The Number Ones: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (Feat. T.I. & Pharrell)

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The Number Ones: Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (Feat. T.I. & Pharrell)


In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present. Book Bonus Beat: The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music.

At the time, it seemed like fun. The summer of 2013 brought a surge of sleek, flirty pop-funk anthems. These songs still had the all-surface sheen of the bright-plastic EDM era, but they gave the impression of being more playful and self-aware. The 2013 tracks were deeply horny, but they still got played at weddings, school dances, picnics. The biggest of those songs — the one that dominated the chart for the entire summer — was a bubbly, offhand sex-goof from a career underdog with an unlikely nepo-baby life story. Before it became overwhelming, the success of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was a sunny, unpredictable burst of sexed-up randomness. That’s how it felt in the moment, anyway.

Things change quickly. Over the three months that “Blurred Lines” held sway over the Hot 100, Robin Thicke ceased to come off as a lovable white-soul family man and emerged as a deluded slimeball. People started to notice something that should’ve been obvious in the first place: The song’s lyrics were less about mutual pleasure, more about creepy objectification, to the point where “rapey” became the word that everyone associated with it. The music video, the main reason that the track got so much attention in the first place, only reinforced that impression. The title wasn’t helping anything, either. The backlash quickly came to overwhelm any affection that most people had for the track.

In the years after “Blurred Lines,” different varieties of scandal came to surround the people involved in making the song. All three of them got into an avoidable legal battle with the family of a late, beloved musical icon, and the resulting lawsuit rewrote the music-industry rules in ways that made things shittier for everyone except the owners of copyrights on old songs. Last year, my friend Jayson Greene wrote a great Pitchfork piece that persuasively argued that “Blurred Lines” quickly became an avatar of all sorts of toxic bullshit that would come to infect popular culture over the next decade:

Pick any disheartening pop-cultural trend of the past decade and chances are it applies to “Blurred Lines”: The hollow outrage cycle in news, increasingly reliant on hot takes tossed out with superhuman speed, often without a speck of human logic? The predatory power dynamics of the entertainment industry, and American society’s ongoing dismissal of consent? The increasingly litigious pop landscape, in which lawyers and music publishers fight for scraps, and every pop song feels safely Xeroxed from the last one?

That’s a whole lot of legacy to hang on one relatively unassuming pop song. But when you dig into everything that surrounds “Blurred Lines,” it’s hard to hear the relatively unassuming pop song underneath all of it. I liked “Blurred Lines.” I played it in the car, danced to it, sang along. I’d already been a professional music critic for nearly a decade at that point, but I consumed “Blurred Lines” passively, without thinking about it much. That’s the way that most people consume most pop music. Years later, the context has come to outweigh the song itself. If I squint my ears hard enough, I can hear traces of the song that I liked. But I can hear a lot of other bullshit, too. I’ve been dreading this column for months because of all the bullshit, but the bullshit must be addressed. At this point, “Blurred Lines” is less of a song, more of a vehicle for bullshit. Let’s get to shoveling.

It would be hard to invent a fictional character with a more textbook nepo-baby backstory than Robin Thicke. He’s literally the son of one of America’s favorite sitcom dads. Robin Thicke grew up wealthy and fame-adjacent in Los Angeles. (When Thicke was born, Barbra Streisand’s “Love Theme From A Star Is Born (Evergreen)” was the #1 song in America.) At the time of Thicke’s birth, his father Alan had already served as a Canadian game-show host, and he’d become the producer and lead writer of Norman Lear’s talk-show parody Fernwood 2 Night. Alan Thicke would go on to host syndicated daytime and late-night talk shows. In 1985, he took the role of Dr. Jason Seaver on Growing Pains, a hit sitcom that lasted for seven years and introduced the world to Leonardo DiCaprio.

