Remember summer 2013, when Robin Thicke, 37, was riding high with “Blurred Lines,” the longest-charting No. 1 of the season? Its accompanying album became his first Billboard 200 No. 1, with sales of 177,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
What a difference a year makes. "Paula," his hastily released July 2 follow-up album and brazen plea to win back estranged wife Paula Patton, has quickly become the year’s most high-profile flop. In the United States, the album debuted at No. 9, selling 24,000 copies out the gate, an 86 percent drop-off from "Blurred Lines"’ debut. On the July 26 chart, the set tumbles to No. 42 with sales of 7,000 — a 72 percent plunge.
While it’s easy to forget the middling sales of Thicke’s pre-“Blurred” life (2007’s "The Evolution of Robin Thicke" sold 20,000 in its Billboard bow), it’s also startling to see the momentum he built grind to such a halt. "Blurred Lines" topped the charts in 15 countries, but "Paula" barely cracked 150 copies in Australia, landing it at No. 207 on ARIA’s album charts.
How did things go so sour so fast for Thicke? A dramatic turn in public opinion, stemming from residual controversy surrounding the lyrics to “Blurred Lines” and a racy performance with Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, got the ball rolling. His Feb. 24 separation from Patton, 38, amid allegations of cheating, followed by heavily scrutinized performances of Paula singles “Get Her Back” and “Forever Love” at the Billboard Music Awards and BET Awards, respectively, didn’t exactly endear him to fans. But it was a live Twitter Q&A-turned-hatefest hosted by VH1 on July 1 that ultimately may have done him in. Among the questions submitted with the hashtag #AskThicke: “What rhymes with ‘hug me’? Is it ... ‘I’m a poor excuse for a man’?”
“If an artist is going through a difficult time, that’s not the moment to make yourself available for more difficulty,” says PR veteran Diana Baron, whose clients include Avicii and the Michael Jackson estate. “Twitter is public. It becomes all about the questions, not the answers.”
If "Paula" as a concept seems ill-advised, that may be because Thicke seemed to take the project into his own hands. He wrote, co-produced, self-financed and recorded the album within three weeks, ditching co-writes with A-list hitmakers Pharrell and Dr. Luke, who made "Blurred Lines" a multiformat smash. The album was then announced five weeks before release, barely offering enough time for a proper setup (an insider maintains that since singles weren’t pushed to top 40 radio, Interscope’s expectations were pragmatically low; the label would not comment). “In terms of the commercial piece, it feels more like a mixtape,” says a source privy to the "Paula" plans. “It was kind of a one-off, his way of saying, ‘This was very personal to me, and it’s out there now.’ ”
Baron suggests Thicke be “quiet for a minute,” then “find one person to give an exclusive interview.” The insider maintains a proper follow-up to "Blurred Lines" could come sooner than later. “Robin’s always about what’s next. He’ll move on with his career relatively quickly."