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Music

We Asked a Psychologist How Fame Fucked Over Robin Thicke

Did the feminist punchbag only sell 530 copies of his album because of arrogance? Or because he's shit?

by Hannah Ewens
10 July 2014, 5:00am

A chart illustrating how many copies of Paula sold during its first week, compared to some more flops. Click to enlarge. (Graph by Georgia Weisz)

Robin Thicke’s latest album only shifted 530 copies in its first week of UK sales. Take a look at the chart above and you’ll see that those numbers put Paula considerably below Future Past, the debut solo album from Blue member and sometimes TV ice dancer Duncan James. Considering 2013's “Blurred Lines” – Thicke's ode to making women feel really uncomfortable – is the UK’s most downloaded song of all time, it’s fair to say things have slightly deteriorated since last year.

But where did it all go wrong? How did he go from retiring songwriter to disgraced idol of the men's rights community, naming albums after the woman who divorced him in the hope it'll win her back? Was it because his breakthrough single was basically "no doesn't always mean no" set to a Pharrell beat, or the fact he then defended it as "a feminist movement within itself"? Perhaps it was the time he was pictured groping a fan while still married to Paula Patton? Or maybe it's just because his new album isn't very good?

Whatever the reason, everything seems to have gone to shit incredibly quickly since he used balloons to tell the world how big his dick is. And there's only one thing that's really changed about Thicke since then: he got properly famous. I wondered whether this fame had a direct role to play in his downfall, so I called Nadine Field – a chartered psychologist who specialises in fame and celebrity – to find out.

(Photo via)

VICE: Hi Nadine. So let’s talk about Robin Thicke. He was 16 when he got his first record deal, which is obviously pretty young. What kind of effect would that have on the brain?
Dr Nadine Field: A huge effect, of course. You’re getting validation at a very tender age, and validation at any age gives you the sense that you’re bigger than you are. It inflates your personality. At that early stage of development we’re all searching for ourselves and creating a certain image of ourselves for the world. If you get validation, you think, ‘Gosh, I’m bigger than I thought.’ Obviously that’s wrong. This validation very young will inflate the ego to some extent because you’re not in a position to evaluate it.

Would that have an effect on your sexuality?
If that validation comes early, you’re at the early stages of thinking about your sexuality. ‘Do I like women? What do I think about women? How do I view them?’ The "Blurred Lines" video says a lot about him – the filter wasn’t there. The video tells me that he never got the balance right between his appreciation of femininity and a sense of demeaning women. That’s where he needs to find his middle ground.

That was his first proper taste of mainstream attention. What happens to the average person’s brain when they experience fame as an adult?
Psychologically you think you’ve made it. You’re experiencing this huge rush. You’re surrounded by all these temptations and you’re probably going to submit to everything and sleep with as many women as you want. That filter might not be there yet. You might not have got to the point where you evaluate, come to a standstill and ask yourself if your choices are what you really want to do.

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How does fame affect your ego in the long term?
That’s going to cause the celebrity to have a dilemma. Everyone has two senses of self – a personal self and a public self. With validation it’s harder to evaluate, to see the private side behind the public side.

What happens if you struggle with that?
Your public and your personal sides can start to merge, which is a big problem. Believing your own propaganda precedes your downfall. They’re only as good as the person in their life who can tell them they’re being ridiculous. All celebrities need someone in their life to keep the private self in check. You need anchoring. 

Have you dealt with celebrities who struggle with this balance?
Most of the celebrities I’ve worked with are vulnerable people who think that a certain part of themselves is fraudulent. They’re concerned that people believe in the public self they’ve projected for themselves. They worry, ‘People think I’m someone, but actually I’m someone else.’

And that can undermine the validation you get and make you insecure.
Exactly. If you buy into the public persona, you’re not actually taking account of who you are. 

Okay. If there are underlying traits of misogyny or arrogance in your psyche already, would these be affected by fame?
Yes. If you’ve got men or women throwing themselves at you, it’s the human condition to want to give in. The inflated ego as a result of the fame makes you believe in this public self and makes you believe you’re invincible – but no, you’re not. We all have good and bad aspects of who we are, and fame will only play on these. 

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How exactly?
If they buy into the public life, a male artist can be inclined to think they can do whatever they want. There's a whole history of male celebrities who have been abusive to their female partners because they can. The whole issue with our Yewtree investigations – we’re seeing now the repercussions of fame on male sexuality. Thankfully, it’s meaning that everyone is seeing that they can’t actually do what they want.

Yeah, there’s a photo of Thicke groping a fan while he was still married (a "source close to him" said he "did it as a joke"). 
He’s a celebrity who, unfortunately, has bought into his public persona, and his self is his public. He believes he is invincible – at this point, anyway. He thinks he can do whatever he likes.

After all this backlash, what could he be feeling now? He’d been working on his career for over half his life, then it all blows up in his face.
I should hope he’s looking for another agent! Psychologically, he might finally have to grapple with the two senses of self. If not now, then soon down the line – if he survives, that is, and I think he’s a survivor. He’s going to have to really weigh these two identities up, the public and private. The private person might be very vulnerable. On the other hand, is Robin Thicke having trouble sleeping at night over it all? I don’t know if he is. It’s hard to tell. His inflated sense of self could still make him believe he’s now on the ride – that he’s really going somewhere.

Did you see that his new album is named after the wife who left him?
No. But oh gosh, how interesting. Many male celebrities – Johnny Cash and Elvis, for example – take on too much of that public self and think they can do anything. But then they find out they can’t and it all crumbles.

What happens to the brain when your fame is suddenly taken away?
I’ve worked with a lot of people whose fame has been taken away, and they dissolve. They’ve got too much invested in that public self. Psychologically, they go through hubris – “I thought I could be somebody, but I’ve been picked up and dropped back down.”

@hannahrosewens

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More Robin Thicke:

Robin Thicke's New Album Isn't Really About His Wife – It's About His Dick

Calling Bullshit On Robin Thicke's Misogynist Apologists