Alan Thicke met Robin’s mother Gloria Loring when he served as a producer on The Bobby Vinton Show, a variety program hosted by a guy who’s been in this column a few times. Loring was a singer and actress who was guesting on the show. Under the alias Cody Jameson, she’d already released “Brooklyn,” a song that peaked at #74 on the Hot 100. Later on, Loring would star on Days Of Our Lives, and she and her costar Carl Anderson would record the duet “Friends And Lovers,” which peaked at #2 in 1986. (It’s a 3.) Alan Thicke was a bit of a musician, too. Together, he and Loring wrote the Growing Pains theme song, as well as the just-as-memorable themes for sitcoms like Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts Of Life.

So that was Robin Thicke’s family background. His roots in popular culture ran deep. In the ’80s, Thicke’s older brother Brennan voiced the title character on the Dennis The Menace cartoon. As a teenager, Robin Thicke briefly had a group called Think 2wice — amazing name — with future Beverly Hills 90210 star Bryan Austin Green, and the two of them made an ineptly lip-synced appearance on a Growing Pains episode. Robin also hung out at Balistyx, the all-ages rap club night run by David Faustino, the kid who played Bud Bundy on Married… With Children. That’s where a teenage Robin met Paula Patton, a girl who later became an ultra-glamorous movie star. Thicke and Patton were together for decades, and they got married in 2005.

It sure seems like Robin Thicke had a charmed existence, but he couldn’t just waltz into pop stardom. A teenage Robin was part of an R&B group called As One, and he wanted that to be his career, but his father wanted him to finish school. When As One recorded a demo tape, Alan Thicke didn’t pay for the studio time. Instead, that money came from Al Jarreau, whose nephew was one of the other members. (Al Jarreau’s highest-charting single, unless you count “We Are The World,” is 1981’s “We’re In This Love Together,” which peaked at #15.) The demo got Thicke noticed by the R&B star Brian McKnight, who became a mentor figure. In 1995, Thicke co-wrote McKnight’s album track “Anyway,” and that gave Thicke a big early songwriting credit. (Brian McKnight’s hightest-charting Hot 100 hit, 1999’s “Back At One,” peaked at #2. It’s a 6.)

Did people think it was weird that Robin Thicke, the white son of a sitcom star, was making moves in the R&B world? I mean, probably. I can’t imagine that people didn’t think it was weird. Maybe the novelty made Thicke more appealing, or maybe his talent was just enough to overcome all that. Through McKnight, Thicke met Jimmy Iovine and signed to Interscope. His solo career took a while to get going, but Thicke made a living writing and producing for people like Brandy, Color Me Badd, Brownstone, and Christina Aguilera. He also co-wrote the former New Kid On The Block Jordan Knight’s 1999 solo single “Give It To You,” which peaked at #10. (It’s an 8.)

Robin Thicke’s Interscope deal never came to anything, but he went through a few different label deals before ending up back on Interscope to release his 2003 debut album A Beautiful World. It came out under the name Thicke, without the Robin. Thicke’s debut single “When I Get You Alone” was built on a sample of Walter Martin’s disco novelty “A Fifth Of Beethoven,” and it got a pretty big push. I can remember an MTV spot that presented Thicke as an exciting new artist, and I thought this hunky longhair looked like an absolute tool. The song flopped, and so did the album. But Pharrell Williams, red hot at the time, was a fan, and he got Interscope to move Thicke onto the roster of the Neptunes’ Star Trak imprint. (Pharrell has been featured in this column a bunch of times, and he’ll eventually be in this column as lead artist.)

Robin Thicke, with the “Robin” added back onto his name, finally had his breakout moment with a 2006 song that couldn’t be any further from “Blurred Lines.” “Lost Without U” is a tender love-jam with feathery falsetto vocals and just a hint of bossa nova in its gentle backbeat. The video captures a series of intimate moments between Thicke and Paula Patton, and the image of this foxy rich white guy with his even foxier Black wife really resonated with Black women, who became Thicke’s core fanbase right up until “Blurred Lines.” “Lost Without U” became Thicke’s first Hot 100 hit, going all the way to #14. More importantly, though, it made Thicke the first white male artist since George Michael to reach #1 on the R&B chart.

