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TLC: Three to Tangle

Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes fires the latest salvo in the bitter war dividing the girl group.

Is TLC ready for the WWF?

Well, it sure looks like round 2 has begun. In EW's Nov. 5 feature ''Unpretty,'' the chart-topping gal trio showed that they're far from united sisterhood these days. Long-smoldering tensions have flared up and are threatening the stability of TLC's current tour, their first in nearly five years. Group members Rozonda ''Chilli'' Thomas and Tionne ''T-Boz'' Watkins, both 29, took the EW story as an occasion to lash out at their mercurial partner, Lisa ''Left Eye'' Lopes, 28, claiming Lopes is a loose cannon whose erratic behavior is dragging the group down. Among the bombshells they dropped: Lopes quit TLC prior to the recording of FanMail, their multiplatinum album, temporarily freezing the group's finances.

Now Lopes is firing back. On Nov. 11 the singer sent EW a letter characterizing Thomas and Watkins' statements as ''merely shouts from those who only have a fractional understanding of what business is in this business.'' Lopes then went on to make a startling proposition to her fellow band members and TLC's label, LaFace Records. ''I challenge Tionne 'Player' Watkins and Rozonda 'Hater' Thomas to an album entitled The Challenge,'' writes Lopes, ''a 3 CD set [consisting of] three solo albums,'' one from each TLC member. Lopes proposed LaFace offer a $1.5 million prize to the ''winner,'' who would be determined by Billboard.

''I was thinking we could release three singles at once and see whose does the best,'' says Lopes in a subsequent phone interview, ''but I'd have to talk to [LaFace co-owner] L.A. Reid to see what his ideas are.''

While Reid declines to comment, LaFace COO Mark Shimmel isn't completely dismissing the scheme. ''We're always open to new marketing ideas and concepts,'' he says, ''but it's got to be something where everybody sits down and agrees to it, not something that's discussed long distance in the middle of a concert tour.'' For their part, Thomas and Watkins released this statement: ''We think it'd be best to paraphrase the great poet Iyanla Vanzant.... 'At a time when unity is so desperately needed it is significantly lacking.... Unity does not mean we will all believe in or do the same things. It means we will agree to do something without battling over how and why.'''

Though it sounds like her gauntlet won't be picked up, Lopes remains defiant. ''I just want to present the challenge—they don't have to take it,'' says the woman who was once arrested for burning down a boyfriend's house. ''I just want credit for my ideas, because I am the creative force behind TLC.''

How this will affect the tour remains to be seen. Even before the current fireworks, the intra-group tensions were evident in their shows. At various points during their Oct. 31 gig at the Baltimore Arena (for which roughly 3,000 of the venue's 12,500 seats remained empty), Watkins and Thomas high-fived each other while pointedly ignoring Lopes—who, in turn, did her best to avoid all contact with her partners. And during the rendition of ''What About Your Friends,'' Watkins glared at Lopes while singing the lyrics ''What about your friends/Will they stand their ground/Will they let you down again?''

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