Countless online articles have deemed the hit song “Blurred Lines” to be Robin Thicke’s “rape anthem,” claiming that the song glorifies male dominance in denial of a woman’s sexual agency, especially in tandem with its controversial music video.
Much has been written about the song and its accompanying video, but few have assessed the artistic inclinations of the piece. Few have asked questions about what visual tropes were used, about how the viewer’s gaze is directed in the video and the effect that individual phrases have on the listener.
I acknowledge that there are some classless moments in the song. References to “bitches” and penis size will never be classy– or even acceptable– in my book, but that does not necessarily mean that the song is “rapey.”
The people I have spoken with are most familiar with the lines trotted out by every anti-“Blurred Lines” writer. “I know you want it” appears on repeat, as does “You’re a good girl.” What these writers never mention is that the majority of the lyrics tend to mitigate any questionable implications of “I know you want it.”
“One thing I ask of you/Let me be the one…”
“…So I just watch and wait for you to salute…”
“…So hit me up when you passing through…”
“…That man is not your maker…”
The above lyrics are very much focused on female agency. So this guy thinks he knows that the woman wants him, but he is still very much focused on convincing her to choose him. While that may be arrogant and crass, it is not predatory. “I know you want it” is far different from, “I know you don’t want it, and I am going to force myself upon you.”
Many young people have met another person’s eye at a club or bar and thought, “Oh, this one has been throwing looks at me all night. Definitely wants me.” The blurred lines in question could be interpreted as the decision of whether to approach someone new.
On the other hand, they could also reference the dichotomy of a girl’s outward appearance and any potentially hidden sexual desires, or the blurred lines of a girl in a relationship meeting someone new; the possibilities for interpretation are virtually limitless.
The visual interpretation of the video is somewhat less flexible if you observe the video through the lens of an art critic. Articles claim that the video objectifies women and displays them as inferior, positing that, in the video, “the only people worthy of clothes are men.”
In feminist film theory, much of the stress is put on the typically male gaze present in classic Hollywood. The woman is the object of the gaze (often in the form of the camera portraying the woman, unaware she is being watched, in a voyeuristic sense). The woman rarely moves the narrative forward, and she often makes her decisions based on a man, while male agents typically drive the actual storyline.
If we view the “Blurred Lines” video through this lens, it becomes instantly clear that the women own this video. They stare the viewer right in the eye, command the camera and it is their gaze the camera most often follows, not that of the male singers.
They do not spread their legs and pose sexily for the camera; they frolic around with odd props, act generally silly,and turn the whole video into a caricature of the typically demeaning videos of artists like 50 Cent (anyone remember “Candy Shop”?).
Sure, things would be more equitable if the men were naked as well, but I have no interest in seeing a naked, middle-aged Robin Thicke. I take no offense at nudity; in the words of Robin Thicke’s wife Paula Patton, “Violence is ugly. Nudity is not.”
The most wonderful and challenging aspect of art is that meaning is rarely set. Much of a song, painting, photo or sculpture comes down to how people interpret the information presented.
While the people writing these condemning articles have the right to such opinions, it is ignorant of them to project their beliefs onto the entirety of listeners and claim them as the gospel truth. Unless the artist flatly explains his intentions, we, the audience, are left to try and cobble together meaning from our own interactions with the song.
In this case, the artist has spoken up about his intentions. In an interview about “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke commented, “All three guys in the video are married and have children… It was all tongue in cheek… We wanted to put everything in that was taboo.” It is also worth noting that not only did Thicke hire a female director, Diane Martel, but he received support and guidance from his wife and her friends.
Thicke later remarked of the song, “It’s supposed to stir conversation, it’s supposed to make us talk about what’s important and what the relationships between men and women are.” Mission accomplished.
The main thing that bothers me about the controversy surrounding “Blurred Lines” is the lack of outcry about genuinely troublesome lyrics present in a lot of popular rap and hip-hop songs.
For example, despite the fact that Beyonce is lauded as a champion of strong, beautiful and independent women, I failed to see any negative press surrounding her song with Kanye West, “Big Ego.” The lyrics transparently refer to Kanye’s massive penis– ahem, “big ego”– with Beyonce singing, “It’s too big, it’s too wide/ It’s too strong, it won’t fit / It’s too much, it’s too tough/ … I love his big ego.”
Another genuinely terrifying song by Eminem called “Stay Wide Awake” includes this gem in the verse:
“I see my target, put my car in park and approach a tender
Young girl by the name of Brenda and I pretend to befriend her…
…see whore, you’re the kind of girl that I’d assault
And rape then figure why not try not to make your pussy wider?
Fuck you with an umbrella, then open it up while the shit’s inside ya.”
The words leave me speechless and horrified, yet for some reason, the American public continues to support Eminem’s music, often touting him as one of the best rappers of our time. Other offenders include songs by Three 6 Mafia, Juvenile and Lil Wayne, and the hit “Ice Cream Paint Job” by Tyga. The list goes on and on and, until truly violent lyrics are relegated to the past, I refuse to take part in the railroading of a relatively harmless– albeit sometimes tasteless– song like “Blurred Lines.”
The question of defining human desire is every bit as convoluted as the meaning of “Blurred Lines.” Until we can make sense of our own confused desires, songs like this will continue to resonate across a broad audience.
The only thing that is clear is that there will never be an unassailably correct interpretation of “Blurred Lines,” but perhaps it would be best to focus on the artists whose songs unequivocally promote rape culture.
Contact Alli Rath at [email protected]