Lots of white people were making R&B records in the mid-’00s, and they found varying degrees of acceptance at Black radio. But Thicke really only succeeded there. He’d jump on tracks with rappers, and some of those tracks were really good. I absolutely loved “Shooter,” the Carter II track that Thicke and former Number Ones artist Lil Wayne released in 2005. The one time I interviewed Wayne, I wasted too much of my phone time telling him that “Shooter” should be a single. He really did release it as a single, but it went nowhere. Indirectly, “Shooter” also led to me being immortalized in comic-strip form. My mom printed that strip out and had it taped up on her office door until she retired. I don’t think anyone ever told her what “skeet skeet” means.

That comic strip gives a pretty good idea of how the world saw Robin Thicke. Plenty of people thought it was weird that Alan Thicke’s son was an R&B singer — sort of like how people thought it was weird that a seven-foot dork was writing rap reviews. (I don’t know where that cartoonist got 6’10” from. I am taller than 6’10”.) But R&B radio loved Robin Thicke, and it’s the reason that his sophomore album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke eventually went platinum. He kept cranking out silky love songs, and that audience continued to love them. 2009’s “Sex Therapy” only made it to #54 on the Hot 100, but it was another R&B chart-topper. Other songs landed high up on that chart. They were mostly streamlined slow jams, and they built a certain frisson from the fact that the audience knew about Thicke’s marriage to Paula Patton. In the public eye, the two of them played an idealized couple who remained horny for one another ever since adolescence.

By 2013, Robin Thicke’s career was in a sort of holding pattern. He could do well on R&B radio. He could perform on Oprah or open for Beyoncé or Alicia Keys on tour. But Thicke hadn’t broken through to a white audience despite being a white guy himself. One day, Thicke and Pharrell went into the studio with an idea. They wanted to make a fun party record, something like Marvin Gaye’s 1977 chart-topper “Got To Give It Up (Part 1).” In a 2013 GQ interview that would later come back to haunt Thicke in a big way, he set the scene like this:

Pharrell and I were in the studio, and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” I was like, “Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.” Then he started playing a little something, and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it.

Later on, Thicke admitted in a fateful deposition that he was lying in that interview. Instead, Thicke said that he was “high on alcohol and Vicodin” during the songwriting session and that Pharrell “wrote almost every single part of the song.” I bet that kind of thing happens all the time. Thicke still got songwriting credit, and he sang it, but the track was Pharrell’s creation. In a 2019 interview with Rick Rubin, Pharrell said that he sometimes tried to “reverse engineer” the songs that he loved and that he’d attempted to do that with “Blurred Lines.” But “Blurred Lines” doesn’t sample or interpolate “Got To Give It Up.” This would become a sticking point later.

Whoever’s actually responsible for creating “Blurred Lines,” I truly don’t think these guys meant to write a rape-culture anthem. I don’t think they thought that hard about it. In different interviews over the years, Robin Thicke and Pharrell said that the song was really about different things. It was, for instance, about Paula Patton; Thicke once claimed that she was a good girl who he converted into a bad girl. Pharrell told The Independent that it was an imagined pickup-line scenario: “The song was a pie-in-the-sky idea of a conversation that never took place! The song ain’t about doing it! Nothing ever happens. ‘Cause she’s a good girl. Duh!” This smells like bullshit to me. From where I’m sitting, “Blurred Lines” is definitely about sex, but it’s not intentionally about rape.

