Pillbox

Court depositions shed new light on Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" saga

Say what you will about "Blurred Lines" and its contribution to rape culture; no one can deny it's been a bad year to be Robin Thicke (credit: Emily Giedzinski/) Say what you will about "Blurred Lines" and its contribution to rape culture; no one can deny it's been a bad year to be Robin Thicke (credit: Emily Giedzinski/) Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor

They always said the Devil would be attractive. They just never said he’d be the guy who sang “Get Lucky.”

These words must certainly have passed through Robin Thicke’s mind a few times in the last year. The R&B crooner’s career suddenly exploded in March 2013 with the release of “Blurred Lines,” an I-just-can’t-help-myself-no-matter-how-hard-I-try catchy ode to womanizing that Thicke, according to album credits, co-wrote with Pharrell Williams. The song, as we know all too well, went on to become the “song of the summer.”

But the Devil was lurking in the shadows, and as “Blurred Lines” shot to the top of the charts, Thicke saw his life disintegrate in the afterburn.

Controversy surrounding the song’s misogynistic and rape-condoning lyrical content, as well as the infamous NSFW music video, made Thicke a token in conversations about sexual assault.

A performance at the VMAs with Miley Cyrus — the twerk heard ‘round the world — put him at the center of a cultural firestorm involving sexual exploitation of teens, misguided racial appropriation, and bad music.

A widely circulated photograph of Thicke placing his hand on a model’s rear end at a VMAs after-party was followed by an announcement of his divorce from wife Paula Patton, whom he’d been with since the two were teenagers.

His latest album, released in July and titled Paula, is a 14-track (15 if you count the Afrojack remix) plea to his ex-wife to take him back. She has not, and the album flopped. In its first week of release in the UK, Paula moved 530 copies — in Australia, 54.

And now, due to an ongoing lawsuit over whether “Blurred Lines” plagiarized soul superstar Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got To Give It Up,” a new element in the breaking of Robin Thicke has been revealed through recently released court deposition papers: He didn’t actually write the song that catapulted him to the upper echelon of fame and then snapped him like Matzah.

In fact, he arrived late to the studio and the song was already “80% finished.” In fact, he was too high to be of any help in the studio, save provide vocals. In fact, he’s been high pretty much all the time for the past year, especially in interviews where he vigorously defended his art against detractors who accused him of perpetuating rape culture in America.

The admissions Thicke made in that court deposition — no doubt made to try to clear himself of any wrongdoing in this copyright suit — cast Thicke’s greatest year in a whole new light. Whereas before Thicke’s story was the downfall of a man who tried to appeal to our basest instincts with primitive lyrics tied to a catchy beat and received the due backlash, it now looks more like Willy Loman’s: the story of a desperate man who just wanted people to like him.

Thicke was desperate enough for fame that he signed in blood on the dotted line and just didn’t expect how much would be asked in return.

Before “Blurred Lines,” the average American’s opinion on Thicke and his gorgeous baby blues was, at best, total apathy. And while Thicke’s career may not have been the most successful in music, it was certainly one to be proud of.

His music career began before he was even out of high school. Thicke formed a vocal group (boy band), As One, and asked his father — television actor Alan Thicke, or “the dad from Growing Pains” — if he could have some money for a professional demo. Alan, accustomed to dispensing sagely fatherly advice to a blossoming Leonardo DiCaprio, told his son that he’d have to finish high school before following his dreams of singing smooth songs of seduction and heartbreak.

Like all determined kids, Thicke got what he wanted regardless. After securing the money from a friend’s uncle, he recorded the four-song demo, which eventually found its way into the lap of producer and R&B singer Brian McKnight, with whom Thicke would co-write the 1995 hit “Anyway,” off McKnight’s second album. From there, the 17-year-old Thicke began making a name for himself as an industry-man: producing and writing songs for artists.

With the new millennium came new aspirations, and Thicke began working on his own album. 2002 saw the release of his debut single, “When I Get You Alone.” The music video depicts a younger, simpler Thicke, gleefully riding a bicycle through the streets of Manhattan, his wild and untamed hair flowing free as he rhythmically bounces on the handlebars like an overexcited child.

The years 2003 through 2011 would see Thicke release a total of five albums, all of them written and produced by Thicke himself. That kind of output — especially for a pop and R&B singer — is pretty impressive, and while Thicke’s singles never made a huge pop-culture splash, they still sold well. But it just wasn’t enough.

Fast forward to 2013, as Thicke began work on his sixth album. He had a studio session booked with superstar producer Pharrell Williams, who was behind pop staples “I’m a Slave 4 U,” “Hot in Herre,” and many more.
In the story he told in 2013, Thicke strolled into the studio humming the Marvin Gaye tune “Got To Give It Up,” and suggested the two try to write a song that had a similar groove and style. They bounced ideas around the room, began catcalling to each other and thought it was funny so they threw their creepy “I know you want it”s into the song, and finally walked out with “Blurred Lines.”

But now we know how it actually went down.

Running (very) late, Thicke arrived at the studio bombed out of his gourd on Vicodin and alcohol, ready to sit down with Williams and write a song. Except Williams was pretty much done already and, seeing as Thicke was likely useless given that chemical cocktail, told the man to get in the booth and sing the words he’d written.

Once it was completed and they were listening to it, Thicke surely must have made the realization that he, at last, had a bona fide hit on his hands, and that he’d had absolutely nothing to do with it. Five albums and 18 years of writing and producing songs, giving it his absolute all, and his first smash would have happened with or without him. It must’ve felt like proof that nothing he ever composed himself would be good enough; that he, frankly, wasn’t superstar material. Even with the inflated ego granted by a water bottle of vodka, that must’ve cut deep.

