MUSIC. What would drive over 500,000-800,000 consumers worldwide to download this track weekly and make it dominate worldwide record charts for over seven weeks and counting? Let me count the ways…
1) The Michael Jackson-esque “Woo!”. Pharrell kept on yelping that high-pitched “Woo!” sound throughout the song. It keeps on making me recall the late Michael Jackson, who does this yelp through several of his songs.
2) Sampling Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”. You can’t go wrong sampling Marvin Gaye, especially his 1978 dance classic.
3) “Hey, hey, hey!” Just like the “Woo!”, the song is loaded with a whole bunch of “Hey, hey, hey!”s which are heard in a lot of soul records, but here reminds me of catchphrases uttered by Bill Cosby’s beloved character, Fat Albert, and Hanna-Barbera’s Yogi Bear. Speaking of Bill Cosby, more on him when I talk about parodies…
4) Naughty innuendos. With minimal profanity, the song is laden with naughty lines like “What rhymes with hug me?” and others. Yes, it also caused a furor, but, well, naughty things that are hinted at instead of being explicitly described tickles and piques the interests of many listeners, and would consider it enjoyable.
5) Chorus. The chorus for me sounds very similar to the slinky chorus of that 1990 Bell Biv Devoe classic, “Poison”. It made me dream a mash-up between the two songs–it also would have a narrative thread, as it can start with “Blurred Lines”, about a guy seducing a lady but was then played by the lady and so the heartbroken guy labeled her the toxic word.
VIDEO: The video that came with the song of course is a major contributor to its success. The visuals do have their appeal, and let me break down the appealing elements.
1) Dem Girls.* It’s not simply because the three girls are sexy and willing to go topless, but they are also all stunningly gorgeous and that off-the-hook beauty makes the video highly appealing. I’ll be discussing more about them in the bottom of this essay.
* I use a slangy term as I’m actually making a cheeky pun. Think about a David Guetta hit song with a title that had to be sanitized, and listen to the end of the chorus for a clue…
2) Silly Shuffle Dances. It was reported in some articles that the idea for the guys’ silly shuffles is that they are playing dirty old men leering at pretty ladies. Because they looked like their usual selves, that message didn’t quite come across and while some people are baffled by the walking, I found it amusing. I especially like the way Robin shuffles across the room that I sometimes want to emulate that walk when I walk across my office floor.
3) Farm Props (Plus Other Inspirations from Classic Rock Album Covers). It’s weird to see hay, a banjo, and a goat against a white video backdrop. But the imagery made me recall a now-classic album cover from Roxy Music for Country Life. I wonder if that was one of the inspirations for the video concept?
The nubile innocent vibe evoked by the blonde girl in the video also seems to be inspired by another classic rock album cover–though clearly the blonde girl is of legal age, she evokes the image of the topless 11-year-old girl on the controversial cover of the 1969 supergroup Blind Faith.
4) Flashing Hash-tags. As a nod to the Twitterverse, the video is peppered with flashing red hash-tags, featuring the words “#THICKE” and “#BLURREDLINES”. It is one element that made the video unforgettable and rife for parodies.
5) Overall Playful Vibe. It is easy for a video featuring leering, fully-clothed men and topless, scantily clad women to become extremely vulgar, but the vibe of the entire video is actually more lighthearted and playful, that the video is in my reckoning, rather tolerable (though I do understand the arguments by some parties on why it is still objectionable). There are some gentle cuddling and playful touching, but none that goes too far on-camera. It is implied that the activities here are being done by consenting adults so that is why even if it generates controversy, it is not at the point where the public in general is repulsed by it.
CONTROVERSIES: Speaking of controversy, let’s now talk about the objections about the song and video.
1) Date-Rape Lyrics. There are people who read the lyrics and feel that the song promotes date-rape, as it seems with lines like “I know you want it” seeming to imply that the girl’s explicit consent with what the man is asking is beside the point. In a sense, I do agree that it could be dangerous to act on the lyrics of this song. But I can also interpret it as a playful role-play between an established couple, too.
These controversial lyrics seem out of character for Robin Thicke, it may seem, as he’s best known for those romantic, “respectful-to-women” lyrics. But then again, unleashing Robin’s bad-boy side may be the thing to bring his career to the next level, as I mentioned how underrated he is. I can imagine the banter between Robin and Pharrell in the studio:
Robin: “What shall I do, Pharrell? The record company is disappointed with the sales of my last album, Love After War. What can I do to convince them that I still have it in me to go to the next level?”
Pharrell: “You know, Robin, you got swagga. But your songs are rather goody-goody. I know you have a bit of a bad-boy in you, man. Maybe you should show that side of you.”
Robin: “You may be right. What if I play this…” [Opening keyboard riff to “Blurred Lines”].
I think a good, upstanding, happily married gentleman like Robin Thicke should be allowed to show a little of his bad side, just as long as it doesn’t spill over and make him do a 180 on his personal life. Anyway, it could be perfect fodder for some of Robin and Paula’s bedroom games (if you recall his “Love After War” video, it is likely they sometimes indulge in role-playing in their bedroom). Don’t you imagine Paula saying to him, “You’ve been a very bad boy! A very, very bad, bad boy, Robin…”
2) The Video Objectifies Women. Admittedly it is the truth, but the playful mood of the video makes it palatable and tolerable in my reckoning (though I know some might then argue that because it is playful that makes it more dangerous). And adding fuel to this objection is the fact that in promotional appearances, due to obvious logistical reasons they don’t use the actual girls in the video to stand as back-up when Robin sings his song in TV appearances–they hired relatively close facsimiles. It gives the implied message that girls could be interchangeable. I know this is not really intentional, but I can’t help but notice the effect.
DEM GIRLS, I MEAN, LADIES: So for the purposes of trying to counteract the unintentional objectification brought about by not actually featuring them in the promotion of the song in TV shows, let us pay tribute to those utterly stunning and beautiful women that graced the video. Actually, Huffington Post has a more in-depth article on them that you can read here.
Emily Ratajkowski. She’s the lovely Caucasian brunette in the video, born in London, UK but raised in California of Polish and Israeli descent. She has done a lot of high profile modeling and commercial gigs, like this overly sexy Carls, Jr. commercial for Memphis Barbecue burgers.
Elle Evans. Actually, this blonde has a pageant connection–she was third runner-up at Miss Teen USA 2008 representing Louisiana, and her real name is Lindsey Gayle Evans. She then garnered notoriety by being dethroned from that post because she was then arrested for skipping a restaurant bill and being caught with marijuana. It then led to a path of further notoriety as she then became October 2009’s Playboy’s Playmate of the Month and was girlfriend to dance music producer Deadmau5. I was surprised by her notorious background as she looked so innocent in the video.
Jessi M’Bengue. This black French (of Senegalese, Ivorian, and Algerian descent) model, actress, and singer doesn’t normally look the way she does in the video. She normally sports a frizzy afro, and is similarly striking and stunning in that look.
I originally intended this to be only a two-part essay, but I realize that with the slew of parodies (and other homages) that came up in the past few weeks, I am going to extend this into a three-part essay.
COMING UP: THE PARODIES AND OTHER HOMAGES