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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Singer-songwriter Robin Thicke's new song "Blurred Lines" has spent weeks at number one on the Billboard charts. The song features hip hop producer Pharrell Williams and rapper T.I.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLURRED LINES")

ROBIN THICKE: (singing) I hate these blurred lines. I know you want it. Yeah. I know you want it...

MONTAGNE: The music video for this single has got people talking, mainly because nearly naked supermodels prance back and forth while the men, who are fully clothed, sing I know you want it. And that's our cue to hear from NPR's music critic Ann Powers. Good morning.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Hi. So let's start with a little bit of controversy around this.

POWERS: Well, it definitely rides the fine line between seduction and assault, some think. It's very playful. The music takes from Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give it Up" and it has that party feel. The controversy comes, really, from the video which does involve nakedness 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.

MONTAGNE: This sort of controversy with several clothed men and some unclothed women, I mean, this dates back 150 years to Manet: "The Picnic on the Grass," which was very controversial in its time. I mean, isn't this a provocative sort of imagery that is, well, at this point old fashioned almost?

POWERS: You know, you're really right. When Robin Thicke has talked about this video he talks about it as, we are three old men cat calling to beautiful women on the street; we have no power. But, obviously, when women are exposed we think of them as vulnerable. So the blurred lines, in a sense, are the blurred lines of perception around issues of sexuality and power in the 21st century, and forever, as you say.

MONTAGNE: And talk to us about Robin Thicke. He is not new to the music scene.

POWERS: No, Robin Thicke has been around for a while. His usual sound is a much more kind of smooth, sexy variety of R&B that's often about true love and faithfulness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE")

THICKE: (singing) I knew when I laid my eyes on you, the lights from above seemed to shine on only you...

POWERS: And that was from the album "Blurred Lines" which is coming out at the end of the month.

MONTAGNE: Well, very different than "Blurred Lines."

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: So Thicke is best known for that kind of sound and also for a public image that centers around his marriage to the actress Paula Patton. So "Blurred Lines," though not his first up tempo song, by far, definitely jumps over into the brighter and confrontational world of Top 40.

MONTAGNE: We have to say part of his appeal is his Rat Pack image.

POWERS: Yeah. Well, it's interesting. I mean, when Thicke first came out 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 quickly realized that he would do better with this smoother and kind of retro image. So he usually wears suits. He has kind of a pompadour-ish hairstyle. That's his standard MO, and you see it on other performers now, notably Justin Timberlake.

I think Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke might be in a quiet competition at the moment. In fact, Justin Timberlake's new video for the song "Tunnel Vision" happens to feature models wearing nearly nothing.

MONTAGNE: Well. All right.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: Call it the summer of sunscreen, if nothing else.

MONTAGNE: Ann, thanks very much.

POWERS: Thank you so much, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Ann Powers is NPR's music critic. This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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