Are Robin Thicke's Public Pleas To His Wife Going Too Far?

The R&B singer says is trying to mend his marriage in unconventional ways. Michel Martin speaks with a pop culture panel to get their take on Thicke's methods and other stories of the week.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Right about now we often head into our Beauty Shop roundtable where we talk about issues of the day with a panel of women commentators. On Friday, of course, we have the Barbershop guys. Today, though, we decided to mix things up a bit and dig into some pop culture stories. And for that we have our Salon. And we have a panel of men and women. So sitting in the chairs for a fresh cut or a new do, as the case may be, are Sarah Ventre. She's a senior producer with a public radio station, KJZZ in Arizona. Jozen Cummings is a journalist and the creator of the blog Until I Get Married. Bridget Armstrong is a TELL ME MORE producer. She's also the creator of the blog biggapicture.com. And Michael Arceneaux is a writer and contributor to complex.com and ebony.com. Welcome to everybody. Thank you all so much for joining us.

BRIDGET ARMSTRONG: Thanks for having me.

JOZEN CUMMINGS: Thank you.

SARAH VENTRE: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I do want to start talking about Tim Howard, the goalkeeper for the USA team who made 16 saves against Belgium yesterday. It was a World Cup record - not enough to keep team USA alive in the tournament, so they're heading home. But people are calling him an American hero. He's the latest hot meme on the web. Bridget, I happened to notice you watching the game. And I wondered whether that was because you wanted to or because I put it on the production calendar and turned all the TVs inside the office to the game. I just want to know which that was.

ARMSTRONG: It was definitely against my will. I don't really watch sports at all, so I'm not discriminating just against the World Cup. But it was exciting to see - I mean, I couldn't help but to be excited with everyone yelling at the screen while I was trying to work. (Laughing) But it was exciting, even though...

MARTIN: Duly noted on your time clock.

ARMSTRONG: (Laughing) Right.

MARTIN: Worked slow 'cause was made to.

ARMSTRONG: We had a chance - when we had a chance at winning, I must admit I got into it. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to be watching any more of these games, but, you know. The jury's still out.

MARTIN: Did anybody else have World Cup fever, or was it really just me?

CUMMINGS: Oh, I just definitely had World Cup fever. I don't - and it's definitely temporary because I don't follow soccer. I don't really watch soccer. But I felt like it was my patriotic duty to get involved with the World Cup and...

MARTIN: Right.

CUMMINGS: And root for the U.S. men's team, so. And yesterday's performance was just fascinating to watch. I don't see how you aren't - you can't be entertained by what Tim Howard did. You know, next to actually scoring a goal, all those goals, like, being stopped was just phenomenal.

MARTIN: So Jozen, can you - can we count on you to watch the next World Cup, or does it end here?

CUMMINGS: Yeah, I mean...

MARTIN: Or is it kind of dependent upon how team USA does?

CUMMINGS: It's like I said yesterday. You know, I'm so upset that team USA lost, but I'm not going to watch soccer for four years.

MARTIN: OK.

MICHAEL ARCENEAUX: Now I feel like the stereotype.

MARTIN: Michael.

VENTRE: How could you not? It's so exciting.

ARCENEAUX: Bad American.

MARTIN: Thank you.

VENTRE: I loved it. I loved it.

MARTIN: Sarah, you watched it?

VENTRE: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK.

VENTRE: Well, I was also on deadline. So the people in my newsroom also had it on. And I watched as much of it as I possibly could. But it was so heartbreaking, right? Like, how - it's like, when your goalie is that good, it's almost like...

CUMMINGS: It is hard. It is...

VENTRE: You don't understand the way it ends up the way it does.

CUMMINGS: It is tough to watch. To see that, you know, so many attempts, and two are going to get past you. That's all you can expect. And you would hope that the rest of the team would pull their weight and tie it up, at least, to make it interesting. So, yeah, that is heartbreaking. You feel sorry for Tim Howard.

MARTIN: Oh, I don't feel sorry for him - mad skills on display - awesome.

VENTRE: Yeah. And people are now calling him, you know, like, the best goalie, possibly in World Cup history. I mean, it's amazing.

CUMMINGS: First one to...

MARTIN: Record since - yeah, go ahead. Go ahead, tell us Ron - go ahead, tell us Jozen.

CUMMINGS: It was a record. In 50 years, nobody has had more stops than Tim Howard did. It's 16? Yeah, 16 stops.

