IT is a law of pop music: nothing gets you noticed faster than a video swarming with naked ladies. That has been the experience of British r’n’b singer, Robin Thicke, who has soared to the top of the American singles charts with the provocative new song, ‘Blurred Lines’, and its flesh-filled promotional reel.
The promo, which has 50m internet hits, despite being banned from YouTube, depicts the smugly bequiffed Thicke partying alongside several giggly, under-dressed young women, with producer, Pharrell Williams, and rapper, TI, as the high-fiving wingmen.
The sleazy video has outraged women’s groups, who, not unreasonably, say it objectifies the female form by harking back to the dark ages of popular entertainment. In 2013, is it acceptable to show naked dancers mugging for three dressed men? (the models are dressed skimpily in an alternative cut of the video). The video is disconcerting. Arguably more unsettling are the song’s lyrics, which commentators have called anti-woman.
“I’ll give you something big enough to tear your a** in two,” croons Thicke in the third verse. At this point in the video, one of the models helpfully holds a balloon, charmingly emblazoned with ‘Robin Thicke has a big d***’
While the track is 95% innuendo, feminists say the underlying message is uncomplicated and explicit: “Has anyone heard Robin Thicke’s new rape song,” wrote blogger, Lisa Huynh. “Basically, the majority of the song … has the R&B singer murmuring ‘I know you want it’ over and over into a girl’s ear.”
“Entertainers have a duty of care to their fans and viewers,” says Liz Madden, coordinator of the Cork Feminista group. “This video makes us question the music industry and the messages that are sent to the public about women. There are many issues I have with the depiction of women... from the hair-pulling and nudity to their ‘dumb’ gazes. It is not a true representation of how most women ‘want it’.
“Within feminism, we are constantly fighting against certain aspects of the music industry and how it portrays women in a negative light. The images in music videos like ‘Blurred Lines’ create the idea that women act submissively in real life. This is not the case.
“We want to encourage the music industry to support positive, healthy and realistic images of women. The music industry does not have a high enough standard of vetting when it comes to music videos like ‘Blurred Lines’.”
‘Blurred Lines’ contains sinister “hidden messages” Madden says. “The images within music videos might not always be obvious to the untrained eye. For instance, I counted four acts of hair-grabbing in the video. We need to continually point these examples out, in hope that we will encourage people to see they are not good for women or feminism.”
“Rape is a serious crime,” says Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop. “It has serious consequences for individuals and society, and it should not ever be made light of”.
Thicke isn’t the only artist to be accused of misogyny recently. Yeezus, the new album from Kanye West, has been attacked for its crude references to oral intercourse and West’s obsession, as a lyricist if not in real life, with sleeping with fans.
There has been disquiet, too, about the procession of rape gags in the fratboy comedy, This Is The End, in particular the scene in which James Franco (playing a caricature of himself) boasts of sleeping with drunk Lindsay Lohan, too wasted, it is implied, to give her consent.
Though widely attacked for demeaning women, the uncomfortable truth is that the whiff of brimstone has helped all of these entertainers shift more product.
Before ‘Blurred Lines’, Thicke, especially, was regarded as a wholesome also-ran. One nudie video later, and he is hanging out with TI and Pharrell and selling millions of downloads.
To a degree, the controversy harks back to an earlier time in music.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, having your song barred because of controversial lyrics was a badge of merit. Would Frankie Goes to Hollywood have received anything like the attention they did, were it not for the BBC’s decision to prohibit ‘Relax’ because of its supposedly suggestive wordplay? Similarly, hindsight tells us that ‘I Want Your Sex’ was the moment George Michael ceased to be regarded as the talented one from Wham! and was accepted as a serious artist more than happy to tweak the nose of the moral majority should his muse dictate it.
Nor does the video to ‘Blurred Lines’ exactly raise the bar for scandal.
From Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ to Nicki Minaj’s ‘Stupid Hoe’, there is a long tradition of music promos purposefully setting out to outrage as many as possible. What distinguishes Thicke is his apparent lack of embarrassment. Far from wrapping himself in the banner of free speech or challenging ‘art’, he has been upfront about his intentions. He wanted to create a piece of softcore eye candy that cheapened women, held their face in the figurative dirt. He seems proud.
“We tried to do everything that was taboo,” he told GQ magazine. “Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before.”