#379: TLC, "CrazySexyCool" (1994)

About sexual expectations of teenage girls, one of your friends says, “It’s not fair. Why do we have to be the ones to say no? I want it just as bad as they do.”  

“Then don’t say no,” you say. And so it was.

In the foothills of Appalachia, in the mid-1990s, you’re a white teen. Everyone around you at your high school, with the exception of a handful of people (perhaps ten), is white. Many of the white boys you know wear Starter Jackets and baseball caps to the side, b-boy style. The white boys bump their way through the parking lot of the school in Camaros or Mustangs blaring Dre or Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony. Posters of Michael Jordan are in the bedrooms of every guy you know. Rebel flags are prevalent, as are trailers and satellite dishes. Teenage white guys call females “bitches” or “hos.” Your junior year, some students set crosses ablaze on the baseball field in honor of white heritage. The misappropriation of culture is schizoid and selective in nature.

You have AOL dial-up (charged by the hour), you’ve mailed off for information about colleges, and get your hair cut like Winona Ryder’s in Reality Bites. Most of your friends’ parents married right out of high school. Yours hadn’t; they went to graduate school. Your parents are now busy recovering and remarrying after their divorce. You know infidelity was involved. You recover from their divorce in your room, watching MST3K or listening to CDs. You read a lot of Fitzgerald. You think of ways to meet JFK, Jr.

The world is starting to view women differently and you are at your most impressionable. Women are now allowed sexual urges, too. You know this because Sharon Stone made out with another girl and flashed her panty-less crotch to the camera in Basic Instinct, although to balance the equation, her character is a serial killer (but you ignore this). The term “slut shaming” is but a twinkle in some young feminist’s eye.

With all the hypocrisy around you, becoming sexually active seems like the most honest and obvious recourse. It is an outlet for you and your peers, much like occupational therapy for a stroke victim, though there are very few guys in your small town who are not racist and/or super into Jesus. This outlet needs a soundtrack that not only facilitates mood, but promotes a message without stigma and endorses the ability for women to want, initiate, and walk away from safe sex as they wish. TLC speaks to your needs, not to mention Left Eye set her boyfriend’s house on fire. You and your peer group feel her action to be empowering in a weird way, especially when her football-player boyfriend doesn’t file charges. And even if “Waterfalls” mentions AIDS (which is scary to you because Magic Johnson has it and Eazy-E died from it), it still has a sexy bassline and groove and when the horn section comes in for some reason it makes you feel like you could be anything in a few short years. The world outside of where you are is a mystery, but a hopeful mystery. The world will soon be connected like the thick straight lines drawn to connect stars in the constellations, creating a picture. But you don’t know that.

One day, you are thirty-six and drive a station wagon. It makes you feel good that it is a German “sports edition” station wagon and not a minivan. You live far away from where you grew up, but know from Facebook that many of your old classmates are still into Jesus and confederate flags.

You work out at a college gym while your eight-year-old son goes to swim practice, and watch the students sweat and flirt with one another. You have a graduate degree and teach literature. Though you are a democrat, you are more concerned about the wage gap between the sexes than trigger warnings and slut shaming. “Waterfalls” comes up on your phone in shuffle play while you run in place on the treadmill. You remember all the lyrics, Left Eye’s squeaky voice as she flawlessly raps at a warp speed, and recall that she is dead now. Then you try to remember the girl you were. Though the song helps, the memory is too faded and before you know it, the music shuffles to something else.

—Edie Pounders