Music Video Throwback: TLC – No Scrubs

I love music videos. I used to watch them frequently and discovered a lot of great music doing so. Every now and then I will post about an interesting video to recall those times, hence Music Video Throwback.

It's been too long since I've done a Music Video Throwback, but a wonderful serendipitous moment last week gave me inspiration. So without further ado, here's a look at TLC's "No Scrubs." Happy Birthday, America!

In my memory, this song absolutely owned 1999, whether on the radio (according to Billboard, it technically came in 2nd to Cher's "Believe," on the airwaves for the year, but that feels like splitting hairs) or on television. I remember that it was a big comeback for TLC too, but I didn't realize that Fan Mail was their first album in five years, which seems like a crazy interval between records in the 90s. Nevertheless, it was very well received and quickly became ubiquitous. I mean, you know it's a huge hit when it prompts the Sporty Thievz to write a song in response.

As we learn in its very early seconds, the video was directed by Hype Williams. It features several hallmarks of his style. It's shot with a fish-eye lens, making everything a bit larger than life. The wardrobe includes shiny outfits similar to "Mo Money, Mo Problems," "The Rain," and "Dangerous," though in this context, the outfits are sexier and less puffy. Makes sense, considering the members of TLC all are beautiful women. Another thing the video does, right from the point when Left Eye (RIP) does her rap verse, is speed up the motion, making it quick and jerky – something I talked a lot about in my last installment on "Dangerous" by Busta Rhymes. For non Hype reference points, it also reminds me of the Michael & Janet Jackson "Scream" video with the flashy, sci fi-lite imagery and "Virtual Insanity" in how it plays with the room: the ladies walk on walls and ceilings at times.

I like that the video balances shots of the three as an ensemble with individual scenes, which I feel helps fans and also reflects something great about music: how the parts become the whole. Chili is the main vocalist for the song, so we get shots of her singing alone, particularly on the swing. Left Eye has a rap verse, mostly when she's dressed in blue with the weird flying camera, and throws in plenty of embellishments. T-Boz adds harmonies and in the video, and on her own, she gets to dance the most. Her moves are the most memorable. But there are plenty of shots of all three together, which is what matters, as does the combination of R&B vocals, hip-hop rhymes, and dance that makes their sound. You can see them move as one, you can hear their voices together. The video allows fans to get to know each member a little better, perhaps enough to identify with a certain member, but it also makes clear this is very much a cohesive trio. It's all in their name – three letters that make one unit. When Left Eye was in the fatal car accident, the group essentially was done (though it seems there may be a comeback in the works for next year, perhaps with a hologram assist).

The video is iconic, but I think it's the song itself that looms largest. The real reason I'm writing about it today is because I heard it recently for the first time in quite awhile, and it was a pretty magical moment. Last Thursday afternoon, I had to go to the grocery store during work to get some refreshments for a meeting I was holding. I popped in a local place in East Williamsburg, and shortly after I entered, this song came on. I had been feeling a little stressed about the meeting, but with those opening guitar notes (which are synced very well in the video, with everything lighting up), I started to relax. Pop hits seem to become better years later because besides whatever merit they have on their own, they inevitably tie back to older times, which we tend to look upon more fondly. Truth is, I wasn't all that into the song back in the day but have grown to appreciate it. My favorite moment is when the first chorus comes in after Chili goes, "So…" and on the "No" the drums come in, right before "I don't want your number." The first pre-chorus. I may or may not have made some moves in sync with this moment as I walked down the produce aisle.

I meandered around the store getting my items and I was grooving a little bit; the song just sounded so good and was hitting me right. I mean, it's catchy as hell. It's impossible to erase anything about "No Scrubs" from the mind, I knew all the words without trying. The best part was I got proof many feel the same way. I had my items and made my way to the check out to find that the workers and other customers were singing and dancing along! Both my cashier and the one in the next aisle were teaming up on the chorus and a woman in line started joining in, prompting one to joke "Hey, I had it myself." There was a middle-aged gentleman who was bobbing up and down, stacking baskets. He took the "hanging out the passenger side of his best friend's ride, trying to holler at me," while this happened and he had a beautiful voice! I often wish life could be more like music videos or film soundtracks and I completely unexpectedly found myself in such a moment. It was a rare joy and so awesome. All because of a pop song in a grocery store.