For the few people who’ve been living on that planet-type thingy called “Pluto,” soul/R&B singer Robin Thicke’s single, “Blurred Lines,” is burning up the charts and taking no prisoners. Although it was released on March 26–19 weeks ago–as of August 6, it’s hit #1 on charts in an astonishing 80 countries and will no doubt get an assist from the second track from the Blurred Lines LP, “Give It 2 U.” The LP is currently #9 on the iTunes Album Chart while the single is still atop the iTunes Singles Chart.
The “Blurred Lines” single was produced by Pharrell Williams who wrote and recorded it with Thicke in about two hours, later adding rapper T.I. to round out the scene the song portrays, according to a May 7 article on the GQ website. “Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up.’ I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’” And so “Blurred Lines” was conceived, baked like a bun in the oven and delivered . . . straight into controversy.
“Blurred Lines” single by Robin Thicke (featuring T.I. + Pharrell)
As a music reviewer, I’m supposed to know everything there is to know about the music I’m reviewing. However, in this instance, I am at a complete loss as to why the song and the video created such an uproar. Seriously, I had to look inside and ask myself if I was missing something. I must have listened to “Blurred Lines” at least 30 times in the last week, at a minimum. At least five of those times were with the words sitting right in front of me so that I could make sure I hadn’t misheard a line or 20. It turns out that my sense of female power and my sense of hearing are both intact. It’s the individuals who called the song and video “sexist” and “degrading to women” who seem to have issues. Those issues primarily have to do with sex and, perhaps, a little bit with non-white, working class culture. Please allow me to explain.
Although a parody, “Blurred Lines” very obviously speaks to the madonna/whore dichotomy that still exists in the United States. Many women and men still believe that a woman is a slut (a word I detest, btw) if she seeks sexual pleasure in a manner that satisfies her and discards some pronouncement somewhere by someone who probably has “three legs” that women have to hide who they are as sexual beings in order to be considered morally acceptable. The blurred lines of the title refer to the idea that “good girls” shouldn’t be sexually forward, sexually alluring and sexually free, but those characteristics are there even though she’s trying to be a “good girl.” I have a problem with that idea first and foremost because there are already too many people trying to tell me what I should do with my body. (Anti-choice activists, anyone?) The second reason I have a problem with the false madonna/whore, “good girl”/”bad girl” dichotomy is that all of the onus is on women to control themselves as opposed to the reality that her partner, if straight, is going to be a man. What is his responsibility? That’s always been a question I’ve wanted to ask an imam about sharia, but that’s another post.
The second seeming misinterpretation of “Blurred Lines” lies in the probability that most of those who’ve condemned the song are white. I can hear it now, “Well, Robin is a blue-eyed, white man, too.” Yeah, well, truthfully, I think he’s just a very light-skinned black man. He’s got a greater understanding of black culture than about 99.5% of whites in this country. That is partially because, for whatever reason, black culture attracted him. If I remember correctly, it was his mother, soap actress Gloria Loring, who fostered his love of Motown, Philly International, Stax and Atlantic’s R&B catalog while his father, actor Alan Thicke, fostered his knowledge of rock. Now, add to that the fact that he fell in love with a black girl, now his wife, actress Paula Patton, when they were both in their teens, thereby making him an honorary black man. I don’t mean that as a joke or as something another person, be they black or white, would be pleased about.
Personal experience has taught me that black men with white women have a more difficult time with attitudes of family, “friends” and colleagues than white men with black women. However, that doesn’t mean there’s smooth sailing for either of them. In this instance, Thicke had to see the pain inflicted on the love of his life just because of the color of her skin and has written songs about how it makes him feel. The first was in the track “Dreamworld” from his 2008 LP Something Else and then on his 2011 LP Love After War with the track “I Don’t Know How It Feels To Be You.” Although Patton is biracial, she identifies as a black woman. That is also how the rest of the world sees her. It doesn’t matter that her mother is white. Patton’s skin color is a lovely café au lait. In addition, since giving birth to her son, Julian, a couple of years ago, her body reflects more of her black heritage than it did before. Personally, I’m not complaining about that one bit! In fact, I’m thanking the good Lord for deciding to play up those genes, but I digress.
Within black, working-class culture, it is not at all unusual to see a group of men hanging out on the corner talking smack, smoking whatever and flirting with pretty girls and women. If we were truthful, we’d admit that we like it as long as talk doesn’t turn to physical or verbal violence. What woman doesn’t like to be appreciated under appropriate circumstances? It gives us power and we love it! I’m of the belief that all girls need to begin to learn about the natural power they have starting just before puberty. Otherwise, they’ll be ill-prepared to deal with men OR other women. Sex is one of the most powerful gifts given to all creatures, but particularly mammals. Why on earth shouldn’t we be happy men want to “talk” (also known as “rap”) to us? Oh, right. It’s sexist and degrading. Hmph! Then call me a victim of sexism and degradation because I am not complaining. I thoroughly enjoy harmless flirting with and by men and women.
