The 50 Best Pop Singles Of 1994 (Featuring New Interviews With Ace Of Base, TLC, Lisa Loeb, Real McCoy & Haddaway)
2. TLC, “CREEP”
A large part of the ’90s was all about the girl groups — from the En Vogue to the Spice Girls to Destiny’s Child. But there was a trio of young ladies who carved out their own place in the industry, and they go by the name of TLC. Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes arrived onto the scene in 1992 with their debut album, Oooooooh…On The TLC Tip, which portrayed them as goofy, fun-loving teenagers. But it was their 1994 sophomore effort that signaled the group was the one to watch, as they unveiled a sexier, more mature side. CrazySexyCool, arguably the most solid album from their discography, is filled with tracks that have stood the test of time. Yet there’s one anthem in particular that stands out among the rest: “Creep.”
The song, written and produced by Dallas Austin, was released as the lead single from CrazySexyCool on October 31, 1994. And the topic behind “Creep” proved to be quite controversial: they’re basically giving female listeners the impression that, if their man cheats, then they can cheat right back.
In the tune, T-Boz uses her sultry lower register to nonchalantly reveal: “I’ll never leave him down, though I might mess around. It’s only ‘cause I need some affection.” But according to band member Chilli, the theme didn’t come as much of a shock for them.
“I think when we first came out, it was very bold of us to have a song called ‘Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg’ with [the lyrics] ‘Two inches or a yard, rock hard or if it’s sagging’,” Chilli says while laughing. “People totally understood what type of group we were. To sing a song like ‘Creep’ wouldn’t be surprising from us.”
TLC as a group have always portrayed themselves as feminists, and this song goes along with that mentality.
“A lot of our songs are definitely from a woman’s perspective. Guys cheat all the time — and we weren’t trying to promote infidelity — but I’ll cheat because I’m not getting the attention that I need,” Chilli explains. “I’m sure a lot of guys were like, ‘Dang!’ But I think the track was so cool, and with the routine from the video, you almost forget about what we were saying and just sing along.”
Sure, the catchy hook in “Creep” made the song a total jam, but we can’t forget to discuss the iconic video! From the funky dance moves to the sexy silk pajamas, the Matthew Rolston-directed visual finds the ladies comfortable with their own sexuality. What girl in the mid-‘90s did not want to emulate that?
It turns out the video many people are familiar with was actually the director’s second version.
Chilli reveals, “We shot another one before and it was too grimy, and we agreed with [LaFace label chief] L.A. [Reid] that we shouldn’t come out with that video. It’s funny because we were all together in Los Angeles talking about it, and Salt N Pepa featuring En Vogue‘s ‘Whatta Man’ video came out. We were looking at it and said, ‘Whoever did this video has to do the ‘Creep’ video.’ We fell in love with the way it was shot. That director was Matthew Rolston, so we reached out to him and set it up.”
Aside from prancing around in their barely-buttoned pajamas, many people remember the genuine chemistry between the ladies. Chilli spoke about her best memory of being on set: “The most fun part of doing the video for me was when Lisa [Lopes] and I were acting crazy and breakdancing while she was walking on her hands. It’s a classic TLC moment!”
With “Creep,” TLC gave their fans the message that they don’t have to settle for being walked over in a relationship — and the result proved to be a major success. The Platinum single went on to become the ladies’ first chart-topping hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and even snagged them a Grammy in 1995 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.
“We were in shock! We just put out music so that people could find a connection with what were saying, so we didn’t know exactly how people would feel about anything,” Chilli says as she recalls TLC’s winning moment. “So when you get that kind of recognition, it says so much. The Grammys is like the Oscars of music, so we were just beyond happy to get one.”
“Creep” was just one of several iconic singles released off CrazySexyCool that impacted listeners in the mid-’90s. Chilli comments on the staying power of the songs, “Last year when our [VH1] movie came out, it grabbed a whole ‘nother generation. They are now holding on to those songs because it speaks to them and what they are going through. It’s crazy that we have these 10-year-olds who are just loving TLC.”
She adds, “It says a lot about us, because we did things that were relevant. It wasn’t just about a beat and that’s it. It was a whole movement with our group and just how did everything — from the way we dressed to the things we said and what we stood up for.”
CrazySexyCool and the hits it produced have avoided the curse of sounding dated all these years later. And now musicians such as Kiesza, Tinashe and Disclosure are channeling the feel-good R&B-pop sound represented during the early-to-mid-‘90s.
“I think it’s because for a long time music had changed — it wasn’t touching anybody’s soul,” Chilli says of this current trend. “You fell in love with the track, but lyrically it was just not good. I’m glad that people are going back to the basics. That’s how R&B used to be, and hopefully it will go back to that. Even back then when R&B groups would have love songs, they still talked about sex and those kinds of things — but it’s the way they did it.”
She continues, “It wasn’t like ‘Yea, imma smash and beat it up!’ They can actually say that in a song [now] and it’s actually being played on radio! It’s shocking to hear because when we first came out we did push the envelope, but some of these artists don’t care and just say whatever.”
Perhaps the staying power of “Creep” is owed to the fact that it was a provocative song that dared to expose the taboo, down-low aspects of a relationship…and it boasts one of the most iconic music videos of the 1990s.
“People don’t realize that for video shoots you have to wake up at like 5 in the morning for your call time,” Chilli offers as a final thought. ” So when we did that part at the very end of the video where we’re talking to the camera and looking all silly, we were so tired. But sometimes that ends up being your best shots.” — BIANCA GRACIE