Imagine being Robin Thicke right now. The family of one of the world’s most beloved songwriters is suing you for a cool $7.3 million because the chart-topping rapists almanac you wrote borrows a little too much uncredited influence from his 1977 disco hit “Got to Give It Up”. Meanwhile, you are in the process of separating from your wife of nine years with whom you have a four year-old child, and the album you named lovingly after her sold a wilting 530 copies in the UK in its first week. Your career, which didn't really kick off until 2013, was basically over before it even started. If this clusterfuck of circumstance was happening to anybody else, we would probably lend them a sympathetic ear and buy them a Snickers. But it’s happening to Robin Thicke, so we all feel really good about it. Because he’s a turd person and he deserves it all, right?
On a level, witnessing the total demise of a man who was busted handling the arse of a fan in a photograph is really quite delicious. But career-wise, the crimes Robin Thicke is guilty of do not begin or end with Robin Thicke. In the context of our current musical landscape, he hasn’t actually done anything particularly outrageous. His main offences - aesthetic piracy and shameless misogyny - are the twin pillars upon which the majority of pop music is built. A large portion of the Billboard 100 features songs that directly sample or “sound incredibly similar” to another - Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” bears a striking similarity to Tom Petty’s “Don’t Back Down”, “Uptown Funk” owes much of it’s success to The Time’s back catalogue, and Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song” is basically “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. Similarly, Fetty Wap, Meghan Trainor and Chris Brown are all currently sitting comfortably high in the singles chart, each of whom have their own reasons to inspire at least ten think pieces about gender inequality. Somehow, though, Robin Thicke has become a scapegoat for music copyright lawsuits and the face of sexism at the same time. Things genuinely could not get much worse for him. Except that things are potentially about to get loads worse for him.
Thicke has only had one big single - and that big single stands to take a big hit (one of the largest damages awards ever in a music copyright case) - so he is already set to lose a massive portion of all his earnings to date. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Robin Thicke is valued at $15 million. Although that still leaves him with a modest $7.7 million (pre-divorce settlement), the Gaye Estate are literally taking almost a 50% cut of his entire career. On top of that, they are moving to ban "Blurred Lines" from all of his live performances, cancel all digital sales and even attempt to compound physical copies. If all those propositions go through, it’s hard to see how or why any major label or tour company would take him on. If the Gaye’s get their way, Robin Thicke’s career will be fully submerged in the shitter, never to return. As we pointed out recently, the Gaye estate could sue the genre of R&B out of existence if they wanted to. What this means for the music industry as a whole is a whole other worrying prospect, but Robin Thicke has ended up on the receiving end of what could be a crucial turning point in the legalities of pastiche.
What I find funniest about all this is how apparently professional happy person Pharrell Williams wrote “almost every single part of the song”. It's up for debate whether this is actually true or just a late attempt by Thicke at making some of the shit stick to Pharrell - who has managed to escape from this clusterfuck with reputation in tact, despite doing an equal amount of sleazing in the video and contributing allegedly more to the song’s content. The only discernable difference between the two is that Pharrell’s musical standing was already established by two decades and, in the video, his facial expressions read less “menacing man on the pull” and more “teenager catching a glimpse of sideboob for the first time”. Pharrell was also notably absent when Thicke performed “Blurred Lines” with Miley Cyrus at the MTV Awards in 2013, which became the most tweeted about (read: hashtag problematic) event in history.
For what it’s worth, Pharrell went on to release “Happy” in 2014, which sold 12 million copies worldwide and joined “Blurred Lines” as one of the best selling songs of all time. In contrast, Robin Thicke’s 2014 consisted of releasing his follow-up album Paula, with its aforementioned dire first week sales. This says something about trust and accountability in the music industry. Whatever he does, we trust Pharrell. He’s been around since day, he’s proven himself, and his image has been marketed meticulously so that he just can't come across as threatening in any way. Despite the fact that he is allegedly almost entirely responsible for “Blurred Lines”, we see absolutely nothing wrong with him writing a series of childrens books or doing the soundtrack for the new Spongebob movie with N.E.R.D. No wonder he's so fucking happy. Can you imagine the state of Twitter if Robin Thicke had gone on to do the same?
Perhaps if “Blurred Lines” was released at a different time, it wouldn’t have received the level of criticism that it did. In 2009, Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)” was the number one most viewed music video on YouTube and it has gone on to sell over 3.2 million digital copies in the states, totally unquestioned. Also in 2009, Jamie Foxx’s get-a-girl-as-drunk-as-possible anthem “Blame It” featuring T-Pain topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart for 14 consecutive weeks, breaking the record for the longest running song ever on the chart by a male artist. Fast forward to 2013, and “Blurred Lines” enjoys all the same commercial successes but at the cost of a career. With T.I. and Pharrell conveniently cropped out of the picture, Robin Thicke was left as the sole purveyor of sexist bullshit. If you watch the video for “Blurred Lines” now, the level of cocksureness and bravado is totally shameless. The strutting, the thrusting, the eyeing women up and down. What has happened to Thicke’s career and personal life in the aftermath is, if not totally satisfying, bitterly ironic. It’s almost as if his “Robin Thicke Has A Big Dick” balloons are being popped and deflated, one by one. The only thing left to happen to him is if leaked nudes reveal he has a micropenis.
There is no question that “Blurred Lines” is absolute garbage, but so are loads of other songs of a similar tone that haven’t copped anywhere near as much flack. Perhaps this whole debacle is evidence of divine intervention, but ultimately the only thing Robin Thicke is a victim of is bad luck. Perhaps if he hadn't put his face to the national anthem of rape culture, the Gaye estate would have taken less offence. Perhaps if it were anyone else Thicke was accused of ripping off, he would have gotten away with it. Tom Petty shrugged off the Sam Smith case on his own website - “These things happen,” he said. By contrast, this video of Nona Gaye after the “Blurred Lines” verdict - dressed all in black, breathing heavily and talking about how she feels "free from Pharrell Williams' and Robin Thicke's chains" in a way even released prisoners of war would deem melodramatic - suggests that they don’t take these things so lightly. Ultimately, he decided to emulate the wrong person, in the wrong way, at a cultural juncture where copyright law is ruthless and unpredictable and feminist dialogue a scolding hot topic. As a result, Robin Thicke is monumentally fucked. And all he had to do was co-write a song that turned out to be incredibly popular at the worst possible time.
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