Can you relate to this scenario? You’ve been flirting with someone for weeks, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. They’re obviously interested, but for whatever reason, they don’t want to do anything about it. Yet they keep giving you just enough attention to stop you from giving up hope that the flirtation will lead to anything more.
Or what about this situation? You have a crush that doesn’t fit with your image, or your own sense of what or who you thought you liked. Actually hooking up with this person would change what everyone (including you) thinks about you, so you resist – but deep down, you know you want it, so to speak.
I always thought “Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke’s catchy and controversial hit song, was about this kind of situation. I interpreted his message as “Admit that you’re into me, because your mixed signals are confusing.” Kind of like this:
But maybe I’m going deaf. Maybe I’m going blind. Maybe I’m out of my mind.
Because people really disagree with me. Apparently this song is “rapey”.
Elizabeth Plank writes for Policymic:
The song is about “liberating” a good girl by showing her that she actually wants “crazy wild sex” that she isn’t asking for.
The Norwegian blogger Undre writes (in Norwegian, my translation):
It all sounds like a recipe for rape. “Grey areas” you know. Difficult stuff. *hirr*
(Undre also translated the lyrics into Norwegian).
Tricia Romano writes for the Daily Beast:
“The song is about how a girl really wants crazy wild sex but doesn’t say it—positing that age-old problem where men think no means yes into a catchy, hummable song.”
Or maybe, it’s just about how a girl wants crazy wild sex but doesn’t say it… And that is all.
Here’s the top comment on the uncensored version of the video, proving that I’m not completely alone here:
Blurred lines are interesting: Sometimes you don’t know if you want to sleep with someone or not. Sometimes you don’t know if the person you think you’re flirting with actually likes you, or if that’s just how they talk. To me “blurred lines” could be that confusing grey area just before you actually start dating someone. This is good material for pop song lyrics. Before seeing the video and reading blog posts about this, I didn’t think there was anything unusual about “Blurred Lines”.
But maybe people are really just as upset about the video as they are about the lyrics:
Canadian model Amy Davison said in a video:
“Robin Thicke is a dick because in his music video there are three topless models who prance around like objects while Pharrel and Robin Thicke stay fully clothed.”
First, excuse my comfortable, casual attitude to nudity. I’m Scandinavian; our children’s entertainment has enough of that to get censured by YouTube.
Second, since you don’t think of these girls as objects, maybe you’d like to know what they think. Emily Ratajkowski, one of the models in the video, says:
“Pop music is great, but there’s a lot of BS about the attitude of guys being super-gangster — that’s why the whole thing is silly. It’s making fun of itself.”
Personally, I don’t think the video works as social commentary or parody. To paraphrase Callie Beusman in Jezebel: Meta-nudity is not (yet?) a thing. The real point of the video is to sell music by being controversial, and the best response if you hate it, would be to ignore it.
There is a lot of social commentary inherent in this still from the video:
… but that is another more complex story, which deserves its own blog post. For now, I’ll just say:
I don’t like the term “rapey”, just like I don’t like the term “unwanted sexual advances”. These terms put everything from staring to whistling to actual rape into the same category, as if there isn’t a huge difference.
Rape should have nothing to do with blurred lines. No individual case of sexual assault or abuse is ever the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter what she wore or what she drank. But just like no means no, “I want to have sex with you,” doesn’t mean rape.
In my mind, “Blurred Lines” is a challenge. It’s a guy telling a girl “I think you want me. I urge you to make up your mind and tell me yes or no.” In my mind, he will back off if he gets a clear “no” answer. I wish we lived in a world where we could safely assume that was always the case.
Oh, and here’s a lyric about actual rape, for the sake of comparison.
The “choose a side”-source is unknown. I found it on Pinterest.
October 5, 2013 at 12:03 pm
I think it is important to differ between
1) what the artists intentions was
2) how the lyrics are conceived
To answer #1:
To be honest I do not think that they sat down and said “Let’s write a rapey song”. In fact from what I’ve read about Robin Thinke’s responses to the reactions to this song I think he was totally blindsided by the fact that this song could be interpreted as a rapey song at all. Imho he really doesn’t seem to be very smart. On the other hand, when the criticism hit the media he could easily defused the criticism by responding that his intentions wasn’t to objectify and sexualize women and say that he was sorry offending people. That would have been the decent thing to do. Instead he has made really silly statements about the song starting a feminist movement on its own.
To answer #2:
There is a really deep and troublesome thing going on in popular culture when it comes to sexualizing and objectifying women. “Blurred Lines” very much reflects what is going on in pop culture. They probably thought it was cool to make a racy video and have quite explicit texts about anal sex and about “good girls really wanting it”. I think the criticism of the lyrics is legit and I think Sociological Images really just made the final argument for that in their post where they compared text from “Blurred Lines” to images posted on the blog Project Unbreakable:
«From the mouths of rapists: The lyrics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines»
Robin Thicke and the two other artists he collaborates with are grown men who really should be smarter than this. Apparently they aren’t or they just don’t care about what is going on in the society around them.
October 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm
Thanks for a really thoughtful comment.
I have seen photos from Project Unbreakable, and I purposely didn’t bring that up in the original post. For two reasons:
1. While I agree that Thicke does not come off as a really smart person in this, he does work with smart people, and part of me does think that the “I know you want it” line is a conscious reference to what people call “rape culture”. They’re playing with lines and images that are usually used against women, even though they are not necessarily against women themselves. If we believe that the song and video are parody gone wrong, then “I know you want it” in connection with Project Unbreakable is the point where Thicke and friends went too far.
