By Froma Harrop
To every summer season, there is a summer song. This summer, the hit tune seems to be “Blurred Lines,” by white soul singer Robin Thicke. It is not a nice song.
The naughty version of the video has topless girls bouncing past a fully dressed Thicke as he urges them to stop pretending they don’t lust for him. Creepy images pass through, including a split-second shot of a giant hypodermic needle pointed at one lady’s rear end.
The song has its critics, needless to say. Its oft-repeated line — “I know you want it” — recalls the rapist’s first defense. Indeed, the very title, “Blurred Lines,” speaks of an alleged fuzzy boundary separating sexual consent from its opposite. It implies that “no” may mean “yes,” if the self-regarding male interprets her non-verbal behavior thusly. Not surprisingly, a good number of feminists are retching.
My chief beef is not the misogyny. I believe in freedom of offensive speech and all that — though I do wonder about the educated women here and in Europe joyfully dancing to these lyrics. My problem with “Blurred Lines” is that it’s become this summer’s song.
It used to be that summer offered gender-neutral enjoyment. It’s girls and boys — or any other gender combination, fine with me — all having an equally agreeable warm-weather frolic.
The rap world feasts on male dominance, perhaps a pushback on a reality moving in the other direction. That’s their business, and as Thicke’s rush to riches shows, a profitable one.
But this summer’s memories ought not evoke such expressions of male esteem as Thicke’s “You the hottest bitch in this place.”
Quite a contrast to the 1959 summer tribute, “Here Comes Summer,” where Jerry Keller courteously proposes, “If she’s willing/we’ll go steady right away.”
That was a zillion years ago, but last summer’s song was Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” a winsome appeal to a guy who, it turns out, was not into girls. And the song for 2011 was LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” where the words got no rougher than, “We just wanna see ya shake that.”
Speaking of blurred lines, there appears to be one between Thicke’s song and Marvin Gaye’s funky 1977 hit, “Got to Give It Up.” The Gaye family is demanding its share of the proceeds, threatening suit for copyright infringement. Thicke and his co-writers, Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, the rapper known as T.I., are suing back.
They argue that “Blurred Lines” was inspired by Marvin Gaye, not copied. Sorta like Beethoven’s variations on a theme by Mozart, I guess.
We hear the common complaint that white musicians taking black musical forms can achieve instant stardom in ways that their African-American creators rarely do. Thicke is a Hollywood princeling, son of Canadian actor Alan Thicke (star of the ABC sitcom “Growing Pains”).
Of “Blurred Lines,” Alan Thicke offers fatherly praise: “I was as impressed with the track as I was with the video.”
Robin is a 36-year-old married father — evidence, he implies, that he really, really respects women. And he also talks up racial sensitivity. The song does give cameos to his black collaborators, Pharrell and T.I.
All very pleasant, but it is curious that “Blurred Lines” outsources its very nastiest lines — the explicit ones about doing bodily harm to women — to T.I. Thicke’s verses are more safely vague.
But, hey, who am I to argue with raging commercial success? All I can do is ask that “Blurred Lines” not go down in history as the song that 50 years from now will recall the summer of 2013.
About four weeks remain before the first day of autumn. Technically, there’s still hope.
Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org