How TLC's No Scrubs Changed Popular Culture

Pop, R&B, and hip-hop trio TLC released their hit single "No Scrubs" in 1999, and it remains one of the group's most well-known songs to this day, second only to "Waterfalls," per The Ringer. The subject matter of "No Scrubs" is not that unusual: A woman searching for a man worthy of her affection and frustrated by her limited options. "I don't want no scrubs" as the chorus goes. In addition to introducing one of the`90s' most infectious earworms, though, the timeless TLC tune off the band's third album "FanMail" changed popular culture in one other way in particular.

Some may not realize that "No Scrubs" was not actually written by TLC at all, according to SongFacts. Instead, the song was written by Kandi Burruss, known from the Bravo network reality series, "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." Burruss is also a musician, most notably with pop-soul sensations Xscape. Once TLC took the song as their own, marking the first time that Rozonda Thomas, performing as Chilli or the "C" in the TLC band name, took center stage with lead vocals. (Band member Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes died in a car wreck in 2002.) The song would sit atop the Billboard charts for seven weeks, and the album "FanMail" debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, according to The Ringer. Chart position aside, "No Scrubs" had one other lasting effect on popular culture.

The song popularized this familiar term

According to Urban Dictionary, "scrub" can mean "A guy who mooches off of everyone else and has nothing going for him in life. Probably still lives with his mama, doesn't have a car, a job, or a plan." Or in other words, the kind of guy TLC laments in their song "No Scrubs." The term was probably in use prior to Burruss. For example, author Patrick O'Brian uses the term in a similar context in his 18th-century seafaring historical fiction novels like Desolation Island. Nothing, though, matches the exponential growth of the word in our modern vernacular after the song was released.

Following the TLC hit "No Scrubs," the word "scrubs" took on many different but also some related meanings, according to SongFacts. Modern use of the word scrub can mean a man without much future, as we've already covered, but it can also mean scrubbing a virus or some other unwanted file off a computer or to cut an expense from a budget. Most often, though, scrub is used in the way that TLC meant it when they sang "A scrub is a guy that thinks he's fly, And is also known as a buster, Always talking 'bout what he wants, And just sits on his broke ass." As recently as 2019, the song "No Scrubs" had been streamed more than 300 million times and counting, so that definition seems likely here to stay.