No Scrubs Allowed: TLC’s ‘Fanmail’ Turns 15

When I was in fifth grade my teacher asked everyone in class to fill out a form that listed our interests and hobbies. When I graduated high school, that same teacher returned everyone’s forms, allowing us a few moments to reflect on the even younger people we once were. My favorite food was pizza, my favorite pet was my cat, Ivy, and my favorite song, which for some reason I felt the need to write in all caps, was TLC’s “No Scrubs.” You know, typical 10-year-old boy stuff.

I woke this morning to a tweet from our good friends at Idolator informing the world that today (2/21/14) is the day TLC’s Fanmail, which gave the world “No Scrubs,” turns 15. This means there are possibly people reading this right now who were born after that album came out, who then entered school and are currently sitting in their own fifth grade classroom talking amongst their friends about the songs on the radio they love. That shit is heartbreaking. Because even though the music may still play like the day it was laid to tape, the fact remains that same music is now almost old enough to drive a car. It’s literally a generation behind the times, but as soon as I read the title my mind was flooded with lyrics, imagery, and the feeling of fandom I once felt so long ago.

Listening to “No Scrubs” today, or any other track off Fanmail for that matter, is an entirely different experience from the one that 10-year-old boy enjoyed all those years ago. When Chilli begins to explain how the guys she can’t stand are the ones who think they’re fly I am transported back to the passenger seat of my mom’s green Ford Taurus, winding through the country roads of rural Michigan on summer afternoons with the windows down and the radio turned up as loud as mom would allow it to go (which was never loud enough). When T-Boz sings about feeling so damn unpretty I see my first school dance in the sixth grade, and remember thinking how strange it was to see couples slow dancing to a song about the world making you feel worthless. Hell, I still know all the words to “Silly Ho” and prior to today I had not heard it in over a decade.

TLC is not one of my favorite groups of all time. I don’t even think they would be in my top 10 if we are being perfectly honest, but the moment I read that anniversary headline this morning my mind went into a momentary state of shock. Until 8:45 EST this morning I had never thought of T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli as anything more than pop stars whose music I once enjoyed, but in that moment I realized they meant more to me than I had even taken the time to appreciate. For whatever reason the younger version of myself felt a connection to the music this trio created that, though now subsided, once burned so strongly that it lead me to commit their efforts to my longterm memory.

But what changed? Why did I one day wake up and no longer feel as close to TLC as I did when I was 10? I have been racking my brain the past several hours to come up with a solution fitting of ending this editorial on a positive note, but to tell the truth I simply do not know. What I do know however, is that there are few feelings as overwhelmingly joyful as stumbling across an artist or album you once shared a great connection with and realizing those feelings are still alive somewhere deep inside. I no doubt spent five solid minutes in the mirror looking for grey hairs and early wrinkles following the mention of Fanmail reaching the age of fifteen, but after the initial panic of aging subsided I ran to my laptop and dove headfirst into a loud, sing-a-long filled walk down memory lane with the three women that blew my fifth grade mind. It was like having a coffee with a long lost friend, only with more hooks and less conversation.

We all have artists we claim to be our favorites, as well as albums we like to say changed our lives, but today I realized there are probably far more albums and artists deserving of our appreciation than we ever realize. It’s so easy to get caught up with the latest song to punch you in the feels that we often forget the people and songs that helped us in the past. The only reason you are who and where you are today is because of the people and things that influenced your decisions up to this point, and that includes music. It’s a damn shame it took fifteen years for me to realize what an impact Fanmail had on me, but I am happy it did. Who knows where I would be without having pleaded with Carson Daly through my television screen to play the “No Scrubs” clip after *NSYNC? I may not even write about music.

If the best description of what we are as people is the summary of everything we have experienced, then it is of the utmost importance that we take the time to recognize the people and things that helped shape us into the men and women we have become. For me, that includes TLC, but for you it may be “Steal My Sunshine” from Len. Whatever it is, don’t wait a decade or more to revisit it. You don’t know what you may be missing.

Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell
Latest posts by James Shotwell (see all)
Both comments and pings are currently closed.

3 Responses to “No Scrubs Allowed: TLC’s ‘Fanmail’ Turns 15”

  1. Brian Lion says:

    What’s even crazier is that ‘CrazySexyCool’ turns 20 in November.

  2. HaulixJames says:

    I’m hoping to rope Josh into writing about that one.

  3. Pitchsurfer says:

    Good article! Love TLC… and Fanmail. Their legacy has aged such that they were more than just your average pop/R&B/Hip-hop group.