Regardless, the program highlights the oft-undersung legacies of two major contributors to an oft-undersung genre. SWV is one of the most successful girl groups of all time, having sold more than 25 million records worldwide—but according to the members when we speak, they do not feel they have received their due over the years. “I would love to see us get a lifetime-achievement award, a Grammy, all of those things we should have gotten when we were coming up,” Lyons says. “We deserve it all from our peers.”
At the time—and even today—R&B groups like SWV, En Vogue, TLC, and 702 had major cultural heft but rarely the critical accolades. When asked why they might have been glossed over for awards, Gamble is frank. “RCA,” she says, referring to the group’s original record label. “RCA was a label that really wasn’t popular. At the time that we signed with RCA, its nickname was Record Cemetery of America. When SWV went to RCA, no one expected us to blow up like we did. I don’t think RCA even expected us to be as big as we were. I felt like they didn’t know how to play the game. It’s a political game, and they didn’t play that game. No, we didn’t get nominated like we should have, we didn’t win the awards like we should have, and so that played a big part in everything.”
Yet one tenet of SWV’s legacy is indisputable: their sartorial savvy. When we meet, the girls are dressed in sleek silhouettes and fabrics—high-slit skirts, stiletto heels, faux-snakeskin prints. But their most iconic style moments in the ’90s stuck to the hip-hop uniform of the time. Think baggy clothes, mismatched primary colors, and tomboy ’fits procured, in part, from labels like Tommy Hilfiger, Dr. Martens, Donna Karan, and Cross Colours. “We were doing a lot of that stuff back then that they’re doing now,” Lyons says. Although they worked with prominent stylists, like June Ambrose and Misa Hylton, the curation was a little bit more organic. “How it is now is not how it was then. Branding? We didn’t even hear that word,” Gamble reflects. They simply wore what they liked.
Thankfully, SWV is capitalizing on their second wind. This summer, the group will go on tour with another legendary R&B act: the suave all-male outfit Jodeci. “You’re gonna get that street edge and that good music that you loved back in the ’90s,” Johnson says. “Jodeci can still get the girls up and running!” she adds with a laugh.