Waterfalls (TLC song)

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"Waterfalls"
Waterfalls by TLC US CD maxi-single.jpg
Standard artwork (US CD maxi-single pictured)
Single by TLC
from the album CrazySexyCool
ReleasedMay 29, 1995
Recorded1994
Genre
Length4:40
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Organized Noize
TLC singles chronology
"Red Light Special"
(1995)
"Waterfalls"
(1995)
"Diggin' on You"
(1995)
Audio sample
Music video
"Waterfalls" on YouTube

"Waterfalls" is a song by American hip hop group TLC. It was written by Marqueze Etheridge and Organized Noize along with a verse written by group member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes for TLC's second album, CrazySexyCool (1994), with production also by Organized Noize. The song was released as the third single from the album on May 29, 1995, in the United States, followed by a United Kingdom release on August 5, 1995.

Often considered the group's signature song, "Waterfalls" was an international hit, topping the charts in many different territories. The song spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the group their second US No. 1. The song was the No. 2 song of the year on the Billboard 1995 year-end chart. "Waterfalls" also peaked at No. 1 in New Zealand and Switzerland while reaching the top ten in many other countries. "Waterfalls" received critical acclaim, earning two Grammy nominations at the 38th Annual Grammy Awards in 1996 for Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

The song tackled issues of the illegal drug trade, promiscuity and HIV/AIDS. Jarett E. Nolan of BMG noted that "Waterfalls" was the first number one song ever to refer to AIDS in one of its verses.[2] The accompanying music video for the song reflected its socially conscious lyrics. With a million-dollar budget, the video was an MTV staple credited for giving the single much of its success. It stayed atop the MTV Video Monitor chart for over a month, making TLC the first act to ever achieve this feat. The video won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1995, including top honors for Video of the Year. TLC was the first African-American act to ever receive the trophy.

Background[edit]

"Waterfalls" is an R&B song,[1] written by TLC band member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes with Marqueze Etheridge and Organized Noize, who also produced the song. Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins perform the song with Lopes, who also provides a rap. The background vocals are performed by the members of TLC, as well as Debra Killings and Cee-Lo Green while the improvised bass line is provided by LaMarquis "ReMarqable" Jefferson.[3][4][5] Of Green's involvement, Watkins noted, "He was in Goodie Mob, we grew up together, we go way back. He (sang on the track) and it was amazing! I love his voice."[6]

The lyrics of the song refer to 1990s issues such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic and violence associated with the illegal drug trade.[7] Watkins said that it was important for the group to "get the message across without seeming like preaching."[8]

The TLC song shares elements with Paul McCartney's song of the same name, which opens with the line "Don't go jumping waterfalls, please keep to the lake." McCartney himself noted the resemblance, stating "In fact, somebody had a hit, a few years ago, using the first line...then they go off into another song. It's like, 'Excuse me?'"[9]

Critical reception[edit]

"Waterfalls" received critical acclaim from music critics. Bill Lamb from About.com stated that "slinky, gently insistent backing horns and guitar combine with smooth, languid vocals to create an instant R&B classic." He noted that the song is "a disturbing commentary on street violence and its impact on the lives of young black men."[10] Daryl McIntosh from Albumism said it is "a rare example of perfect production, poignant songwriting, and flawless vocal delivery." He added, "The lyrics offer cautionary tales of the allure of street life and uncontrolled sexual exploration. Interwoven by the melodic chorus".[11] Christine Werthman from Complex wrote that "Waterfalls" "is drenched in water-droplet synth notes, live drums, rising horns, and a bass line that walks wherever it pleases." She noted that "it's a heavy song, but the warnings in the verses are buoyed by a rich, singable chorus, which certainly helped it get radio play."[12] Entertainment Weekly described it as a "Prince-inspired ballad" that "hint[s] at the artistic greatness TLC might achieve if freed from commercial concerns."[13] Nigel Butler of Sputnikmusic compared the song to esteemed artists such as Sly and the Family Stone, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.[14] Butler wrote, "The arrangement and instrumentation is absolutely fantastic - if a bunch of great melodies had an orgy, the result would something a little like this - and the lyrics are the best on an album that maintains a shockingly high standard of songwriting. Left-Eye drops the album's best rap on this track too."[14]

The song was nominated for two Grammys at the 1996 Grammy Awards: Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Billboard named it #10 on their list of 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.[15] It was also ranked 13th in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the Past 25 Years and 8th on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 1990s.[16] In 2010, Billboard awarded the song the top position of summer songs in 1995.