MARTIN: Yes. I think we call them saves. But that's just good. We'll get the lingo together.

CUMMINGS: Saves. See? That says how much I actually know.

MARTIN: And the field we call the pitch.

CUMMINGS: Right.

MARTIN: I'm just trying to keep you all up straight. OK. All right, so you're set up for next time. You're set up for next time. Maybe you're not quite ready for the face paint, but you're set up for next time.

CUMMINGS: Exactly.

MARTIN: Well, switching gears a bit, you might have heard that R&B singer Robin Thicke and his wife, the actress Paula Patton, broke up, reportedly because of Thicke's infidelity, among other factors. And so you might be wondering, why is this any of our business? Well, the answer to that is that he's made it a public matter by making it the centerpiece of his latest album and music video. He named his new album "Paula." And over the weekend, he made another plea for forgiveness for whatever it was that he did during his performance at the BET Awards.

(SOUNDBITE OF BET AWARDS CEREMONY)

ROBIN THICKE: I'd like to dedicate this song to my wife and say I miss you, and I'm sorry. And this is called, "Forever Love." (Singing) I can't carry the weight around, baby. How can I have ever belonged? Learning all my lessons...

MARTIN: You know, we don't know whether Paula Patton is buying any of this. But apparently fans and critics are not.

ARMSTRONG: Are you?

MARTIN: Are not. I mean, earlier this week he hosted a Twitter Q&A with VH1 to promote the new album. And let me just say -well, some of these tweets speak for themselves - quote, "how many naked women did it take before you stopped seeing them as people and instead saw them as YouTube hits? #AskThicke," and, "why hasn't Paula filed a restraining order yet? She has plenty of evidence #AskThicke." So, Michael Arceneaux, let me start with you on this. There's a long history of begging in R&B - right? - number one.

ARCENEAUX: Yes.

MARTIN: You know, people putting their relationship business in their music. And I'm thinking about Pink's song about her separation from her husband called, "So What?" He was even in the video. Of course, they later reconciled. But I was just wondering, why do you think people are so annoyed at this Robin Thicke move? Nobody seems to be finding this amusing.

ARCENEAUX: You know, initially, I will say, I thought it might have been a little bit overbearing, the criticism. Like, maybe some people were kind of projecting their own things. But the more he opens his mouth, the more intense he's proven himself to be. So I don't think he's getting Paula back. But I look forward to, like, the "Law & Order: SVU" episode that'll be inspired by this.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

ARCENEAUX: But it's like, it would've been nice, maybe, if he had just limited to, I'm going to name the album "Paula." I'm going to have some sad songs. I'm going to continue copying Marvin Gaye. And then what will happen, will happen. But he literally - the video, the songs, the hash tags, the speeches, the Spotify lists - like, dude, she gone.

MARTIN: Bridget, what about you?

ARMSTRONG: Well, a lot of people have been calling him, like, a stalker. Like, they're like, this is kind of scary. And I wouldn't go that far because Paula Patton hasn't really said anything about this. Even her Twitter profile still says, I'm the wife of the brilliant singer or whatever, Robin Thicke. So for all we know, she could've said something like, Robin, you need to prove to me that you love me. So I don't really know. But I will say that it kind of seems that if a big part of their breakup has to do with the fact that he put so much of their business out in the street - he cheated on her kind of publicly. He had the Miley Cyrus performance, which was really disrespectful. It doesn't seem like getting her back - the way to get her back is to put more of their business in the street, to make this video with these kind of mock text messages that are supposed to be, like, conversations they had. And one of them says you embarrassed me. So, like, if this isn't embarrassing, I don't know what is. Like, it's everywhere.

MARTIN: Interesting. Jozen Cummings, what do you think?

CUMMINGS: I think that the pushback that he's getting - look. He deserves all the jokes, all the ridicule because of the fact that that's what happens when you make yourself vulnerable in the public eye. But I also don't want us to discourage artists from being honest about what they're going through and putting that on record. And I think that - I think that when we shame him for opening up the way that he has, it doesn't give artists any reason to open up about what's going on in their lives because, you know, you think that - what could Robin have done, considering that, in real life, we knew that he was going through a messy separation? He could've followed up and made "Blurred Lines 2," the kind of album that put him - that many say put him in hot water in the first place. And we would have all known that he would have been faking. We probably wouldn't have bought into it. We probably wouldn't have cared to listen as closely as we are listening to "Paula." As an album, I personally don't like it. I gave it a couple of spins yesterday, and it was hard to get through. But for the most part, I have to commend him for not being afraid - knowing that you're going to get it. Everybody is going to take you through the wringer for doing this. But I can admire him. And the other thing is, I just think that one thing that gets lost is context. He's been with her for 20 years. And that's his wife. That's not - and I just feel like you can - for your wife, you can go - you can try as hard as possible. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to that many years of being together. If it doesn't work, it does not work...

