TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’ Was a Tribute to Victims of the AIDS Epidemic — and a Desperate Plea

The group TLC is one of the bestselling American girl groups of all time. They rose to fame in the ’90s, with tunes such as “No Scrubs” and “Creep,” and to this day, they are still making music and appealing to listeners all around the world. TLC has gone through several changes to the group’s lineup over the years, and there has been a lot of drama associated with some of these changes — still, fans have been able to overlook the celebrity-focused headlines and focus on the music. TLC’s biggest hit is the song “Waterfalls,” a lush, dreamlike pop tune that was released on the album CrazySexyCool. While the song itself sounded upbeat and positive, the story behind the song is intense, meaningful, and fascinating. 

TLC in front of a tie dye backdrop
TLC | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

TLC is an iconic girl group

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According to All Music, TLC first formed in 1990, with a lineup consisting of original members Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes. The two women wrote and performed together for around a year before adding a third member to TLC, Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas. The addition of the third member to the group was the necessary boost that TLC needed to take things to the next level, and in short order, their songs started charting.

Over the years that followed, TLC received a slew of awards and honors, even becoming the first R&B group in history to receive the Million certification from the Recording Industry Association of Japan. TLC has won four career Grammy Awards and five MTV Video Music Awards. More notable than the group’s awards, even, is the impact that their songs have had on pop culture. 

TLC is best known for their song ‘Waterfalls’

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The TLC tune “Waterfalls” was released in 1994, with the group’s bestselling album CrazySexyCool. Not only did the album become a smash hit, but the song “Waterfalls” instantly became a massive success, going to number one on the charts. As fun and pop-sounding as the song is, however, it actually had a deeper meaning that few fans know about.

According to MTV, the song is about the generational trauma that was running rampant in the early ’90s, from the AIDS crisis to the problem of drug addiction in urban neighborhoods. The song uses rosy imagery, but many of the lyrics are an open plea to young listeners to try to stay safe by practicing safe sex and steering clear of dangerous situations. 

What do members of TLC have to say about the song ‘Waterfalls’?

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Years later, the members of TLC opened up about the song’s message and why “Waterfalls” became such a big hit. As Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas revealed in an interview with The Guardian, “we wanted to make a song with a strong message – about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd. The messages in Waterfalls hit home. I think that’s why it’s our biggest hit to date.”

Thomas said that the song helped solidify TLC’s status as music icons, saying “the song made us much more relevant – not just a fun girl group. We were bringing awareness to subjects people were nervous talking about. It was groundbreaking for us: from then on, we were seen as the real deal.” Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins stated that “I wanted Waterfalls to be our version of alternative music. When I heard an early version, I thought: “My god, this is perfect …That song still has meaning 25 years on.”