Music video[edit]

The music video visualizes the two verses of the song, particularly during extended instrumental breaks after each verse:

  • An inner-city teen ignores his mother's pleas to quit selling drugs; her spirit stands in front of him silently begging him to stop, but he is shot dead as he is about to make a sale on a street corner. At the end of the video, the dead teen's own spirit is futilely trying to embrace his mother as she walks down the street, but as she can no longer see him, she walks through his ghostly form each time.
  • A woman eschews protection as she and her boyfriend have sex. Over time, looking in a mirror, he notices that his face shows early symptoms of AIDS. A small twin photo frame nearby shows her picture in the left while a rapid montage of all her previous lovers flashes in the right. At the end, the two wordlessly sit at the edge of her bed as the man and his picture both fade away; the woman briefly sits alone until she and her picture also fade away, after which the unused condom appears in front of the now-empty frames.

The video also intercuts scenes of liquefied versions of TLC performing to the song while standing on top of an ocean and performing in front of a real waterfall.

The video was directed by F. Gary Gray and features Ella Joyce, Bokeem Woodbine, Shyheim, Paul J. Alessi and Gabrielle Bramford. TLC had to force L.A. Reid to get the budget for the music video,[8] which was filmed at Universal Studios Hollywood from June 8–9, 1995. The video went on to win four awards at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards: Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Best R&B Video, and the Viewer's Choice Award. Watkins stated in retrospect that the "video spoke for a whole epidemic."[6]

Live performances[edit]

The song was performed at many awards shows, including the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards and the 1996 Grammy Awards. The group performed "Waterfalls" at the 1995 MTV Movie Awards wearing black tops and silver pants. The performance "was theatrical and kept true to the lyrical story."[17] They also performed the song at MTV's 20th Anniversary on August 1, 2001, making it Left Eye's final performance with the group before her death. In September 1995, TLC performed "Waterfalls" in a medley with "Creep" and "Diggin' on You" on the British TV chart show Top of the Pops, aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom.

Remaining members T-Boz and Chilli performed the song along with Alicia Keys and fellow girl groups En Vogue and SWV at the 2008 BET Awards. Thomas and Watkins appeared on Good Morning America on October 15, 2013 to perform the song during promotion for the greatest hits 20 and the VH1 biopic CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story.[18]

On November 24, 2013, TLC performed at the 2013 American Music Awards with special guest Lil Mama, who performed Left Eye's rap in tribute to her.

Legacy[edit]

Jeff Benjamin of Fuse wrote that the track was "far more than just another pop hit: The track told a cautionary tale of HIV and AIDS, and its video depicted a man who didn't wear a condom with his girlfriend and later watched his body degenerate in the mirror."[6] AllMusic's Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that "Waterfalls, "with its gently insistent horns and guitar lines and instantly memorable chorus, ... ranks as one of the classic R&B songs of the '90s."[19] Sputnikmusic's Butler asserted that "any list of the best singles of the 90s that does not include this in the top 15 — at least — is among the worst lists ever written."[14] Australian music channel Max placed the song at number 196 in their list of 1000 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2012.[20]

The song was referred to in the film The Other Guys as one of many references to songs by TLC made by one of the characters. Thomas and Watkins rerecorded "Waterfalls" with Japanese pop and R&B singer Namie Amuro in 2013 for the song's twentieth anniversary.[21] The song peaked at number twelve on Japan's Hot 100 chart. That same year, the song was referred to in the film We're the Millers as Will Poulter performs Lopes's rap.[22] The song also appears in the film's end credits. In 2015, the horror-comedy show Scream Queens featured the song in the pilot and is referred to numerous times in other episodes. It appears in the 2019 Marvel Studios film Captain Marvel, which is set in 1995.[23]

Accolades[edit]

Year Publisher Country Accolade Rank
2005 Blender United States "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born"[24] 415
2005 Bruce Pollock United States "The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000"[25] *
2012 Complex United States "The Best 90s R&B Songs" 40
2012 Max Australia "1000 Greatest Songs of All Time" 196
2012 Porcys Poland "100 Singli 1990-1999"[26] 42
2015 Robert Dimery United States "1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2015 Update)"[27] *
2017 Billboard United States "100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time" 10

(*) indicates the list is unordered.

Awards[edit]

Year Organization Award Result
1995 MTV Europe Music Award Best Song Nominated
MTV Video Music Award Video of the Year Won
Best Group Video Won
Best R&B Video Won
Best Direction Nominated
Best Visual Effects Nominated
Best Art Direction Nominated
Best Editing Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Viewer's Choice Won
Breakthrough Video Nominated
1996 Grammy Award Record of the Year Nominated
Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Nominated
Soul Train Music Awards Best Song of the Year Nominated
Best Video of the Year Won
Best R&B/Soul Single – Group, Band or Duo Won
1996 NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Music Video Won

Track listings[edit]