MARTIN: But beg.

CUMMINGS: But at least you tried.

MARTIN: Get your beg on. That's right. Sorry, Sarah, was that a cry of pain, there? I wasn't sure.

VENTRE: That wasn't me, but I...

ARCENEAUX: That with me, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That was you, Michael? All right. Well, all right. Sarah, what do you think?

VENTRE: I feel that cry of pain. It is just - it's - I feel like it's gotten to the point where it's creepy. Like, it is awkward to watch. That video with the bloody nose, with all the little speech bubbles coming up, talking about how, you know, she's saying he did - you know, why are you doing me like this? I don't know. The whole thing is just so weird. It's so creepy. I don't understand why he's made it such a public thing when it's such a private thing. And it's really hard to take him seriously. Like, it is so weird. It is so creepy. I don't understand why he's made it such a public thing when it's such a private thing. And it's really hard to take him seriously. Like, I feel like he's making - he's almost trying to make it out like he's the victim. And I feel like, given his track record for the way that he treats women, it's pretty hard to take that seriously. I feel like...

MARTIN: Well, for people who don't remember the "Blurred Lines," part of the controversy about "Blurred Lines" is that you had three - there were three people, three men, in the video. He was one of them, Pharrell Williams being one, and the third being...

ARMSTRONG: Pharrell. He had Pharrell, T.I..

MARTIN: And T.I.. But the men were all clothed. And there were two versions. In one, the women were fully naked, and in one they were kind of halfway naked, or mostly naked. And so there was that kind of power dynamic, which is like, why do you have three married men, fully-clothed, and then these naked women prancing around them?

VENTRE: Which, actually...

MARTIN: Which was something that pushed a lot of people's buttons and people did not appreciate, and which he defended throughout the summer. So is part of the difference, like, with Pink - Sarah, let me just ask you this really briefly before we move on. Do you think it's because this feels - because Pink's song and video were funny and kind of - and seemed to be kind of two ways, like, I'm crazy too. Or is it because, you think, he's a man, and people don't want to hear that from a man?

VENTRE: No because to me, the "Blurred Lines" video was actually one of the lesser problems with "Blurred Lines." I feel like "Blurred Lines," at minimum, was disrespectful to women. I think almost everyone agrees on that. And I feel like, at maximum, it condoned rape. And so I don't feel like I take him seriously as someone who has a lot of respect for women, who takes them seriously, who, in this new video that he released, it echoes ideas about domestic violence and domestic abuse, which I feel, like, are not things that we should be taking very lightly. So I just don't see him as the victim in all of this. And I appreciate the idea that we need to encourage artists to be sincere about what they're saying. But I also just feel like he is not going about it in way that's conducive to getting her back, or even seeming like a rational human being.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking about the week's pop culture news. We're speaking with producers Sarah Ventre and Bridget Armstrong and writers Jozen Cummings and Michael Arceneaux. So let's stay on the BET Awards and talk about another artist who made waves. Rapper Nicki Minaj won the award for best female hip-hop artist. That's a category she's won for the past five years - no surprise there. But during her acceptance speech, it seems like she was throwing some shade at another rapper nominated in the category. And we're talking about Iggy Azalea. Let's hear a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF BET AWARDS CEREMONY)

NICKI MINAJ: What I want the world to know about Nicki Minaj is when you hear Nicki Minaj spit, Nicki Minaj wrote it.

(APPLAUSE)

MINAJ: I'm going to do me. And I hope and pray - I hope and pray that BET continues to honor authenticity. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

MARTIN: And what she was saying about that was Iggy Azalea is a white, Australian, rising star. Forbes even did a profile of her with the headline, hip-hop is run by a white, blonde, Australian woman. And even though there was some backlash, the headline was changed to, hip-hop's unlikely new star, a white, blonde, Australian woman. But, you know, Sarah, you've - Sarah Ventre, I'm going to go to you on this because you're a hip-hop fan and you've also kind of navigated the question before of who's got the right to the spotlight, and so forth. What do you make of this? Sarah? We seem to have lost Sarah. So then, Michael, I'm going to go to you. What do you think?

