It’s been 16 years since SWV broke up, but judging from the strong ratings for their new WeTV reality show, SWV Reunited (1.2 million viewers on their premiere night), fans are still showing up to see Coko Clemmons, Leanne "Lelee" Lyons and Tamara "Taj" Johnson-George rebuild their careers, and friendship, after years of being estranged.
They spoke with ESSENCE.com about their reunion—which we caught a glimpse of at the 2012 ESSENCE Festival—recording new music, and how they plan to not let outside forces break them up again.
ESSENCE.com: You broke up in 1998. And from what you describe, there was a lot of drama and mistrust. What will make this reunion different?
LeLee: Maturity, I think. We know what it takes to make SWV function as a group. We know each other’s temperaments and it’s up to us to respect each other. If this thing falls apart again, it’s because we allowed it to.
ESSENCE.com: And what do you need to function at your best level?
LeLee: Respect and communication. As women we go through stuff, we don’t always like each other. You don’t hate that person but sometimes it’s like, ‘Oh God I can’t do her today.’ Sometimes you just don’t want to show up.
Coko: We need loyalty between us three.
Taj: Sometimes you need a mediator because we can all talk about the same thing but speak in different languages. So, with a mediator there, which we have on the show, it’s easier for me to understand and for someone else to break it down to me in my language.
ESSENCE.com: Some people don’t like mixing business with pleasure. As a group are you very much in each other’s personal lives or do you come together only in business?
Coko: Only in business. We live in three separate states, so we’re far apart. Taj is in Nashville, LeLee’s in Atlanta and I’m in Virginia Beach.
ESSENCE.com: LeLee, you’ve said there were a lot of things that people have heard about you that aren’t true. We heard about you being homeless.
LeLee: It was not that bad. They made it seem like I was just on the streets. Homeless in the sense of I had to pretty much start all over again. I was in that position because of pride and choosing not to talk about it. It’s just something that I kind of dealt with on my own. So, I wasn’t in the street prostituting and crazy stuff like that. They tried to make my situation so much worse than it really was. I was fine. I was homeless in the sense that I didn’t have a home that belonged to me.
ESSENCE.com: We did read about your cancer scare Coko.
Coko: There were lumps found in both breasts but I had a biopsy done on the left breast on the show so that’s what the cancer scare was about. I still have lumps but I went back and the lumps shrunk. The biopsy came back and it was benign.
ESSENCE.com: There is no 90s R&B playlist that doesn’t have SWV on it. What are your favorite songs to perform?
Taj: I love "The Best Years" and "When this Feeling."
LeLe: My favorite is "Anything." I love that song. It pumps me up.
ESSENCE.com: So are you working on a new album?
Taj: You have to watch the show to see.
Coko: [Laughs] Once you watch the show, then you'll understand why we don't have any details.
SWV Reunited airs Thursdays at 9pm ET on WeTV.