The song’s perspective is pretty obvious. Robin Thicke’s narrator meets a “good girl” with a boyfriend, but he thinks he can sense that she’s really “an animal” who wants to have crazy, nasty sex. He tells her that he can do things that the boyfriend can’t. That’s really it. But the song’s language truly is gross and coercive. “I know you want it” is the sort of line that nobody should ever use, and it appears 18 times on “Blurred Lines.” Thicke sings that she’s the hottest bitch in this place and that he hates these blurred lines. I think that he thinks he means the lines between good girl and animal, the dichotomy that the song both sets up and seeks to undercut. But you don’t have to dig too deep to come to the conclusion that he’s really talking about consent. At best, this is a skeezy-creep song, and it’s not that difficult to see how people read something darker into it.

In the moment, none of the artists thought twice about any of this. Robin Thicke thought the song was self-aware and funny, and that’s why he brought in a guest verse from T.I., someone who’s already been in this column a few times. In that fateful GQ interview, Thicke said, “I thought, who else is a grown Southern gentleman with a family? T.I. Even though he’s a hardcore rapper, he’s a real Southern gentleman. He says ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am,’ he stays cool, and he’s really beloved… Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, ‘We’re the perfect guys to make fun of this.’” It didn’t really work out that way.

T.I. had already been in and out of jail a bunch of times when he appeared on “Blurred Lines,” but it would be years before he was accused of a long list of deeply upsetting sex offenses. The guy could always rap, and his verse on the track is slippery and masterful, but it plays very differently today. At this point, I don’t want to hear T.I. say, “Not many women can refuse this pimpin’.” I definitely don’t want to hear him talking about “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two.” It’s one more queasy layer on a song that’s already got too many of them.

You can’t strip the context away from “Blurred Lines.” It’s not possible. Even if you remove everything that happened with the three people behind the song after its release, you’re still stuck with those lyrics. If you can pretend that you don’t know what the words mean, “Blurred Lines” is lightweight and effective party-funk. Pharrell really does find ways to translate ’70s soul into digital blips and bloops. The drum machines hit nice counter-rhythms, and Thicke sings over all of it with a fluidly sleazy lounge-lizard grace. He sounds like he’s having fun. He probably was having fun. Maybe the alcohol and Vicodin had something to do with it.

Robin Thicke was probably having fun when he shot the video, too. He should’ve had less fun. Diane Martel, the veteran music-video director, came up with the concept and pitched it to Thicke. She wanted to do her own version of the aesthetic associated with Terry Richardson, the porny high-fashion photographer who’d already been accused of sexual abuse and who would face more accusations in the years ahead. She wanted to surround Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. with beautiful naked women. Supposedly, they rejected the idea at first, but then they were OK with it.

The video is really what blew “Blurred Lines” into the stratosphere. In the clip, the three artists mug frantically while in the presence of near-naked models Emily Ratajkowski, Elle Evans, and Jessi M’Bengue. There are two versions of the video. In one, the models wear skimpy plastic clothes. In the more-famous uncensored version, they’re topless in G-strings. They flirt with the stars, and the stars paw at them. After the video’s release, Diane Martel claimed that the women were in charge and that the guys were just goofs. Thicke brought up Benny Hill as a reference point, and there’s some sly slapstick sensibility to the final product. But if Robin Thicke was really the punchline, then we wouldn’t see the words “Robin Thicke has a big dick” spelled out in balloons. The whole thing is really sleek high-gloss softcore porn. The uncensored version was banned from YouTube, which added to the infamy, and the resulting news stories helped propel the track up the charts.

When Robin Thicke first played “Blurred Lines” for his Interscope bosses, they didn’t give him much reaction. When they saw the video, they said that it was a smash. The video created a buzz of conversation around the song, and I’m sure it served as wank material for plenty of kids. The clip catapulted Emily Ratajkowski to stardom; the next year, she played Ben Affleck’s mistress in Gone Girl. Years later, Ratajkowski wrote in her memoir that Thicke had groped her breasts without permission during the shoot, and Martel affirmed her story. The exploitation should’ve been obvious at the time. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I just saw something shiny and went with it.