US/International CD single

  1. "Waterfalls" (Single Version) – 4:18
  2. "Waterfalls" (ONP Remix) – 4:36
  3. "Waterfalls" (Dallas Austin Remix) – 4:28
  4. "Waterfalls" (Instrumental) – 4:39

European CD Single

  1. "Waterfalls" (No Rap Edit) - 3:32
  2. "Waterfalls" (Single Version) – 4:18
  3. "Waterfalls" (ONP Remix) – 4:36
  4. "Waterfalls" (Dallas Austin Remix) – 4:28
  5. "Waterfalls" (Instrumental) – 4:39

2001 US re-release CD single

  1. "Waterfalls" (Single Edit) – 4:18
  2. "Waterfalls" (Dallas Austin Remix) – 4:28
  3. "Waterfalls" (Instrumental) – 4:42
  4. "Waterfalls" (ONP Remix) – 4:35
  5. "Waterfalls" (ONP Instrumental) – 4:37
  6. "Waterfalls" (Album Version) – 4:39

Waterfalls (20th Anniversary Edition) Digital Single

  1. Waterfalls (20th Anniversary Edition) featuring Namie Amuro– 4:35

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[76] Platinum 70,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[79] Platinum 80,000double-dagger
Germany (BVMI)[80] Gold 250,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[81] Platinum 15,000*
Norway (IFPI Norway)[82] Platinum  
United Kingdom (BPI)[83] Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[85] Platinum 1,200,000[84]

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Stooshe version[edit]

"Waterfalls"
StoosheWaterfalls.jpg
Single by Stooshe
B-side"See Me Like This"
ReleasedNovember 11, 2012
Genre
Length3:29
LabelWarner Music UK
Songwriter(s)Marqueze Etheridge, Lisa Lopes, Organized Noize
Producer(s)Future Cut
Stooshe singles chronology
"Black Heart"
(2012)
"Waterfalls"
(2012)
"Slip"
(2013)

"Waterfalls" was recorded by British girl group Stooshe originally recorded for their self-titled debut album, released through Warner Music UK on November 11, 2012.[86] Stooshe chose to release a cover of "Waterfalls" after meeting TLC member T-Boz, who had previously congratulated them on their acoustic cover of the song.[87] The band have turned the track's rap, performed by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, into a three-part harmony.[87] It was announced in April 2013 that the group's cover of "Waterfalls" would not be appearing on their debut album, with member Karis Anderson claiming they "are pretending [it] didn't happen".[88]

Critical reception[edit]

4Music's Trent Maynard stated that Stooshe's take on "Waterfalls" has "smooth, layered harmonies and a easy-breezy barbershop feel."[87] Digital Spy's Lewis Corner gave the song three out of five stars and commented "It must be said that soft flourishes of brass and light guitar strums blend with the girls' on-point vocals smoother than a Starbucks cappuccino. However, after proving themselves as one of 2012's most promising original pop acts, covering a much-loved '90s anthem still feels like a strange move."[89] Jon Hornbuckle from So So Gay gave the song four stars and stated "Covering a song as famous as TLC's global hit 'Waterfalls' could backfire on a girl group, but Stooshe shouldn't be worried. Their take on the classic 1995 hit is yet another opportunity for them to showcase their fantastic voices and is a sure-fire hit, with its radio friendly vibes and sing-along chorus."[90] He thought the song sounded "fresh" and Stooshe had managed to put their own stamp on the track.[90] Hornbuckle added "If only all cover tracks were like this – a re-interpretation, rather than a copy-and-paste cover."[90]

Music video[edit]

Stooshe released an official lyric video for the track on October 3, before unveiling the official music video on T4 on October 7.[86] The video, directed by Matt Stawski, features cameo appearances from fellow TLC members T-Boz and Chilli.[86][91] Hornbuckle commented "The video is perhaps the most colourful promo from a girl group for years, and we love the choreography the girls pull out on the chorus. Stooshe make being cool, classy and fun all at once look effortless."[90]

Track listing[edit]

  • Waterfalls (Remixes) - EP[92]
  1. "Waterfalls" – 3:27
  2. "Waterfalls" (Moto Blanco Remix) – 7:07
  3. "Waterfalls" (DJ Q Remix) – 5:46
  4. "Waterfalls" (Show 'n' Prove Remix) – 3:16
  5. "Waterfalls" (Acoustic) – 3:41
  • CD single
  1. "Waterfalls" - 3:28
  2. "See Me Like This" - 3:29

Charts[edit]

Charts (2012) Peak
position
Hungary (Rádiós Top 40)[93] 17
Ireland (IRMA)[94] 44
Scotland (OCC)[95] 20
UK Singles (OCC)[96] 21

Release history[edit]

Country Release date Format
United Kingdom[92] November 11, 2012 Digital download

Other cover versions[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits (fifth edition)

External links[edit]