The unexpected message in TLC’s Waterfalls

“Artists like TLC were using their platform to reach people in ways that even governments and politicians weren’t doing,” adds Andie Dyer, production manager at Terrence Higgins Trust. “The thing about empowering young women to carry condoms as well, to look after themselves – it’s amazing. I remember TLC’s Waterfalls video was on constant rotation on MTV. The video was so clever with its technology, but the actual story that it showed was like – wow. It was one of the first music videos to have a social narrative to it, very progressive. That’s quite commonplace now, but it was novel at the time.”

Waterfalls has inspired various cover versions from acts as disparate as Bette Midler, Death Cab for Cutie, and the celebrity judges of US TV competition The Voice, though the original remains inimitable and distinctly personal. “TLC were able to stay cutting-edge and fresh both sonically, and also through their messaging and style,” says Kay. “They never seem dated. TLC keep holding us to account and hopefully pushing those boundaries forward.”

Both Watkins and Thomas have continued to advocate for education around HIV and Aids, including via their spokesperson roles for the US initiative Dialogues, a programme that empowers patients with HIV information and self-care tools. As Watkins told The Guardian in 2018: “If I believe in something and want to talk about it, then that’s what we’re doing. I’m just so happy that we were able to succeed in what we set out to do – make a difference.”

The Lisa Lopes foundation, established shortly after Lopes’s death, still focuses on supporting disadvantaged youth. Her unforgettable lyrics for Waterfalls are devastatingly poetic, but also resound with a true love of life: “Dreams are hopeless aspirations, in hopes of coming true/ Believe in yourself, the rest is up to me and you.” That sense stays with us in TLC Forever, where we hear Lopes relating her journey from probation therapy to the studio where TLC were recording Waterfalls:  “On the way, I was admiring the streets, the buildings, the trees, the sky, and I looked up and there was this rainbow. I just started reflecting on my life as if it was a storm… I wrote that song from my heart.”

TLC Forever is touring film festivals, and is available to stream online.

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