For five weeks in a row, Robin Thicke's playful, button-pushing song "Blurred Lines" has been the No. 1 song in the country. It's a catchy piece of summertime pop, but much of the attention came after the premiere of the song's video, which features Thicke and his male collaborators — the rapper T.I. and the producer Pharrell Williams — strutting for the camera alongside a trio of models. The men are fully dressed. The women, in an "unrated" version of the video, are nearly nude (you can watch the relatively safe-for-work version here). It set off a wave of criticism, and focused attention on the song's lyrics, which feature the line "You know you want it."
Is the song misogynistic? Or simply a provocation of the sort that's been familiar since Edouard Manet painted a nude woman picnicking alongside fully dressed men in 1863? "The controversy comes really from the video, which does involve nakedness, and a lot of playful touching, and weird props and strange stuff," NPR Music's pop critic Ann Powers tells Morning Edition's Renee Montagne. "And it's funny, it's fun, but some people think that it's pushing the line toward even violence against women — at least symbolic violence against women."
This may be Thicke's first chart-topping hit, but he's been working in a female-friendly soul and R&B mode for years. When he first came out, Powers says, "he looked kind of like a member of the cast of Rent or something; he had longer hair, and he looked a little grungy. But [he] quickly realized he would do better with this smoother and kind of retro image."
That worked for him, to a point. "His usual sound is a much more sort of smooth, sexy variety of R&B that's often about true love and faithfulness," Powers says. His songs started showing up on the R&B charts in 2007, but Thicke had big plans for his new album, which comes out at the end of the month. "My last album didn't sell very well — in fact, not at all," he told Radio.com last month. So he hired hitmakers to "try to make some music everybody can enjoy instead of just my small fan base. It's less of a crossover hit than a dive into pop's deep end, Powers says. " 'Blurred Lines,' though not his first up-tempo song by far, definitely jumps over into the brighter and more confrontational world of Top 40."