It's a sad thing to say, but I wish that the latest song from R&B singer Robin Thicke—a No. 1 hit that increasingly looks as if it could be one of the biggest of 2013—was just another throwaway lyrical ode to lust, like so many of its compatriots. It is that. Unfortunately, "Blurred Lines" (the title track from Mr. Thicke's sixth studio album) also pushes the all-too-familiar meme of king-like male celebs treating women like disposable concubines into heretofore unexplored and deeply troubling territory for a major pop hit.
Crooning in a falsetto that would do Prince or Justin Timberlake proud, Mr. Thicke actually doesn't blur much in his lyrics … and even less in the two videos associated with the song. Indeed, Robin Thicke, who's joined by rapper T.I. and fellow R&B phenom Pharrell Williams, does a whole lot more than merely flirt with a nice-but-naughty girl.
He initially implies that she's so sexually voracious that her last man couldn't tame her carnal appetites ("OK now, he was close, tried to domesticate you/But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature/Just let me liberate you"). A bit later, he adds, "The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty."
Then, in the oft-repeated chorus, he calls her a "good girl"—but only for the purpose of declaring, "And that's why I'm gon' take a good girl/I know you want it/I know you want it/I know you want it."
Rapper T.I. ups the nasty ante as he brags graphically (and unprintably) about the damage he intends to do to this woman's anatomy during intercourse, practically threatening to assault her sexually. Then he tosses in an abusive S&M reference as well, saying that her last man "don't smack that a‑‑ and pull you hair like that."
He sums up his "contribution" with a reference to treating this "lucky" lady like a prostitute. "Not many women can refuse this pimpin'," he brags. Thicke chimes in with, "You the hottest b‑‑ch in this place/I feel so lucky."
Dropping a massive exclamation point on those lyrics are two videos made for the song: Both feature three women cavorting, smiling, pouting and sashaying past the song's three musicians as the men watch and nod approvingly. In the first video—that's still on YouTube—they're not wearing much, skimpy lingerie at most. In the second, unrated video that YouTube has banned, they're wearing far less, posing and strutting topless and in g-strings for the entire song.
Both videos aggressively reinforce the deeply destructive idea that women should live merely as men's sexual playthings—and that they somehow thrive on such an existence.
Thicke's hardly the first musician to feature outright nudity in a video, of course. But he might be the highest-profile musician so far to deliver so much. And topping the pop chart in multiple countries practically guarantees this flesh-filled video will garner millions of curious look-sees. The result? Taken together, the song and the explicit video push our culture another big step backward, toward a shoulder-shrugging, laissez-faire acceptance of European-style casual nudity while further reinforcing a deeply misogynistic view of the purpose that women serve in society—one that, in Thicke's musical imagination, begins and ends with their sexual utility.
Robin, who is the son of Growing Pains star Alan Thicke, recently told New York radio station Power 105.1's morning show, "The album is called Blurred Lines. I've realized as I've gotten older that we all think we're living either in a black or white world, or on a straight path, but most of us are living right in between those straight lines. And everything you thought you knew, the older you get, you realize, 'D‑‑n, I don't know nothing about this. I better pay attention, I better listen and keep learning.' So I think that that's what I've been realizing these past few years."
Listen and keep learning? Is that what's going on here? Is that what makes Thicke sing, "Talk about getting blasted/I hate these blurred lines/I know you want it/ … I'm a nice guy, but don't get confused, you git'n it!"?
There are a lot of between-the-lines, shades-of-gray issues in the world that need to be pondered and paid attention to. Leering sexual obsessions, abuse and flat-out misogyny don't make the list.