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The Meaning of TLC’s “Waterfalls”

TLC in 1999. Photo by Ron Davis

The legendary hip-hop girl group TLC produced a number of hits in the 90s, but perhaps none so iconic as “Waterfalls”, which many know for the infectious chorus that goes “don’t go chasing waterfalls”.

The song was released on May 29th, 1995, as the third single from their 1994 album CrazySexyCool. It was an instant hit upon release, spending seven consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

“Waterfalls” was written Marqueze Etheridge and Organized Noize, with a rap verse contributed by TLC member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.

The song’s concept was inspired by the Paul McCartney song, “Waterfalls”, which opens with the lyric “Don’t go jumping waterfalls / Please keep to the lake.”

Paul McCartney – “Waterfalls”

The phrase itself, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” refers to self-destructive and unsafe behavior, encouraging people to stick to the “rivers and the lakes that you’re used to”.

While that may sound like TLC are trying to steer people away from following their dreams, think about what happens when you chase a waterfall — sure, it’s beautiful, but then you fall right off a cliff.

TLC “Waterfalls” single cover art.

When you listen casually, singing along to that catchy hook, you may not notice the serious subject matter discussed in the lyrics, but after a few more listens the serious tone begins to slip past the glossy delivery.

TLC’s “Waterfalls” addresses issues that primarily affect young people like drug dealing and HIV/AIDs. In fact, “Waterfalls” was the first number one single to address the HIV/AIDs issue.

The group does so in a way that sheds light on the feelings associated with living through these things, while also inspiring hope for a better future. They aren’t discouraging people from chasing their dreams, but rather encouraging safety.

Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez in 1992, with a condom on her glasses to promote safe sex.

TLC felt strongly about the AIDs epidemic, and were noted supporters safe sex in more ways than just their music. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was even known to incorporate condoms into her fashion to encourage fans to use them.

Lopes sadly passed away in a car accident in 2002. She reportedly had some lyrics from her verse on “Waterfalls” engraved on her casket.

“Waterfalls” stands true as one of the most memorable pop songs from the 90s, with a lasting impact and a powerful message that is still culturally relevant today. Watch the music video below.

TLC – “Waterfalls” (Video)

13 comments on The Meaning of TLC’s “Waterfalls”

  • January 11, 2023 at 2:08 pm

    Daniel is a hater

    Reply
    • July 15, 2023 at 7:14 pm

      Daniel is more of the sign of the times.

      Reply
      • August 20, 2023 at 1:03 am

        I wish Daniel would open up his eyes and see the sign.

        Reply
  • January 8, 2023 at 2:49 pm

    I always thought that waterfalls was about not associating with the wrong type of people because eventually it would lead to tears

    Reply
  • January 2, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    Why do you think anyone gives a flying fck about your fourth birthday Blareth?

    Reply
    • May 10, 2023 at 7:23 pm

      Horrible. Why??? Stop. I hope that you get some help. There is no room in this world for hate.

      Reply
  • January 2, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    Hey Blareth,

    (Cool name btw!)

    Try teaching. I think your name is a clue you’re meant for that role.

    WYT?

    Reply
  • January 1, 2023 at 3:57 am

    This was number one on my fourth birthday and I’ve never chased a single waterfall since

    Reply
  • December 22, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    why do you think anyone gives a flying fck what you think angela?

    Reply
    • January 1, 2023 at 3:42 am

      Damn Daniel…Angela I hope you find that special someone you can listen to Chasing Waterfalls with.

      Reply
    • January 2, 2023 at 1:08 pm

      Hey Daniel,

      What about your thoughts? That was a mean AND arrogant message you left Angela.

      Reply
    • March 28, 2023 at 3:52 am

      Stay classy, Brother….

      Reply
  • December 10, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    Crazy how many times I heard this song without paying attention to it really. When I finally listened to it, my soul was touched. I’m going to share it with a special person.

    Reply