That just leaves the maelstrom (I borrowed that description from Daddy Thicke’s interview in the August 5 online edition of The Daily Mail because it so accurately describes the fuss) that followed once the video was released. Oy! Not only were Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell accused of being sexist and degrading, the original video was banned from YouTube! In all fairness, it did have three topless models walking around; mylar balloons that said, “Robin Thicke has a big dick,” and; YouTube has viewers of all ages. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that it isn’t content providers’ place to police the Internet. That job belongs to the parents of the children who may actually be harmed by something. There are at least two versions of the video and I believe there may be a third. Video service vevo has an edited and an unrated version up. I would have embedded it, but WordPress apparently has security issues with the service. YouTube eventually relented and put the edited video up with a parental advisory.
Eh. The entire controversy is ridiculous in the first place. Parody such as the “Blurred Lines” video is perfectly legitimate. Unfortunately, I had to thoroughly address it before going on to do what I really want to do and review the LP. Due to this faux controversy crap, there are precious few words left in this posting.
I had no intention whatsoever of liking Thicke’s new LP, Blurred Lines. I’d read that it would be heavy with dance/pop music and I wanted more of the soulful ballads by which to make babies. I live for my Robin Thicke ballads! I was all prepared to ask the music gods, “Why, why, why did you let him let me down?” as tears flowed forth from my eyes like the Nile. I don’t like to admit it, but I was wrong. Indeed, I was very wrong. The LP dropped July 30; I downloaded it August 1, and; I haven’t stopped listening to it any time I’ve got music playing, which is most of the time.
Taking his cue from the cute, danceable and sexy single by the same name, Blurred Lines, the LP is quite sexually explicit. Mind you, I don’t have any problem with that at all, but I’m a grown woman who could probably teach the Thicke-Pattons a few things about f . . . er, making love. I love it when Thicke sings about getting his/their freak on. Is it any wonder that my very favorite of his six LPs is Sex Therapy? That’s just who I am and another reviewer might say that there is too much emphasis on sex. OK, so let’s concentrate on dance.
The first few seconds of the second track on the LP, “Take It Easy On Me” made me remember my days in undergrad. Not only was I a disc jockey on the NPR station at Oberlin College my freshman year, my boss and the head DJ at the campus disco was my lover from his junior year until long after I’d transferred and graduated from Kent State and he’d graduated from Oberlin. My show at Oberlin was a combination of jazz and disco. Yes, I know that it looks weird on paper, but it works. The show was popular at Oberlin and at Kent’s smaller, closed-circuit radio station where I landed after being turned down by Kent’s NPR station.
My now-former lover’s blood cells should be shaped like a treble clef. The man is made of music, no matter his other characteristics. He taught me a lot and watched me/heard me mess up so much it was embarrassing. But by the time I got to Kent, I was pretty good at crossfades and mixes. Until Thicke’s LP, I hadn’t realized how much I miss the music.
I mention this portion of my private life as background for what I’m about to write. This LP is pure late 70s through mid-80s dance music. Disco is NOT dead! Right now, I’m listening to “Get In My Way” and thinking that it would mix well with The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp” sampled underneath. Don’t believe me? Here’s the YouTube video of the latter.
The beats are just a smidge off, but that’s easily fixed, as is matching keys. I wonder if anyone has tried to do that as yet. I can’t see how anyone who has ever spun professionally and been around during the disco/dance days could not hear it.
There is another song on the LP that I’ll mention briefly because the idea is cute, although the execution didn’t completely thrill me, although it is growing on me. “Ain’t No Hat 4 That” is a song about women taking consolation in the material things they can buy because they’ve spent so much time and energy on their careers they haven’t landed a love interest. I admit to knowing a whole lot about women like that, especially since WickedWomanMag.com will have them as its primary target readership when we launch October 1. The hook, “Ain’t no hat 4 that,” refers to the loneliness and sadness that can only be lifted by opening oneself up to possibilities and not by buying another accessory to stuff in an overcrowded closet. That’s well and good, but the thing that I truly loved about this track is that three generations of Thicke men played a part in it. Robin’s father, Alan, has a writing credit and his son, Julian, speaks “Ain’t no hat 4 that” with the most adorable little voice I’ve heard in ages.
The last song I want to highlight is “For the Rest of My Life.” It is classic Robin Thicke and I am so, so glad, even though I really do love this LP. Here, he’s singing about how he and his wife got together as kids. Yes, he’s sung about their relationship before, but he’s never revealed so much of their genesis in such detail. I am a hopeful romantic, so hearing how he got together with his wife let’s me know that there are still romantic males out there. Like most women who like men 100% or, in my case, somewhere averaging 30%-40% of the time, I need that reminder occasionally. Thanks, Robin! You’ve definitely killed it–but in a wonderful way–on this LP!
Minor editing on August 8, 2013.