Robin Thicke: The Un-Feminist
“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke’s latest song featuring Pharrell and T.I, has caught the eye of many viewers as it includes women wearing nothing but a flesh coloured thong and shoes. The video was uploaded on to the popular video hosting site, YouTube. YouTube has had a monumental effect on the change in music as it moves into the digital age. Any artist, whether signed to a record label or not, can put their songs and accompanying videos into the public domain. This is a form of exposure that an artist can’t shun, considering it’s free and YouTube was the most visited website between 2010 and 2012 (YouTube Traffic Statistics, no date). However, due to YouTube’s mass audience, Google, the owners of YouTube, has put in place a “Terms Of Service”, which can be found on their website (Terms Of Service, 2010). This document outlines certain types of video which are deemed not suitable for YouTube. One is “pornography or sexually explicit content”, which Blurred Lines has been seen to come under. News articles quickly surfaced questioning how the video was allowed to be uploaded. YouTube quickly reacted, acted on their Terms of Service and took the video off the site (Gizmodo, 2013). The music video has now been replaced by a similar version where the models are wearing flesh coloured bras (RobinThickeVEVO, 2013). The argument could be made whether this could still be deemed as pornography, as the models are still dressed in very sexually suggestive underwear. The popular music video website Vevo still carries the unrated version on it’s site, as their Terms of Service differs to that of YouTube. Vevo, owned by a partnership of Sony, Universal and Abu Dhbai media, have a Terms of Service which allows explicit content as long as a “clean” version is offered as well (Learmouth, 2010). This provides a good comparison between how people have taken to the controversial content of the video. Currently the Explicit version has had 467,673 views on Vevo, where the Clean version has attracted 11,372,317 views (Thicke, 2013). However, this includes traffic on YouTube where the Clean version exists but the Explicit version does not. This still suggests that the use of nudity within the video doesn’t improve the video, or make it anymore popular.
Blurred Lines is Robin Thicke’s latest release from a music career which stretches back to 2003, when Thicke wrote his first album, A Beautiful World. His previous material is much more tame than that what is seen in Blurred Lines. In the music video of his highest charting hit so far, Lost Without U, he is seen being endearing and loving towards the female protagonist. The use of words like “love” and the title line “lost without you” shows that this version of Thicke respects women and realises that there’s a deeper connection with them as opposed to viewing them as solely sexual objects (Thicke, 2006). This is also shown by the woman character in the music video wearing much more stylish clothing (RobinThickeVEVO, 2009). With this sudden change of style in content and material, the inclusion or nudity could be seen as a publicity stunt.
The music video for Blurred Lines clearly sets out a hierarchy where the men are above the women. This reflects on modern-day stereotypes, where the men do the hard work and the women are there to supplement them. This is shown by the men doing all the singing and the women doing nothing but dancing and looking attractive. By performing the song within the scene, Vernallis (2004) suggests that the viewer is encouraged to participate in the narrative more than if the video was a word for word enactment. However the need for them to be nude in order to fulfil this can be argued against. This is shown by the fact that the unrated and rated versions of the video hardly differ in terms of effectiveness in illustrating the point posed by the song.
In this music video, the men, represented by Robin Thicke, Pharrel and T.I., are symbolised as being superior by being fully dressed, compared to the females who have their breasts on show. The men are dressed in stylish, expensive clothing with the females wearing a plain nude coloured thong. This places the females in an oppressed position underneath the males. Simone de Beauvoir (1949) believes clothing and appearance are an objectifying factor in a woman’s life. Clothing can be seen to give a person their character and, by taking that away from someone, can regress them into a generic being. Laura Mulvey (1989) suggests that “the female body has become industrialised” and that the female must use clothing and make-up for a look of femininity and visability in a sexist society. This is enhanced by the video being set against a nude coloured background. This makes the models blend into the background to become part of the backdrop, thus reducing their individuality. This overall male dominance over the female means the controlling gaze is male. Viewers are forced to view the video from the perspective of the male, lusting after the female. In Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1999) she suggests that male gaze is the main argument with feminism in film. This can also carry over to music videos, as they can be seen as short films.
