It was one of the most powerful tracks of the '90s, so it's shocking to hear that TLC's "Waterfalls" was almost never recorded. Apparently, the song, which won the group four VMAs, wasn't popular with Clive Davis, who was the head of the band's label Arista Records back then, as Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins told Entertainment Weekly.
Davis "...didn’t like this song," the singer claims. "And we had to beg L.A. [Reid, cofounder of Arista joint label LaFace Records] to believe in it and to believe in the video and our vision so that we could get the budget. And to date that’s our biggest song. A lot of people with HIV/ AIDS — it was really becoming a big epidemic back then — we were their voice. We always wanted to stand for something and speak up about things that were important.”
It's shocking to consider that this, one of the best TLC songs, was so close to being canned, given the runaway success the track met with. According to People, "Waterfalls" hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and as Entertainment Weekly have already noted, it went on to win four VMAs. This was all the more inspiring, given the serious subject matter, because, as Jarrett E. Nolan of BMG noted, this would become the first number one single to make a reference to HIV or AIDS.
Of course, part of the song's power lies in "Left Eye" Lopes' rap — which also came from a bittersweet place of pain and hope. According to Uproxx, on The Last Days of Left Eye documentary, the musician explained that she drew inspiration for her verse from a troubled time in her life, after setting her boyfriend Andre Rison's house on fire. She was "sentenced to a halfway house and five years probation" as well as a hefty fine. She stated:
"In that song, I just started reflecting on my life as if it was a storm. How many storms have come and gone and how they don’t leave a trace of sunlight…I was in the diversion center at the time, serving out my sentence. I got on a two-hour break to go to the studio and listen to a song TLC was working on called ‘Waterfalls.' On the way, I was admiring the streets, the trees, the buildings, the trees, the sky, and I looked up, [and] there was this rainbow! I was like, ‘Wow. This place we live never meant so much to me, until now!"
Of course, T-Boz doesn't tell us why Davis had so little love for the track, whether it was based on its melody or the social issues addressed in the lyrics. But given the fact that we're still seeing the song crop up in popular culture, whether in Scream Queens Season 1 or in We're The Millers, it suggests Davis was dead wrong; this song has had lasting relevance. But you knew that already.