Thicke's music doesn't start discussion
Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks and counting this summer and generated a storm of controversy over the allegedly sexist nature of the song’s lyrics and music video.
“Blurred Lines” has many problematic aspects, which are especially apparent in the explicit version of the music video. In this version, fully-clothed Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. are surrounded by topless women dancing about in skin-colored thongs. The song may be more sexist than other songs pervading popular culture today, but more interesting about the sudden fame of “Blurred Lines’” is Robin Thicke’s own reaction to the controversy. Of course an artist defends himself when criticized for a piece of his work: Thicke’s piece was merely meant to “inspire conversation,” he claimed. “It’s actually a feminist movement within itself. It’s saying that women and men are equals as animals and as power,” the artist said to NBC’s Today Show.
Where is the evidence within the song or the video to back up this claim? In the refrain, Thicke repeatedly croons, “I know you want it... but you’re a good girl.” In no way do these lyrics express the equal power between men and women. There is no indication that Thicke is unable or unwilling to express his own desires because he’s a “good boy.” Some of the language also indicates that the woman he sings of wants sex, but Thicke merely operates under the assumption that she does, as evidenced by lyrics like “The way you grab me/Must wanna get nasty.”
Thicke also told VH1 with regard to the the explicit video that he “just wanted to break every rule of things you’re not supposed to do and make people realize how silly some of these rules are.” How does the song constructively oppose the rules of what we can and cannot do? A model in Thicke’s video clutches a baby goat to her naked chest, and at one point, Thicke pretends to inject a solution into a woman’s rear with a five-foot syringe. In the first instance, what is Thicke trying to say about bestiality? The image of a nude woman holding a goat does not push social boundaries or make us reevaluate cultural ideas. In the second case, the image is incredibly phallic, which is nothing new or different for Western media.
“Blurred Lines” is a pop song, which means that on some level, it’s meant to be light and simple. But Thicke himself claimed on the Today Show that it’s meant to inspire discussion, and that “good art [is] supposed to make us talk about what’s important.” This statement is absolutely true — good art generates conversation and makes us rethink our cultural values. However, simply saying that a work is meant to inspire conversation after actively supporting tropes or stereotypes is cheating. An artist has a responsibility to engage with cultural norms and ideas, not simply perpetuate them.