The Murky Legacy of Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' Five Years Later: Op-Ed
There’s much to be said about the commercial success of Robin Thicke’s magnum opus, “Blurred Lines.” The 2013 hit spent 33 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and held the top spot from late June until early September of that year. Not only was it Thicke’s first (and so far, only) No. 1 hit on the chart, it also garnered him his first (and so far, only) Grammy nomination as a solo performer.
Unfortunately, the song’s chart-topping legacy has been adversely overshadowed -- both by the lawsuit the song's performers have been embroiled in with the Marvin Gaye estate, who (successfully) posited that "Blurred Lines" infringed upon Gaye's '70s chart-topper “Got to Give it Up," and by the murky waters its subject matter has treaded in for the past five years.
Upon its initial omnipresence, the song's lyrics led many listeners to believe that its underlying notions juggled with the idea of sexual consent and objectification of women, while others argued that it was just a catchy, harmless reworking of the Gaye classic. Despite the song’s original fun and “liberated” intentions, the lyrics to "Blurred Lines" -- as well as the song's controversial music video -- were endlessly interpreted and dissected, to unveil a potentially larger issue.
Either way it’s observed, the inescapable ditty and the fallout that followed seemingly christened the track as one of the more polarizing, conversation-starting pop songs in recent memory, and contributed to the derailment of a once promising R&B career.
Quickly after its release, the tune sparked an uproar from several corners of the Internet. Supposed “come hither” lyrics such as “I know you want it...you’re a good girl” echoed the argument that the track was “kind of rapey.” Not to mention, guest rapper T.I.’s verse -- which brought the signature bravado we’ve come to expect from the ATLien -- featured eyebrow-raising one-liners, such as “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” (adding startlingly straightforward context to the “Robin Thicke Has a Big Dick” sign spelled out in silver Mylar balloons in the video). Although the lyrics were concealed by the upbeat Pharrell production, issue was taken with the “no means yes” thought process and inherent misogyny that seems to emanate throughout the track.
It’s also hard not to notice the stark contrast between the fully clothed male performers and the nearly-naked female models in the NSFW version of the “Blurred Lines'" clip. The topless beauties are featured snuggling in bed with Thicke, Mick Jagger-struttin’ along to the intoxicatingly funky beat, and meowing seductively at the camera. In 2013, model Emily Ratajkowski revealed that the video girls were directed to appear uninterested, yet playfully “sarcastic” with Thicke and company, adding that the widely banned visual was celebrating women and their bodies.
“We took something that on paper sounded really sexist and misogynistic and made it more interesting, which is why women love that video and why it became a viral success,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2015 -- and indeed, there's hardly anything wrong with being confident in the skin you’re in. However, the “sarcasm” elicited began arguments that the models were more passive, sexualized objects to be fawned upon, which further reinforced a man’s power over them. Strike two for Thicke.
Thicke’s performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards certainly didn’t do much to help the situation. The image of former teen ingenue Miley Cyrus twerking on the much-older, then-married singer is forever burned into our psyches, cementing a place in pop culture’s most WTF moments of the decade. Thicke seemingly threw the blame on the “We Can’t Stop” singer in an interview with Oprah Winfrey later that year, saying with a laugh, “I’m not thinking sex, I’m thinking fun... that’s on her." (In 2015, Cyrus told reporters that Thicke was in rehearsals and wanted her “as naked as possible.”)
Robin Thicke’s demeanor throughout the entire ordeal was -- for lack of a better word -- sleazy, which likely made it easier for detractors and critics to point the foam finger at him while all the craziness continued to unfold.
The final nail in the coffin came in a 2013 interview with GQ. “We tried to do everything that was taboo,” he told the magazine, in part of a discussion that he now says was “taken out of context.” “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is,’” he continued. “‘What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’”
The five-year anniversary of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” falling during Women’s History Month similarly does no favors to the song's soiled legacy. In the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, it’s paramount to awaken the minds of those in power that not all kinds of advances are necessarily welcome -- even if those making them are just “thinking fun,” and even if the person involved is being “playful.” The blasé “I know you want it... no more pretending” undertones of the song further perpetuate the idea of men exercising their presumed power over women in sexual situations.
“[“Blurred Lines”] was the beginning, and one of the things that opened my eyes,” Pharrell revealed in a 2017 interview, after being asked if the song would be accepted today. “I understood it. I understand that while the intentions of the song were one thing, the way that some women could have felt based off of her past experiences or someone she’s known, or an inherent fear...”
As a once-avid Robin Thicke fan (his joint show with Jazmine Sullivan at Wingate Field in Brooklyn was my first R&B concert), I truly believed that he portrayed tons of promise as a musician. However, his disposition and perceived lack of concern for the fuss during the “Blurred Lines” era of his career may have alienated a large chunk of his heavily female base, based on the normalization of wild, possibly unrequited sexual activity in song. Though the song remains undeniably catchy, it’s become a bit difficult through the years to look past its lyrics in an attempt to just dance to the track.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from pop-culture throughout the years, though, it’s that good can still come from bad publicity. The “Blurred Lines” mess may have moved the second hand on the doomsday clock of Thicke’s career closer to midnight, but it also aided in creating necessary conversations about sexuality, gender, consent, and cultural narratives in pop music, which contributes to important conversations about sexual consent still needed today. His message about unleashing a “good girl’s” sexual aggression may have gotten flip-turned upside down along the way, and got people talking for all the wrong reasons -- but they still talked.
In the words of Blades of Glory-via-Watch the Throne: “Nobody knows what it means, but it’s provocative... it gets the people going.” The same came certainly be said for Robin Thicke’s signature smash.