Rap Genius: Is ‘Blurred Lines’ the most frighteningly sexist song of 2013?

In four words and a comma: ‘Yes, I think so.’

WARNING: Due to the nature of the song being discussed, this post contains sexually explicit language and imagery.

In the interest of saving society from itself, I’ve been annotating this summer hit on Rap Genius. The debate is well-documented online, but, there has not yet been a detailed critical breakdown of the lyrics that have caused so much controversy. Thus, my notes have evolved into a mini-essay of sorts, which you can read below.

If you want to respond, I suggest setting up a Rap Genius account and adding to the notes on the website.

Everybody get up

“Everybody get up,” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

A party atmosphere is established immediately with this instruction to get dancing. This is ostensibly a ‘fun’ song, but, as we shall see, contains moral ambiguities concerning gender roles and power balances.

For now though, let’s dance!

WOO!

“WOO!” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

Yep. There is also a sense of release here, perhaps alluding (unconsciously?) to a lack of control.

This will be important in the wider, sexist resonances of this song, explored later. Read on…

Hey hey hey!

“Hey, hey, hey / Hey, hey, hey / Hey, hey, hey” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

Robin Thicke has gone on record saying that this song came out of an idea of old men ‘hollering’ at young girls. The delivery of these ‘heys’ is comical and in character, giving the song a playful tone. This innocence will soon be complicated by the misogynistic lyrics to come.

If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say
If you can’t read from the same page
Maybe I’m going deaf,
Maybe I’m going blind
Maybe I’m out of my mind

“If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say / If you can’t r…” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) |pending

Arguably, there is a moral ‘blindness’ at play here.

In the context of a party, gender inequalities don’t really hold much of a bearing, but this can be dangerous insofar as it blinkers men to the dangers of their own lusts. This song, and its controversial original video, highlights this danger. Men, having a great time, are casually subjugating women, oblivious to their wants, feels or needs.

I am reading between the (blurred) lines here, but it is interesting that, at least on a subconscious level, Thicke is aware of the dulling of his social sensibilities.

Too deep?

Tried to domesticate you

“Tried to domesticate you” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

From a feminist viewpoint, this is a very problematic line.

To ‘domesticate’ suggests three things.

a) that the girl (in this case a referent for all girls) are inherently wild and in need of taming. This in turn suggests that ‘girls’ lack a certain control and cannot be trusted with their own natures. They are closer to animals than people. Dangerous ideas…

b) that it is the job of a man to control women and make them fit for the house. Literally, Thicke is likening the girl to a pet. In doing so, he contributes to a centuries old tradition of female subservience to a dominant male, evidenced in literature throughout history.

c) that men are naturally superior to women, in that they are in a position to control and tame (‘domesticate’) them.

These are not positive assertions. The lines (in this case, gender lines) are indeed being blurred.

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature

“But you’re an animal / Baby, it’s in your nature” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

Again, the sentiment here is dangerous.

Thicke reaches a very hasty conclusion that the ‘girl’ cannot be tamed, because she is in fact wild. Here truest ‘nature’ is wild and unfit for civilisation (domesticity). See my previous note for the dangers of this.

Coupled with the sexually charged imagery and male superiority of the video, this creates a huge power imbalance between men and women. Men, in control, in clothes, having fun, are allowed to, if not supposed to, tame uncontrollable women. Very blurred lines indeed…

Just let me liberate you
You don’t need no papers
That man is not your maker

“Just let me liberate you / You don’t need no papers / Tha…” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) |pending

It just gets worse…

‘Liberate’ should suggest a positive release from social shackles right? Wrong. In this context, Thicke is stating that he wants to free her from social expectations of civilised behaviour

ie: he wants her to be true to her ‘nature’…

ie: he wants her to be wild…

ie: he wants her to be sexual. For him.

Men have been doing this shit for centuries — commodifying female sexuality and taking ownership of women for their own gratification.

Think I’m going too far? Well, the line ‘that man is not your maker’ in itself alludes to an idea that women are seemingly ‘owned’ by men. Explicitly, Thicke is saying that she should be free of such ownership, but implicitly, he is stating that HE in fact owns her. This is proven by his saying that he’s going to ‘take’ her. You can’t take what doesn’t belong to someone.

Again, very, very blurred lines. This is a song about the male gaze and the inherent social imbalances of patriarchal society, made all the worse by its ‘let’s have a party!’ veneer.

And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it

“Good girl / I know you want it / I know you want it / I k…” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) |pending

See, even the comment above suggests that it’s all fun and games, when in actuality, we are in VERY murky waters.

‘Good girl’ here seems to refer to obedience. A ‘good’ girl is one who has listened to Thicke’s theorem on domesticity and true nature and accepted that she is indeed, an animal. The bass-voiced, unnaturally low refrain ‘I know you want it’ becomes an enforced instruction for sexual gratification. Thicke is telling the ‘good girl’ what she wants, what she needs, and lo and behold, what she wants is ‘it’.

