and interacts with her fans on Twitter and social media, and I think that she still does well.
Me personally, I think it’s great for people to know what’s necessary if you decide to be in this business. Obviously, I’m going to post things about what’s happening, upcoming stuff that’s going on with TLC, or whatever I have going on outside of that, but to just have a Snapchat where I’m sitting in my bedroom and I’m talking to people, I’m in the tub, I’m washing my face…I think it’s too much and it can either make people more excited about you or more obsessive, or in some cases it could be the total opposite. I don’t care about whether it’s a good thing, because I’m just not comfortable doing that. I don’t like it.
Another aspect of the media that has allowed for a lot more exposure over the years is the paparazzi themselves. Do you think that reporters and photographers have gotten more aggressive over the years as video footage has become more in demand?
Chilli: Oh yeah. They definitely changed…they’re so rude. It’s not cool at all and because of everybody’s phone camera, anybody can be the paparazzi. I’ve gone on Twitter and I’ve seen a picture of me walking through the airport, or some random picture and the person’s like, “Oh my God. I just saw Chilli.” They just take a picture, and it lets people know where you are. It’s just crazy to me even when people do that.
I remember sitting on the plane in my seat and people are getting on and then someone spotted me and had their phone. I just covered up my face, because you’re not asking. For me, if you ask the only time I say no is if I’m eating, or if I just finished working out or I really have to just run to the store. I’m still very nice about the whole situation, but just recording somebody or just randomly snapping a picture without their knowledge is so rude to me.
Do you think those rules of etiquette have gotten more relaxed because so much of the entertainment industry invites that sort of attention?
Chilli: Oh, yes! Oh, absolutely. I’m kind of a minority when it comes to the way I think about it, because a lot of celebrities do. Some of them even have their publicist let paparazzi know where they’re going to be. It’s funny to me how sometimes you go into the grocery store and you’re extra glammed up. Really? Going to the grocery store? Okay. It’s funny that some people are really into it. They love it. To your point, yes. I think that’s why they act more aggressive, because a lot of entertainers invite that with open arms.
Going back to social media, we’ve established that you definitely have your limits but do stay active. Within your comfort zone, do you still find that it’s been an effective way for you to stay in touch with your fans?
Chilli: Oh, yeah. I definitely think that some interaction is really good. I don’t want to say I don’t interact at all with my fans. I think it’s really cool because… shoot, if Michael Jackson was still alive and he was on Twitter, I would hope to goodness that he would reply to one of my tweets. It makes you feel special as a fan when someone you admire so much interacts with you.
Again, there’s a line there. People already feel me from the music anyway, but I really enjoy interacting with the fans and mainly talking about my other passion, which is health and taking care of your body.