Because of that video, “Blurred Lines” took off like a rocket. Downloads initially pushed the song to #1, and it eventually became 2013’s biggest-selling digital single. The video kept the song’s streams high all year, too. And when radio got ahold of “Blurred Lines,” it would not let go. The song was inescapable for the entire summer, popping up on tons of different radio formats and holding the #1 spot for the entire summer, even as some very credible summer-jam contenders — including another one that prominently featured Pharrell — challenged its primacy. For all sorts of reasons, the song held the zeitgeist in a chokehold. For many of those same reasons, it quickly became radioactive soon afterwards.

In retrospect, it’s remarkable that “Blurred Lines” was able to avoid backlash for as long as it did. Lots of critics lightly embraced both the song and the video, and I was one of them. I didn’t write a ton about “Blurred Lines” at the time, but back when I wrote a weekly best-videos column, I had “Blurred Lines” at #2 for its week, behind Cat Power’s “Manhattan.” Under the clip, I wrote, “T.I.’s old-man dancing is probably the greatest thing that has ever happened.” I’d just like to say that I no longer consider this to be the case. Many things have happened that are better than this. Even setting aside all the fucked-up things that I was glossing over, that’s just lazy writing! Sorry, everyone.

In time, the conversation changed. “Blurred Lines” reached #1 in June. In July, my old Village Voice colleague Trica Romano published a Daily Beast article pointing out how some commentators had cautioned that the song was “kind of rapey.” In the aforementioned GQ interview, Robin Thicke anticipated that reaction, and he tried to argue against it: “People say, ‘Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?’ I’m like, ‘Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before. I’ve always respected women.’” Later on, Thicke complained that GQ hadn’t noted that he was doing a sarcastic Ron Burgundy voice when he said that. Really, prospective pop stars should study that GQ interview as a shining example of what not to say.

We can now pinpoint the exact moment that the world turned against Robin Thicke. It happened two months after “Blurred Lines” reached #1, during the MTV Video Music Awards. Early in the night, Miley Cyrus, eager to shake off any remaining traces of her Disney-kid image, came out to perform her own hedonistic summer hit “We Can’t Stop,” one of the hits that stalled out at #2 behind “Blurred Lines.” (It’s a 5. Miley Cyrus will soon make her first appearance in this column.) In many ways, “We Can’t Stop” served as a companion piece to “Blurred Lines.” Both songs represented superstar rap producers working with white pop singers, making dancefloor earworms that glorified outrageous and possibly destructive behavior. Both had controversy-baiting Diane Martel videos that made liberal use of the Terry Richardson aesthetic. Maybe those two songs were always destined to come together in some apocalyptic way.

At the VMAs, Miley Cyrus was obviously determined to make herself the focus of all conversation, and 2013 represented the last year that the award show, once a venerable pop institution, could make such a stunt possible. Cyrus spent her whole performance with her tongue hanging out, frantically popping her ass amidst a sea of Black backup dancers dressed like teddy bears. The performance was a textbook example of racial pantomime and performative sexuality, and MTV really went in on cutaways to unimpressed faces of stars in the audience. The whole thing was practically designed to set Twitter on fire, and that was exactly what happened. The fire only burned hotter when Robin Thicke came to the stage and sang “Blurred Lines” with Cyrus.

Robin Thicke did not go into that VMAs to serve as center of attention. He came out dressed like a nightclub referee, and he looked almost painfully bored. Cyrus handily upstaged him, taking the song over and frantically grinding on him. Later on, Cyrus said that Thicke, in rehearsals, had said that he wanted her to be as scantily clad as possible. At the time, Cyrus was 20 years old, and Thicke was 36. It was gross. In his Pitchfork piece, Jayson Greene suggests that the decision to perform with Cyrus might’ve been an attempt to “dial down the criticism” of “Blurred Lines.” When Miley Cyrus was the one singing the “I know you want it” part, it might not seem so rapey. Instead, Robin Thicke became part of a deafening moral-panic noise vortex. If anything, that should’ve happened sooner.

