17. “No Scrubs” by TLC (1999)

The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.

Last year while working with a woman of some notoriety here in Denver on a public facing project (that never ended up materializing), I said, “And since this is America, whether you like it or not, you’re going to be sexualized, which I’m sure you already know from experience. So how ever you want to handle that – lean into it, deflect it, downplay it, whatever – is up to you, but realize that whatever you do, it’s going to be a part of the calculus. But being a woman in this country is inherently more difficult, which you don’t need me to tell you.”

She, seeking to be empathetic with me and take some of the sting out of my assertions when none were needed, offered sweetly, “Y’know, I think it must be hard to be a man in this day and age.”

I replied, “That’s very nice of you, but it is not now, nor has it ever been at any point in recorded human history, harder to be a man than it is a woman.” This is objectively and verifiably true when you compare the two experiences across the breadth of time, space and geography measured against opportunity, oppression, violence, economics, and pretty much any other metric you could conjure.

Yet here we sit in the year of our lord 2023, and the straight, white, cisgendered American man is frequently the whiniest, most sensitive, aggrieved, petulant, bitch ass pissbaby out there despite having the entire country made in his image. The second anyone else seeks a little equity or a slightly more level playing field for themselves, this man collapses on his fainting couch and wails about how unfair the world is and wonders why everyone is out to get him. Frankly, this is frequently a mortifying demographic group to be a part of.

25 years ago, T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli gave these busters a name. They’re called scrubs. And they’re fucking everywhere now.

Shortly after “No Scrubs” was released, a response track called “No Pigeons” dropped by something called Sporty Thievz. Listen to that song if you like, but, SPOILER ALERT, it sucks. They took the “No Scrubs” hook, and then immediately the sock falls off the puppet as these three dipshits reveal a bone deep insecurity about a group of women daring to call out any male shortcomings. This is why men’s rights activists are always so goddamn embarrassing because they sure like to talk tough, but cannot take a single thimble full of criticism, shade, or even shit-talking. It’s the Aesop’s Fable of Androcles and the Lion where a simple thorn in the paw takes down the mighty beast. That’s every men’s rights loser in history. I have nothing but contempt for these scrubs.

“No Scrubs” is a straight up fucking banger. It’s got no time for any of the typical manipulative horseshit from every dorky asshole who hits on any of them probably 20 times a day. All three members of TLC were all just shy of 30 years old when “No Scrubs” dropped and it’s hard to imagine any woman in her late-20s that hasn’t heard every single lame come-on by dudes firing from every direction by that point in her life. Most women, I suspect, can smell a scrub from a mile away, and what’s so sad, sitting on the dude side of the equation, is that so few dudes actually know they’re scrubs. If you’ve never heard a woman try to pump up their friends by telling them, “Just carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man,” then, oh yes son, they’re talking [about] you.

Let’s ignore my overt male-on-male violence here for a moment and focus on the song. The chorus is crazy easy to sing along to. The strings swell in the chorus, the plucking (probably done with a synth) worms its way into your brain and lives there with basically no resistance, and the whole thing becomes as easy to conjure in your brain as your own phone number. And that’s maybe what makes this song so insidious. It’s a diss track. But it’s not directed at any one person, it’s directed at an entire gender. And what’s funniest is that if you feel personally attacked by a song like this, or really any time a female comedian makes a joke about how dumb dudes can be, you’re really just telling on yourself.

It’s fun to picture Nas and Jay-Z writing diss tracks about each other because I am neither Nas nor Jay-Z, and therefore just get to pop some popcorn and enjoy the shit-talking show. I am similarly unoffended by “No Scrubs” because I work really, really hard not to be a fucking scrub. And the easiest first step to not being some punk ass scrub is simply to listen to women. Start there. Listen to them. Internalize whatever they say. Adjust your own behavior as needed. Treat women like people. Grow up. That’s it.

I will blast this song until the heat death of the earth a) because it’s a fantastic ass song written by three of our greatest national treasures (R.I.P. Left Eye) and b) because we gotta get more of these lame ass scrubs to straighten up and fly right.  Until then, whether it’s “No Scrubs” or any other manufactured culture war horseshit that makes straight, white American dudes piss down their own leg, I’m happy to grab my popcorn for a bit, and then get on the non-scrub side of history. You should too. And it just starts by listening.

Up next: A new day.

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