Monday, April 11, 2011

Waterfalls by TLC

I was at a Thai restaurant with a groups of friends and someone asked if I knew the song “Creep” by TLC and as we discussed this song and TLC as a group I was reminded how important this group was in the 1990s.

TLC was the closest thing the 1990s got to The Supremes. This was a group of woman who were not afraid to utilize the power of their own sexuality however they also had a conscience. No, they weren’t doing Pete Seeger style protest music but they did music that empowered woman and touched on social issues in their lives. They sang about guys who were “scrubs,” girls who felt “unpretty,” spousal abuse and a disease called AIDs.

There was T-Boz and Chili who sang while Left-Eye provided the rapping. And it was their second album in 1995, which perfectly described the trio Crazy, Sexy, Cool with Left-Eye providing the crazy, Chllli, the sexy and T-Boz the cool. This album was a monster. It become the only album by a female group that sold more than 11 million copies in the United State alone.

While “Creep” the lead single was a great song and the perfect example of a rhythm and blues mid-tempo slow jam, “Waterfalls” really crossed over into mainstream and established TLC as a force in popular culture.

“Waterfalls” juxtaposed a funky and sensual slow-grind beat that is usually used to back up songs about sex (ala the Isley Brothers) against lyrics that discussed the consequences of the choices we make in our lives.

The first verse tells the story of a mother who has lost control of her son. He decides to deal drugs and ends up getting shot in a drug deal gone wrong. TLC comments on the love of the mom but also the thoughtlessness of the son and the tragedy of the situation.  The second verse tells the story of a man who is sexually promiscuous. Because of his choices he contracts AIDs and suffers the consequences as his health fades.

The chorus urges us to not chase “waterfalls,” dreams and passions that aren’t good for us, whether its money or sexual pleasure without thinking of the consequences. TLC says that we are moving too fast in our lives and need to think about the how what we are doing affects the people in our lives.

This is heavy message. “Waterfall” is a song about gang violence and one of the most devastating diseases of our time. The catchy melody takes the intensity of the subject down a notch so that message can come through.

I’m not going to argue that people’s lives have been saved because of this song but I’ll never forget the images in this music video and the Left-Eye looking straight into the camera and rapping “believe in yourself.”

Whether or not TLC had the social impact that they desired is not as important as the fact they tried to truly say something with their music.  It is because they tried that people gravitated to them and for a certain period, they were the biggest group in the world.

They did this not by chasing waterfalls but by sticking to their rivers and lakes: who they truly were on the inside.

1 comment:

  1. The thing I always found kind of crazy about that song back when it was big was that it did focus on some hairy topics with such a mellow beat and the goofy pop radio stations dubbed out "scary" lyrics like "deal drugs"