The Miley Cyrus VMAs performance — and it really did go down in history as the Miley Cyrus performance — was a cultural event. In his piece, Jayson Greene notes that “‘what is twerking’ was Google’s top query for 2013,” which is honestly hilarious. Cyrus rode that controversy to even more fame. Robin Thicke, on the other hand, torpedoed any of his remaining goodwill. At a VMA afterparty, Thicke posed for a photo while groping a much-younger blonde girl’s ass. During the rise of “Blurred Lines,” Thicke made a point of saying that he had his wife Paula Patton’s permission to make the video, and he constantly invoked her name whenever he was asked about sexism. A couple of months after the VMAs, Patton filed for divorce. During a custody battle a few years later, Patton accused Thicke of domestic violence and child abuse, and she got full custody of their son.

“Blurred Lines” hung onto the #1 spot for a few weeks after the VMAs — radio playlists change slowly — but Thicke was already cashed by the time it slid down the chart. At the VMAs, “Blurred Lines” went straight into a performance of Thicke’s follow-up single “Give It 2 U,” a thumping Dr. Luke dance-pop track with verses from 2 Chainz and future Number Ones artist Kendrick Lamar. People barely noticed. (Today, it’s wild to see Kendrick up on that VMAs stage, looking truly lost.) “Give It 2 U” peaked at #25 and then promptly disappeared. The “Blurred Lines” single went diamond, but the album, also called Blurred Lines, didn’t even reach platinum status despite a #1 debut. In the months that followed, a bunch of British college campuses banned “Blurred Lines,” and the song went from lighthearted summer smash to toxic cultural artifact.

If that was the end of the “Blurred Lines” story, it would’ve already been a thunderous crash down to earth. But then there was the legal battle with the Marvin Gaye estate, which was eminently avoidable and which has had a catastrophic effect on the music business as a whole. Robin Thicke actually started that fight. With “Blurred Lines” still sitting comfortably at #1, Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. filed a joint lawsuit against Marvin Gaye’s estate. Apparently, Gaye’s kids had threatened a lawsuit over the similarities between “Blurred Lines” and “Got To Give It Up.” Rather than offer a settlement or even wait for them to sue, Thicke and his collaborators tried to lock down a court declaration that there were no legally actionable similarities between the two songs. A judge dismissed their case. After that, they tried offering the Gayes a six-figure settlement, and the Gayes rejected it. From there, the Gayes’ lawsuit was inevitable.

The thing is that “Blurred Lines” and “Got To Give It Up” are not the same song. The key is different. The melody is different. The subject matter and vibe are both different. If anyone should’ve sued, it’s Fat Albert; those hey-hey-heys sounded awfully familiar. “Blurred Lines” is clearly and obviously inspired by “Got To Give It Up.” You could even argue that it’s a ripoff. But musicians inspire each other, and they rip each other off, all the time. That’s the way music is supposed to function. It’s a long, continuing, evolving conversation. “Blurred Lines” was not a high point of that conversation, but it was an entry in it. The Gaye family did not see it that way. Ultimately, neither did a jury.

Juries are famously unpredictable, and Robin Thicke did not help himself by coming off as an aloof, condescending dickbag during the trial. (He later said that he was consumed by the end of his marriage.) During his deposition, Thicke said that he was drunk and high not just during the “Blurred Lines” writing sessions but during pretty much the entirety of 2013. This did not make him terribly sympathetic. A jury found Thicke and Pharrell guilty of copyright infringement, and a judge ordered them to pay $7.3 million to the Marvin Gaye estate. T.I. didn’t have to pay, since his verse didn’t have anything to do with “Got To Give It Up.” Thicke and Pharrell appealed the decision, but they lost. In 2015, a judge upheld the verdict, though he reduced the amount to $5.3 million and 50% of all future royalties. At this point, T.I. had to pay, too. Marvin Gaye, dead nearly 30 years when “Blurred Lines” came out, now has a songwriting credit.