2. Lyrics will always be interpreted by the listener. I have not been the victim of assault, but I can relate to the situations I describe in the start of my post. So that is what I heard first in the song. For anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse, there will be sentences, places, smells and yes, song lyrics that will remind them of something they don’t want to think about. I can’t pretend to understand their situation at all, and I didn’t want to add that perspective to my post as a casual reference.
That being said, I don’t think we can or should interpret popular culture in such a worst-case-scenario way.
October 5, 2013 at 3:08 pm
I think we just need to agree to disagree as I don’t think the “rapey interpretation” is a “worst-case-scenario” interpretation but just pointing out what is actually right infront of our noses and going on in the majority of popular culture atm.
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October 6, 2013 at 12:20 pm
I think you’re focusing a bit too much in the line “I know you want it”. Taking all lyrics together, I think it really gives a different impression than what you call the grey area before deciding whether you should date someone, or the other, rather innocent-sounding examples that you state in the beginning, if I may say so. For example “I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” or “He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that” “But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature. Just let me liberate you”. Of course this doesn’t mean rape, and so I wouldn’t call this song rapey, but it definitely doesn’t model a particularly respectful way of behaving towards women and rather seems to promote the opposite (doesn’t mean there aren’t many women who’d like that kind of guy..each to their own..but I think its having an aggressive and disrespectful tone to it that should have been avoided). I also think that the blurred lines that you’re describing are more like “Well I think that person likes me but I’m just not sure”. You write: “It’s a guy telling a girl “I think you want me” or, somewhere else, “Sometimes you don’t know if the person you think you’re flirting with actually likes you, or if that’s just how they talk”. But thats NOT what he says!! He says: “I KNOW you want it” or “Let me liberate you”, which sounds much more patronizing.
However, as I said, I wouldn’t say it glorifies rape, totally agree with you on that. Ironically, I feel as if many people discussing this song do it in a very black or white way. I think its more blurry – I think the lyrics come across as pushy and don’t promote a respectful way of how to behave towards a woman, but I would never go as far as saying that this song promotes rape.
October 6, 2013 at 12:38 pm
Thanks for your comment.
You’re right to say that the lyrics are pushy. I have a problem with people equating pushy with rape, assuming that because a guy is using overly confident language and acting in a way that would turn me off, he is probably about to become a rapist. I chose innocent examples because there are blurred lines there as well. Blurred lines, grey areas and general confusion do not exclusively apply to questions of consent and sex.
I have a problem with the way people assume that pushiness implies that he literally won’t take no for an answer, but I have a bigger problem with the assumptions this implies about women. People assume that the female character that the song is directed at, is not consenting, that she doesn’t want her hair pulled, that she finds this guy creepy, aggressive, disrespectful etc. There’s this FICTIONAL female character we know NOTHING about – so we make up all her emotions and act offended on her behalf. Way to not objectify women.
Oh, and saying “I know you…” is always going to be subjective. It’s always going to be “I believe you…”. But that’s just my interpretation.
October 6, 2013 at 2:31 pm
Well but thats what I meant. Its pushy (and a lot of it disrespectful in my opinion as well..calling women bitches in the first place), but it doesn’t promote rape. And as I said, many women would probably love to have their hair pulled or smacked their ass by Robin Thicke, or be happy to consent to whatever weird else he wants to do. Doesn’t make it necessarily ok to use such language in a song. I mean if you extrapolate that point it would mean that it would be fine for someone to sing about sadistic sex games as well because maybe the women he sings about enjoys it or consented to it. However, maybe she also doesn’t. We don’t know because we’re not in Robin Thicke’s head (and I’m glad we’re not!). But this ambiguity might mean that for some this song promotes that its ok to treat a woman like that. Or that women feel this is how they should behave. Thats the problem I’d say. The way it could quite easily be interpreted. Maybe Robin Thicke should have been less ambiguous about it. Of course he wasn’t, because controversy sells. However, don’t get me wrong – personally, I don’t think a song will ever drive anyone into raping someone else, or even change their thinking about it. The circumstances surrounding rape are so complex, and rape existed way before Robin Thicke or his pals came along to sing their little songs. So my criticsm of the song would not focus on this alleged belittlement of rape, but on the derogatory language and the image of women and men it creates. But obvs thats a whole different topic and goes quite off topic so I leave it there 🙂
October 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm
Oh and I’d love it if he would sing “I believe you want it”, instead of “I know”!! Would change the whole song to the better for me. The “I know” sounds patronising, like a motherly “I know whats best for you, just do as I told you!”. To me there’s a huge difference between “I believe” and “I think”. Haha now we’re really getting into the word analysing..
October 6, 2013 at 3:35 pm
I love this comment. “I think you want it”. You fixed it.
October 6, 2013 at 5:56 pm
Haha what did I write here. I meant obvs that I’d love it if he would sing “I believe” instead of “I know”..and that there is a difference between “I believe” and “I know”. God what was wrong with me there, makes the whole comment sound bizarre. Anyways, I find your take on it even better, “I think you want it”. You should write pop songs Julie!
October 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm
Think just works better with the rhythm than believe:
I think you want it
I think you want it
I think you want it
But you’re a good girl…
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines!
I think you want it
I think you want it
I think you want it
But you’re a good girl!
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me
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