Advocacy in Pop Culture: Music Hits Against the HIV/AIDS Epidemic Pt. 2

August 7, 2023

By Aleah Vega, Editorial Intern 

“My only bleedin’ hope is for the folks who can’t cope” TLC’s Lisa Lope raps, “with such an enduring pain that it keep them in the pouring rain”  

Last week, we covered songs from the 90s to now with lyrics dedicated to ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic. This week, we’ll take a closer look into the music that made the 90s. With suggestions from our readers, this list of lyrics covers songs written between the early and mid 90s that brought awareness to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, starting with TLC’s 1995 hit single, Waterfalls.  


Waterfalls - TLC (1995) 

“His health is fading and he doesn’t know why / Three letters took him to his final resting place / Ya’ll don’t hear me” 

In the mid-90’s, Waterfalls called attention to issues pop culture often romanticized or ignored. The song addresses the stories of individuals who “chase waterfalls,” or engage in life-risking situations. One verse follows the story of a man who contracts HIV through sex with a partner and ultimately loses his life to the virus. Like many songs earlier in the epidemic, the elements of “risk” when it comes to love, sex and essentially, being human, may feel stigmatizing, but Waterfalls also calls out “the system” that leads people into dangerous cycles, and for its timeless message has become one of r&b’s most cherished tracks. The song was released just a year before highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) was introduced at the 11th International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver, Canada. 


Being Boring - Pet Shop Boys (1990) 

“Now I sit with different faces / In rented rooms and foreign places / All the people I was kissing / Some are here and some are missing / In the 1990's 

Pet Shop Boys, a pop duo who rose to fame in 1980’s England, released Being Boring as a single for their fourth album. During an interview with the British TV art magazine, The South Bank Show, lead singer Neil Tennant revealed that Being Boring was crafted as an elegy to his best friend, Chris Dowell, who had recently been lost to AIDS-related complications. The song’s wispy sounds open an archive of memories from Tennant’s life in Newcastle with his late friend, and the rest of his life in London. 


She Thinks His Name Was John - Reba McEntire (1994) 

“And in the end when she was barely hanging on / All she could say is she thinks his name was John”  

This ballad belongs to McEntire’s Read My Mind album, written by Steven Rosen and Sandy Knox. She Thinks His Name Was John was inspired by Knox’s brother, who passed away from AIDS-related complications not long before. During the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the country music community often ignored the virus and its effect on people, and the song was poorly received by many country (and even mainstream) music audiences. Still, Reba performed it at the 1994 Country Music Awards and made a lasting impression on the community’s perception of HIV.  


Blood Makes Noise - Suzanne Vega (1992)

But blood makes noise / It's a ringing in my ear / Blood makes noise / And I can't really hear you in the thickening of fear”  

This edgy and (literally) heart-pumping song is more subtle in its reference to the HIV/AIDS crisis. The lyrics follow a woman as she undergoes blood testing and waits anxiously for the results. Behind Vega’s singing you can hear a steady metal clanging that’s meant to mirror the sound of blood rushing through the head. While Vega has confirmed that the “fear” she sings of is meant to be open ended, many associate the song with a woman getting tested for HIV. 


Jesus to a Child - George Michael (1996) 

“With your last breath you saved my soul / You smiled at me like Jesus to a child”

In 1993, George Michael lost his first love, Anselmo Feleppa, to AIDS-related complications. They met two years prior in Rio de Janeiro and immediately fell for each other. After Feleppa’s passing, Michael entered a dark period of his life which, 18 months later, finally ended with the creation of Jesus to a Child, which he dedicated to Feleppa and his undying love.  


Bonus Track + Editor’s Note 

I Will Survive- Gloria Gaynor (1978)

“I've got all my life to live, and I've got all my love to give / And I'll survive”  

This hit was not written directly in relation to HIV/AIDS; however, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive was quickly adopted by the gay community as an anthem of strength and resilience. Song’s like this show the transformative and transending power of music. Words penned years before the epidemic served as inspiration and motivation for countless individuals. I will survive took on an even more profound meaning as those living with, dying from, or in fear of HIV/AIDS, cherished it as an ode to literal survival. 

A year after the release of Salt n Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex, LA Lakers basketball star player Magic Johnson announced to the world that he was HIV-positive, Freddie Mercury followed (a day before passing away), and many other high profile individuals came forth letting the world know that they too were living with HIV. With increased visibility and with advocacy taking place in the form of popular music the public was able to learn more about, what was for far too long, a silent epidemic. By blasting a message about practicing safer sex, life with HIV, the pain of a loss and survival, musicians were able to give a voice to the ignored, and shed light on the HIV epidemic.  

Music inspires and can give hope to individuals, it is hope that inspires actions, and it is action which brings about change. Today, with the advent of PrEP and PEP as well as powerful new medications that allow people living with HIV to be healthy and undetectable we have come a long way in the efforts to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But stigma still exists. Advocacy can take place in many forms. One doesn’t need a huge platform to be an advocate, we can advocate for ourselves and individuals in our day to day lives by standing up for and educating others on the issues effecting marginalized communities. So next time you’re listening to your favorite songs with a message don’t just sing along, stop and think how can I be a better advocate?  


Check back next week for a new set of lyrics in the series. Know of lyrics that should be included? Email Tyline Burgess, Communications Manager, at   

Categorized under Advocacy, AFC news, Chicago, Illinois, Inside Story, National and Prevention.

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