This decision hit the music business like a bomb, and we’re still living with its aftereffects. These days, anytime there’s a potential hit song, lawyers and musicologists get deep into the weeds, awarding songwriting credits to anyone whose previous hits sound anything like the new ones. Often enough, writers get credits added on retroactively. Today, the writing credits of songs can include dozens of names, which will definitely make future editions of this column fun to write. For the past few years, private equity firms have been buying up publishing rights for eye-popping sums and then pushing the songs in their catalogs to labels; it’s the main reasons we now have so many huge hits built on obvious samples. The whole situation fucking sucks, and it’s had a nightmarish effect on pop-music creativity, as my friend Marc Hogan argued in a New York Times op-ed last week.

It’s hard to assign fault for this whole situation, which might’ve come to pass anyway. But Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I. could’ve avoided it if they’d offered a decent chunk of change to Marvin Gaye’s kids, or maybe if they hadn’t tried filing a preemptive lawsuit in the first place. That new legal landscape, combined with the backlash against the rape-adjacent nature of the “Blurred Lines” lyrics, has destroyed any legacy that the song might’ve ever had.

Over the years, Robin Thicke and Pharrell have both expressed different levels of contrition for “Blurred Lines.” (T.I., off in his own universe, isn’t expressing contrition for anything.) In 2019, Pharrell, the track’s main writer, essentially apologized while talking to GQ:

I realized that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn’t matter that that’s not my behavior. Or the way I think about things. It just matters how it affects women. And I was like, Got it. I get it. Cool. My mind opened up to what was actually being said in the song and how it could make someone feel. Even though it wasn’t the majority, it didn’t matter. I cared what they were feeling too. I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn’t realized that. Didn’t realize that some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind.

Sure. The extended “Blurred Lines” saga probably wasn’t great for Pharrell’s bank account, but it didn’t hurt his career. Robin Thicke was a different story. Thicke followed Blurred Lines with 2014’s Paula, a desperate album-length ode to his ex-wife. The record was an instant punchline and a notorious flop. Lead single “Get Her Back” peaked at #82. Other than a random guest-appearance on a 2015 Flo Rida track, Thicke hasn’t been back on the Hot 100 since.

Robin Thicke did not get Paula Patton back, and he eventually had more kids with a much younger woman. He didn’t release another album until the 2021 independent release On Earth, And In Heaven, which did not go anywhere. Last year, he released singles with the rappers Yo Gotti and Rapsody, and those didn’t go anywhere, either. But Thicke landed on his feet, more or less, in the game show world, the same place where his father got his start.

In 2019, Thicke became one of the judges on Fox’s adaptation of the South Korean show The Masked Singer, which seems to be doing quite well despite being an unwatchable, dystopian abomination. A couple of years ago, Thicke and fellow judge Ken Jeong got some positive press when they walked off set after one of the unmasked singers turned out to be Rudy Giuliani. Other than that, the show continues to exist in its own nightmarish hole, and I’m sure it pays Thicke a handsome salary. I would be utterly shocked if the man ever makes another hit.

So. “Blurred Lines.” I truly have no idea how to review this thing. You’ll notice that there’s a whole lot of context in this long-as-fuck column and that there’s not that much about the song itself. That’s because there’s so much context and because there’s barely any song at the center of it. Once upon a time, I regarded “Blurred Lines” as a pretty fun party jam. It had sparkle and energy and playfulness. But those qualities existed on the surface, and darker currents swirled underneath. If I’d written this column in summer 2013, I would’ve almost certainly given “Blurred Lines” a higher score. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s not catchy, but catchiness can only go so far. I’m sure someone could find redeeming qualities in “Blurred Lines” if they tried hard enough. It’s not going to be me.

GRADE: 4/10

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