Why 'No Scrubs' By TLC Is Just As Relevant Today

‘No Scrubs’ Was Released 20 Years Ago, But It’s Still Relevant

Trevor Gillespie / getty

Okay, people. I’m going to give you all some information that might hurt some. But hold strong, we will get through it together. TLC’s classic number one hit “No Scrubs” was released 20 YEARS AGO!

In fact, NPR just did a story about it. That’s how old we are.

Okay. I’m going to let that sit for a moment. I know, it’s a lot.

Take a breath. Put some ointment on it. Are you good?

Okay, cool. If you are like me, you remember the first time you heard that song. I was at a high school dance. It was girls’ preference, and I remember the song came on, and all the girls started screaming. I didn’t get it, but then, as I listened to the lyrics, I learned a few things.

I learned what a “scrub” was, which apparently was a regional term before ’99. Back home we called a scrub a mooch. I learned that women didn’t want no scrubs — even the girls from my high school, because they kept shaking their right index fingers as they sang along. But I think the most impressive moment of this whole event was when I started making eye contact with the boys from school, because there was panic in their eyes. It seemed like we were all taking inventory, asking ourselves a very important question that I think all men should ask: Am I a scrub?

I don’t want to give too much away, but at that time, I was probably a 40% scrub? I didn’t holler at women and I had a car, but I was also broke, had zero aspirations outside of playing the guitar, and I lived with my grandmother.

Perhaps I was being too harsh. I was still in high school, after all, so living at home and not having concrete future aspirations isn’t uncommon, but that’s not the point. The real power of “No Scrubs” is that moment of reflection. It caused me, as a young man, to take a moment and realize that there were things I needed to do to better myself so I could be worthy of attracting a woman. But more importantly, it gave women a voice. It gave them the license to say, “You fit this list. You are a scrub, and I don’t want no scrubs.”

Now I don’t want to speak for everyone, but it’s 20 years later, and on the curb of any given street in a major city, there is often an available scrub. I’ve seen them cat-calling and hollering at women personally, but if you haven’t had the pleasure, a quick YouTube search will give you a nice example. TLC’s hit song touched on this universal truth that women don’t want men who are not interested in bettering themselves and treating women with the respect they deserve. Why would they?

And even 20 years later, this message is true. There’s still scrubs out there, and women do not want this.

Now naturally, the people who felt this message the most were (drumroll, please) the scrubs. I mean, what’s the phrase? “A hit dog will holler…” But honestly, we are seeing this now with the discussions around toxic masculinity. The men who are the most outspoken against toxic masculinity are the most toxic.  If you don’t believe me, please read this article about the response to that viral Gillette ad addressing toxic masculinity. Thus, 20 years later, scrubs still abound.

Let’s go back to my story above about the first time I heard the song. I was a self-diagnosed 40% scrub. I am happy to announce that I am now, at the age of 36, a 0% scrub. I don’t want to say that this song was a turning point or anything, but it did cause me to reflect and try to be better. It also made me pretty good at pointing out a scrub, and it gave me the confidence to say, “Hey, man! Stop acting like a scrub.” And all that accountability and self-reflection is what makes “No Scrubs” still very relevant, even 20 years later.

Case in point, I work in a Division I college athletics program. The other day, I was chatting with a group of freshman female athletes. They were asking me about some other “really cute” athletes. Naturally, as an educator, this put me in a precarious situation. I couldn’t go into too much detail about my students with other students. Although, I should probably admit that I often look at the 20-something’s I work with and mentally sort them into my “scrubs” or “no scrub” list.

But instead of talking trash about my students, I said, “You know the song ‘No Scrubs’ by TLC?” Despite the fact that these women were born after the song’s release, each one of them nodded, and smiled, and talked about how much they loved it. “Right now, at this point in your life, those are words to live by,” I said. “I mean, honestly. Think about those cute guys and ask yourself, ‘Are they a scrub?'”

We all know that being physically attractive doesn’t mean you are not a scrub. You can be a good-looking scrub, after all. I wanted to make sure they thought about this.

I could see their eyes calculating something critical. They were sorting them out, trying to decide who was a scrub and who wasn’t. And in that moment, I knew exactly how relevant — and helpful — “No Scrubs” still is today.