’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Creep”
The eighty-fifth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Creep” by TLC. This single was the trio’s first of four chart-topping hits, although by this point they were already well-known for their three Top 10 hits off their debut album Ooooooohhh… On The TLC Tip. “Creep” was the first single off their sophomore effort, CrazySexyCool, an album that sought to establish the act as more mature and versatile. TLC is one of the most important and influential musical acts of the ’90s, and they had a few minor hits in the early ’00s before and shortly after the 2002 death of member Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, age 30.
TLC was boldly unique. Each member contributed a distinct ingredient to the group’s sound, creating an act that effortlessly crossed over among R&B, Hip-Hop and Pop. “Creep” is a mid-tempo track about a woman who cheats on her partner because she believes he is unfaithful to her, and she’s longing for attention and affection. Most of the vocals are performed by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, a contralto whose somewhat androgynous delivery gave the group an edgy, muscular, sultry sound.
“Creep” was the first single to ascend to No. 1 in 1995, and it foreshadowed a year of especially heavy African-American influence on Pop. The only white acts to reach No. 1 in 1995 were Madonna (singing an R&B song co-written by Babyface), and Bryan Adams, singing a song with a Spanish influence. Black artists would continue to dominate the top spot on the Hot 100 in 1996-1998, up until the Pop and Latin explosions of 1999.
Take a few moments to reintroduce yourself to “Creep”:
“Creep” is brilliant. The horn-based hook that kicks off the song and is repeated throughout has a beckoning quality that invites the listener to pull up a chair and listen to what turns out to be a very slyly written narrative, with the singer talking about her romantic situation and her feelings about it to us, the audience, not to her man. It’s a point-of-view insight without a rebuttal, and without judgment. Sonically, the track is a stark divergence from the nasal, somewhat snotty tone of their previous output. And the success of “Creep” was a bit of a surprise, as it was not at all obvious from Ooooooohhh… On The TLC Tip that TLC was capable of growth and sustained success. As it would turn out, “Creep” was the first of a series of mini masterpieces that saw the group exploring a wide variety of themes, including gang violence, HIV, eating disorders, poverty, emotional abuse and gossip. And, of course, fun topics like love and sex, too.
Was it dope? In the United States, absolutely. “Creep” helped kick off sales of CrazySexyCool that would eventually reach record proportions, as it is still, to this day, the best-selling album by a female group in U.S. history, with more than 11 million units sold. “Creep” was a cross-genre smash that came in at No. 3 for the year and helped the group makeover the more juvenile image they debuted with a couple years prior. It was not, however, particularly successful internationally.
Does it hold up? TLC’s four No. 1 hits happen also to be the four most-viewed videos on their Vevo channel, as of this writing, and “Creep” is the third most-popular, with nearly 40 million views as of this writing. That’s good — not front-page news, but solid. This genre isn’t popular now, which may be holding the clip back from bigger numbers.
Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?