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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Sex, Drugs, and Bad Decisions, a look into Waterfalls, by TLC

Waterfalls was written and released in 1994, and appeared on TLC’s album CrazySexyCool.  It was written in part by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and sung by the popular R&B/hip-hop group TLC, which Lisa was a part of.  The year after it was released the song won many awards, including: VMA’s Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Best R&B Video, and Viewer’s Choice. (IMDB) Waterfalls conveys a pathos driven message about the use of safe sexual practices, drug use, getting caught up in circumstances, and breaking the cycle to rise above.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic was at a high in 1994 when the song was written. TLC was known for promoting safe sex, even wearing condoms on their clothes.  (Dennis Hunt, Los Angeles Times) In a 1992 MTV interview, the group talks about the importance of safe sex, and the reasoning for using the condoms as a “fashion statement” to reach a younger, teenage crowd. (slimarsh,Youtube) In correlation with the AIDS epidemic, was the drug epidemic. (Jeffrey H. Burack, David Bangsberg) Using the lyrics, “Who’s to blame for shootin caine into your vein,” is a strong way of bringing light to that issue.

“Chasing Waterfalls” refers to acting upon self-destructive behaviors, that can lead to serious harm or death. “Sticking to the Rivers and the Lakes that your used to,” refers to staying safe. A waterfall is used as a metaphor relating it being very swift moving, and ending up at the bottom, to getting caught up in making bad decisions. Once you start down a bad path, you quickly find yourself at the bottom. Lakes and rivers represent serenity and calmness. Strive to make good decisions, and your life will be more peaceful.

In a 1995 MTV interview, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins discusses some of the meaning behind the song, stating that in the first part of the song, it is talking about a young boy who sells drugs. His mother watches him self-destruct, he continues his actions anyways, and ultimately ends up dying. She goes on to describe that in the second part of the song, it is talking about a man who loves sex with a promiscuous female, thinks she is faithful, contracts AIDS, and ends up dying. (CrazySexyCool,Youtube)

This song shines a light on how circumstances of environment can contribute to going down a bad path. “I say the system got you victim to your own mind,” is a way of saying that being stuck in unfortunate circumstances makes you think that you don’t deserve to be better.   The lyrics, “A lonely mother gazing out of her window, staring at a son that she just can’t touch,” along with, “but all the praying just ain’t helping at all, cause he can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble,” shows the connection of  the mother wanting so much for her son to break this cycle, but she just can’t get through to him no matter how hard she tries. The statement, “so he goes out and makes his money the best way he knows how,” is an indication that he is just doing what he knows. He is falling victim to circumstance. “Another body laying cold in the gutter,” is such a powerful way of expressing just how unfortunately common this boy’s story is.

The second part of the song references how hard it can be to change the path of destruction once you’re on it. This is shown with the lyrics “she gives him lovin that his body can’t handle but all he can say is baby it’s good to me.” “He goes and takes a glimpse in the mirror, but he doesn’t recognize his own face,” is a strong way of saying that even with declining health, causing physical changes, he still can’t break this cycle. “Three letters took him to his final resting place.” HIV. This man had unsafe sex, he contracted HIV, and it killed him.

In the section of the song that is rapped by Left Eye, it goes even deeper into discussing how dark the cycle can be, and the guilt that can be felt. “The many chances I blew to bring my life to anew,” reflects on that guilt. That section uses a lot of analogies comparing storms to darkness and depression, and blue skies to seeing the light. “I saw a rainbow yesterday, but too many storms have come and gone,” is a way of saying that having one good day will not undo all of the bad ones. It takes realizing that you are worth it and how important it is to share that strength with others. Let go of the guilt of past mistakes, and just do better.  “Just believe in yourself, and the rest is up to me and you,” says it all. There is hope, there can be light, it doesn’t have to end in death. Stop “Chasing Waterfalls”.

The beat and tone of the song correlates so well with the lyrics. It starts off kind of slow and a little bit sultry. It catches the listeners attention in a very soulful way, so that they are really listening, and ready to hear the message being delivered. The vocals start out slow, and a little raspy, portraying the sadness that is being discussed, with a sultry undertone. The singers use epizeuxis in a very smart way, having the backup singers repeat certain words or phrases at just the right time. In the section that Left Eye raps, she does it verging on almost a whininess, which is perfect given the content. When she says the word “insane” the speed of her voice and the tempo speeds up, she also changes the way she pronounces the words, ensuring that the listener will really feel the “insanity” from all aspects.

TLC did a great job matching the tone and sound of the song with the lyrics. They were able to reach a large audience with this song and relay a message that is still quite relevant today. It’s no wonder why so many awards were won for this song.

 

Works Cited

Burack, Jeffrey H, and David Bangsberg. “Comprehensive, up-to-Date Information on HIV/AIDS Treatment and Prevention from the University of California San Francisco.” Epidemiology and HIV Transmission in Injection Drug Users, May 1998, http://hivinsite.ucsf.edu/InSite?page=kb-07-04-01.

Hunt, Dennis. “TLC: Condom Fashions Are a Political Statement.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 26 Apr. 1992, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-04-26-ca-1225-story.html.

CrazySexyCool. “TLC MTV Interview Full Episode.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Dec. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtRJzoAHGPs

Slimarsh. “TLC Talking about Safe Sex.” YouTube, YouTube, 27 Feb. 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jr-KHOnGCk0.

“TLC: Waterfalls.” IMDb, IMDb.com, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6668444/awards.

“Waterfalls – Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” SongLyrics.com, http://www.songlyrics.com/don-t-go-chasing-waterfalls/waterfalls-lyrics/.

A lonely mother gazing out of her window
Staring at a son that she just can’t touch
If at any time he’s in a jam she’ll be by his side
But he doesn’t realize he hurts her so much

But all the praying just ain’t helping at all
‘Cause he can’t seem to keep his self out of trouble
So he goes out and he makes his money the best way he knows how
Another body laying cold in the gutter
Listen to me

Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you’re moving too fast

Little precious has a natural obsession
For temptation but he just can’t see
She gives him loving that his body can’t handle
But all he can say is “Baby, it’s good to me.”

One day he goes and takes a glimpse in the mirror
But he doesn’t recognize his own face
His health is fading and he doesn’t know why
Three letters took him to his final resting place
Y’all don’t hear me

Come on

I seen a rainbow yesterday
But too many storms have come and gone
Leavin’ a trace of not one God-given ray
Is it because my life is ten shades of gray
I pray all ten fade away
Seldom praise Him for the sunny days

And like His promise is true
Only my faith can undo
The many chances I blew
To bring my life to anew
Clear blue and unconditional skies
Have dried the tears from my eyes
No more lonely cries

My only bleedin’ hope
Is for the folk who can’t cope
With such an endurin’ pain
That it keeps ’em in the pourin’ rain
Who’s to blame
For tootin’ ‘caine into your own vein
What a shame
You shoot and aim for someone else’s brain
You claim the insane
And name this day in time
For fallin’ prey to crime
I say the system got you victim to your own mind
Dreams are hopeless aspirations
In hopes of comin’ true
Believe in yourself
The rest is up to me and you

Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you’re moving too fast

Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you’re moving too fast

(SongLyrics)

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