On that day, Thicke picked up the pen and held it in his hand, the flaming contract in front of him. But it wasn’t until he sat down with music video director Diane Martel that he unwittingly sealed his own doom.

Martel got her start directing videos for 1990s New York hip-hop acts such as Lords of the Underground and Method Man. She also helmed many of Mariah Carey’s early videos, shepherding Carey’s transformation from innocent songstress to sexy pop diva.

Thicke asked for a “white cyc” video — meaning all the action is filmed against a blank background — and Martel factored that into her vision: “to make videos that sell records … not to make videos that express my own obsessions, but to make videos that move units.” What better way to move units than simply put a bunch of naked models on the screen, make a porno and call it “NSFW,” and release it into the Internet? From a marketing standpoint, I’d say it’s uninspired, but certainly effective.

Thicke reported that he had his doubts about the video, but declared in an interview that he decided “Hey … let’s go for it …’cause for me, nudity is the least offensive thing in the world.” And just like a hopeless middle schooler who finally gets a chance to stay out late with the cool kids, he asked for permission from the necessary authority ­— he claimed his wife allowed him to go through with the idea – and must have begun excitedly pondering the heights to which this song would take him.

And like Faust, Thicke briefly saw all of his dreams come true. “Blurred Lines” ripped a hole in the cultural continuum, becoming a fact of life for just about anyone who existed within earshot of a speaker. But not everyone was singing along.

Women everywhere began commenting on the song’s lyrical message. Lisa Huynh wrote in a post on her “feminist in LA” blog in April 2013 that “the majority of the song has the R&B singer murmuring ‘I know you want it’ over and over into a girl’s ear. Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in sexual activity.”

In September 2013, Project Unbreakable, a photographic project dedicated to rape survivors, held up placards comparing words spoken by their attackers to lines from the song. In November 2013, the student union of University College London officially banned the song from play, joining another 20 student unions in the UK who’d already done so. A July 2014 “#AskThicke” twitter stunt resulted in the singer’s feed being flooded with comments relating to the song’s controversy, including such gems as “When you’re not busy objectifying women, making light of rape and justifying sexual violence, how do you like to relax?” and “The world my kids will grow up in is less safe because of Blurred Lines. How can you fix that?”

Thicke could’ve shielded himself from some of the blowback by admitting the truth: that he didn’t actually write the song. But in interviews — interviews we now know he’d prepared for by downing a water bottle of vodka and a couple of prescription painkillers — he constantly held to his original story that a) he helped write it and b) the plan was for it to sound somewhat similar to “Got To Give It Up” the entire time. Why did Thicke do this? The reason is actually pretty understandable:

“I always prided myself on the fact that I wrote and produced my first six albums myself … Once [Blurred Lines] became successful, I felt like I wanted to have some of the credit for the other six albums worth of work that I had done.”

Williams wrote the song, but because it was Thicke’s face and voice all over it, Thicke got the blame.

Thicke vehemently defended the song in interviews by saying that everyone needed to lighten up and not take the song so seriously. His appearance on the Today Show now appears particularly sad. When asked how he felt about having the hit of the summer, Thicke responded, “Dreams really do come true. If you stay committed and keep trying, your dreams do come true.” As long as they’re the dreams of someone who knows how to dream for a mass audience.

At the end of the interview, Thicke broke into a performance of his song “Take It Easy On Me,” which he prefaced with a request that the world do the same to him.

Come on guys, I didn’t even write it. No one seemed to care when I was pouring my heart into my work. Now that I’ve given you what you want, please just let me have my moment in the sun.

During his performance later that year at the VMAs, Miley Cyrus gyrated against his pelvis and everyone thought, “Gross. Isn’t that guy almost old enough to be her father?” For a man who had sparked a national discussion of sexual misconduct, dancing suggestively with a teen on national television certainly was a misstep. But once again, it’s hardly likely the performance was Thicke’s idea at all.

Given the way telecast awards shows are run — especially ones on the ever image-conscious MTV — it’s much more plausible that show producers devised the entire thing and Thicke was once again simply given instructions. But it was Thicke’s pelvis on screen, and thus Thicke once again got the blame.

Shortly after the VMAs, the infamous picture of Thicke grabbing model Lana Scolaro at an after-party surfaced. In February 2014, Paula Patton and Thicke announced their “mutual” separation.

In July 2014, Thicke released an album that he hoped would win back his ex-wife. Titled Paula, the record sports such hopefully sad song titles as “Get Her Back,” “Love Can Grow Back,” and “Too Little Too Late.” The album was a failure in all categories: Paula did not take him back, and the album completely bombed.

So now, what does Robin Thicke have left? His career will likely never recover from the damage wrought by “Blurred Lines,” his marriage to a woman he’d been with since they were 14 years old lies in a million little pieces on his bathroom floor, Marvin Gaye’s family is still suing him over the song he didn’t write, and everyone thinks the words “sexual assault” when they hear his name. At least he’s sober:

“I’ve been sober for the last two months. When your wife leaves you, it gives you good reason to sober up … I’ve actually only been sober off the … Vicodin. I still drink.”

Well, at least he’s off the pills.

So now, about a year and a half after “Blurred Lines” was unleashed upon the world, Thicke has lost just about everything he’d spent so many years building. He sold his soul for a shot at fame, allowed himself to be handled like a monkey, and will now only remain relevant as long as using his name as the butt of a crass joke is still funny.

Damn you Devil, why couldn’t you let this one go?