ARCENEAUX: #TeamMinaj. I actually did not have a problem. I love what Nicki said. And it's interesting because Iggy did an interview with the Guardian. And she said, of the criticism about her with the fake accent and kind of appropriating the culture, that, well, no one - none of my peers say anything - only, like, music critics. Well, finally, one of your peers is actually saying something. My issue with Iggy Azalea isn't so much that she exists, per se, because I think eventually we were going to have a white, female rapper be successful. And that's perfectly fine. I just - I'm annoyed by her because she's basically Charli Baltimore rapping like Diamond from Crime Mob...

MARTIN: (Laughing) OK.

ARCENEAUX: And she has no real association with the culture. And...

CUMMINGS: You tell them, Michael. You tell them, Michael.

ARCENEAUX: You know, my issue with people like her and Miley Cyrus is when people of the culture that you're dipping your toe in tell you, you know, that we have an issue with you because of this, and you're dismissive and disingenuous and very, like, nasty at what you're told, it only makes you more irritating. And I think for Nicki - because I know a lot of people have criticized Nicki for wanting to cross over and being so blatant about it. So, in some respects, who is she to question authenticity? But at the same time, as a female rapper it has to be very hard for her to get that sort of airplay. Like, she had a sizable fan base before she really blew up, but it wasn't until Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez cosigned "Super Bass" that she really became the Nicki Minaj that she is now.

MARTIN: OK.

CUMMINGS: Yeah.

ARCENEAUX: Whereas somebody like Iggy can do "Fancy" and just kind of skate on by.

CUMMINGS: Right, right.

MARTIN: But is that - is that her issue?

CUMMINGS: Right.

MARTIN: Or is that the - is that the market issue? That's the - kind of the question I have.

ARCENEAUX: It's not her fault. But if you get to - if you have privilege, then you should be able to deal with the little bit of pushback that you get back.

CUMMINGS: Exactly. That's a good point.

MARTIN: Let's hear from some of the women on this, too.

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think it is - it's not necessarily her issue. It's the fact that she appeals to not necessarily a wider audience, but a different audience. And so in the same way that Macklemore can kind of appeal to parents of, like, suburban, white kids, they feel fine with their children listening to this music. Iggy Azalea appeals to people who kind of think, you know, it's a novelty, or people who are into hip-hop but don't see themselves reflected as the kind of traditional hip-hop base. They're not the young, black, kind of urban whatever.

MARTIN: Why is that different from a black, classical artist, though, or a black - an artist in a genre that is not traditionally considered black? What's wrong - what's so terrible?

ARMSTRONG: It's not that it's different. But I think what happens is if you have a black, traditional artist or another genre, people who are kind of a part of that community cosign them, too. They say, you know, oh, this person's a great musician. This person's - and with the Macklemore and the Iggy Azalea, there's a lot of people in the hip-hop community who do not cosign either one of them.

MARTIN: Sarah Ventre, you're back with us.

VENTRE: Yeah. I'm back.

MARTIN: Let's hear from you.

VENTRE: So I actually do think it's a little bit different than having a black artist in the classical world - for two reasons. I feel like one is that when a white person is entering the hip-hop world, white privilege is working for them in the hip-hop world as in life. So I feel like a black person going into the classical world does not have any sort of additional privilege that they're taking with them. And I also feel like there's the question of co-optation, which I don't think comes up in the classical world. And I don't think it comes up the same way as when a white artist is trying to make what is traditionally considered black music.

MARTIN: OK, thumbs up - we only have six seconds left so...

VENTRE: Sure.

MARTIN: Thumbs up or thumbs down on Iggy Azalea, Sarah?

VENTRE: Sideways?

MARTIN: OK. OK. OK, Jozen, I'm sorry we don't have time for you on this.

CUMMINGS: Not a problem.

MARTIN: My apologies. Next time we'll get to you on this. That was Sarah Ventre. She's a senior producer at member station KJZZ in Tempe, Arizona. Sorry for the technical problem there, Sarah. We'll do better by you next time. Michael Arceneaux is a writer and contributor to complex.com. Jozen Cummings is the creator of the blog Until I Get Married. Michael and Jozen were with us from our bureau in New York. Bridget Armstrong is a TELL ME MORE producer and the creator of the blog biggapicture.com. She was with us in Washington, D.C.. Thank you all so much.

ARCENEAUX: Thank you.

VENTRE: Thanks.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

ARMSTRONG: Thanks, Michel.

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