The females position within the video and song is further depreciated by the association of them and farm animals. Through the gaze, the viewer sees the women alongside the animals and other farmyard paraphernalia, such as hay bails and banjos. This is coupled with the use of the word “domesticate” within the lyrics, a word that is often used when referring to animals and pets. Also at 0:43, one of the models mouths the word “meow”, a word linked with cats. This connection means the viewer perceives the females as subordinates and as equals with the farm animals. There are aspects within the video which also illustrates this connection include one of the models being on all fours, this has sexual connotations from it being the same posture as a sexual position. Twice when the models are in this positions they have other items upon their body. On one occasion there is a stop sign on her, this . On another occasion, she has a toy sports car rolling down her arched back. This is another example of the gaze theory. The female is associated with the car, which is a desirable object, thus making both desirable to the viewer.
Other points in the video which suggest the male’s sexual control over females include where Robin Thicke blows smoke into the face of one of the models. This is seen as Thicke opposing his authority over the female by forcing something unpleasant on her. This is also shown when Thicke chases one of the females with a novelty sized syringe, the pursuit and the intent to inject is Thicke again placing himself above the female in the hierarchy. The placement of the needle up against the females behind can also have sexual connotations with the insertion of an object into a woman.
The fetishisation of feet is portrayed at multiple time throughout the video. Foot fetishes are normally seen as one worshipping another’s foot by “caressing, sucking and/or licking them” (Bancroft, 2008). However towards the end of the video, Thicke is seen using a foot as a microphone. This can be seen as the male not worshipping, but objectifying the foot as an object, specifically a microphone. By doing this, it reduces the woman to an object which Thicke can use and play with. Also, Robin Thicke is seen being softly slapped in the face by the same foot. This might be portrayed as the female shunning Thicke. But the case is probably that this is an erotic playful slap, which Thicke wants and enjoys. This is highlighted by the fact that the foot is coming from beneath Thicke, therefore he is still on top.
At first glance, the use of nudity within a video can be seen as a celebration of a female’s body. However, coupled with Robin Thicke’s lyrics, use of nudity can only be seen as an objectification of females. Through the many sexual connotations, Robin Thicke is seen as a man who sees a female’s primary purpose as being a provider of sex and to be a servant to the male.
Bancroft, J. (2008) Human Sexuality and its Problems. Churchill Livingstone.
Beauvoir, Simone de. (1949) Abstract: In The Second Sex.
Gizmodo (2013) Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines. Available at: http://gizmodo.com/5992670/robin-thicke-blurred-lines-nsfw-nsfw-nsfw (Accessed: 5 May 2013).
Learmouth, M (2010) Google Supports Censorship On Vevo So It Can Sell More Ads. Available at: http://articles.businessinsider.com/2010-01-22/tech/30081138_1_ratings-system-music-service-umg (Accessed: 5 May 2013).
Mulvey, L. (1989) Visual and Other Pleasures. MacMillan Press.
Mulvey, L. (1999) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. New York: Oxford University Press.
RobinThickeVEVO (2009) Robin Thicke – Lost Without You. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DdCoNbbRvQ (Accessed: 5 May 2013).
RobinThickeVEVO (2013) Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines ft. T.I., Pharrell. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyDUC1LUXSU (Accessed: 1 May 2013).
Terms Of Service (2010) Available at: http://www.youtube.com/static?gl=GB&template=terms (Accessed: 3 May 2013).
Thicke, R. (2006) Lost Without U. Interscope Records.
Thicke, R. (2013) Blurred Lines (Unrated Version). Available at: http://www.vevo.com/watch/robin-thicke/blurred-lines-unrated-version/USUV71300526 (Accessed: 1 May 2013).
Vernallis, C. (2004) Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Content. Columbia University Press.
YouTube Traffic Statistics (no date) Available at: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/youtube.com (Accessed: 5 May 2013).