"Scrubs and Flubs"
by Britt Julious
Last night, VH1 premiered their TLC biopic CrazySexyCool (Did you watch it? I hope you did.) and while the film lacked any real revelations about the group for a diehard TLC fan, it did re-open the dialogue about public image versus private actions.
I feel like there are two TLC fans: Early and Late. I grew up listening to their music, but little of their earlier material had as much of an impact as “Waterfalls” and especially “No Scrubs.” Both songs were about the effects of poor decisions, though “No Scrubs” was more explicitly about choices in romantic partners.
Like any good biopic, the film emphasized the drama, whether it was about their bankruptcy or their romantic relationships. The TLC the public knew and the TLC we’ve come to understand are not two different entities. I have no doubt that they believed in their messages. But life has a way of throwing kinks into our ideals. On the one hand, we have a band claiming that a “scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me.” On the other, we have women emotionally tied to the likes of Dallas Austin, a philandering genius producer, or Andre Rison … a philandering pro football player. It takes a while for many of us (myself included) to recognize that what we want shouldn’t trump what we need.
Despite the contradictions, the group maintained an empowering public image through their clothing choices (like condom eye patches, like above), video imagery (such as the dissection of unrealistic beauty standards in the media in “Unpretty”), and song lyrics (where to begin? My personal favorite is “Silly Ho”). At Bitch magazine, Frankie Mastrangelo sums it up perfectly in her essay about how “No Scrubs” made her a feminist:
Considering TLC’s position as one of the highest-grossing female acts of all time, their boldness in addressing topics of critical social importance and maintaining a powerful attitude all the while speaks to the group’s unique contribution to mainstream music. The trio worked within a callously commercial industry to pass off a meaningful and productive message, influencing young people from diverse backgrounds everywhere.
Britt Julious writes about race and culture in and outside of Chicago. Follow Britt’s essays for WBEZ’s Tumblr or on Twitter @britticisms.