‘It’ = Robin Thicke’s dick.

(You do realise this is very close to being a rape anthem, right?)

But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

“But you’re a good girl / The way you grab me / Must wanna…” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

Now, I’m not denying that women are sexual beings with sexual needs — we all are. But at this point in the song, the balance has shifted too far for this to be an innocent celebration of fun times.

There is literally NO female voice to counter the aggressively male demands and assertions offered by Thicke.

The video visually reinforces this by depicting doll-like, anonymous, naked girls, who are entirely subservient to the whims of dancing, clothed, affluent men.

The actions of the girl are interpreted by the male. How the hell does he know that she wants to get nasty? He’s simply projecting his wants upon her behaviour. And she isn’t exactly in a position to argue. Besides, a ‘good’ girl wouldn’t argue anyway, right?

You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted

“You’re far from plastic / Talk about getting blasted” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

The irony is that Thicke, willingly or not, makes some serious claims to being able to control this ‘good girl’. No matter what is being said, the rules are being outlined by men.

I hate these blurred lines

“I hate these blurred lines / I know you want it / I know …” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) |pending

The deeper blurred lines are those of patriarchal society’s view of women. To even call them ‘girls’ is problematic, as it denotes them as innocent and incapable of adult decision, despite being sexual objects.

It may be 2013, but women are largely still seen as inferior to men, which is how a song of such casual misogyny as this can be released with no real problem. At the same time, modern women are (arguably) fairly empowered and in control of their sexuality. This song ignores that by focusing purely on the male perspective, however.

What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on

“What do they make dreams for / When you got them jeans on” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

This is where it gets interesting.

These lines highlight the weakness to sexuality suffered by the stereotypical man. The physical shape of a woman leaves him in a state of rapture, wondering if dreams could ever match up to what he is seeing.

In one sense, this is very capital R Romantic. In another, it highlights the potentially dangerous potency of the male gaze. Sexual urges are so powerful that they overcome the senses, leaving men ‘deaf and blind’ (see the first verse).

What do we need steam for
You the hottest bitch in this place

“What do we need steam for / You the hottest bitch in this…” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) |pending

‘Hottest bitch’ — a tricky juxtaposition if ever I did see one.

On the one hand, this is a clear compliment. In recent years ‘Bitch’ has been dulled in meaning to refer to a fiesty, independent woman, with many popular female rappers having sought to appropriate the term in a move to self-empowerment.

But.

The word bitch is still derogatory and it still degrades women to a status beneath men. It is inherently negative and, I think, is only used by female rappers in a kind of linguistic dirty protest, much as the word ‘nigga’ evolved out of the subjugating ‘nigger’ that actively oppressed black Americans.

The confusion of shouting ‘you’re the hottest bitch in this place’ is deep. Thicke is letting go of social decorum and praising the ‘good girl’, but he is simultaneously confirming her degraded status.

The racial context can’t be ignored either. This is a very ‘black’ dialect at play here. For Thicke, a white, married man, to use the term ‘bitch’ in the context of a sexualised, desirable woman suggests that wild, promiscuous, untameable behaviour is in fact ‘black’ (or at least non-white) behaviour. Which is okay, because this is a black song, featuring black vocals, a hiphop verse and a soul sample.

But it’s not ok. At all. It’s almost as if the misogyny, sexism and blurred moral lines are acceptable because the song is rooted in non-white concepts. When pop music has evolved to this level of carelessness, you know something has gone wrong.

I feel so lucky
You wanna hug me

“I feel so lucky, you wanna hug me” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

Male insecurity? For all the bravado and superiority, the man feels lucky to be receiving (sexual?) attention from the woman. See, we’re all boys at heart, playing the role of ‘master’ with women who control us through our own desires.

Very Freudian.

What rhymes with hug me?

“What rhymes with hug me” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

The ‘blurriness’ of the whole situation is summarised in this line. Thicke isn’t event thinking straight (as he alluded to in the first verse — ‘blind’, ‘deaf’).

For me, there is a suggestion of inebriation here too, which is also playful. Poets have a sense of control that means they can always find a rhyme, but here, control has been lost.

Arguably, this is a song about a lack of male control on every level. See my other notes for details.

Had a bitch, but she ain’t as bad as you

“Had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

Again, the commodification and objectification of women rears its very ugly head…

TI implies ownership of women in stating that he ‘had’ a ‘bitch’ (pet?), but one that wasn’t as ‘bad’ as this ‘good girl’. The woman is denigrated to the state of being an item that can be catalogued and itemised.

Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that

“Nothin’ like your last guy, he too square for you / He do…” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) |pending

At best, irresponsible, at worst, actively misogynistic, this line alludes to energetic sex and virility. Of course, sexual beings of both genders will want sexual prowess in a partner, but in the context of this imbalanced song, these lines refer to a darker, male desire for dominance and control.

Again, not far away from rape imagery.

I’m a nice guy, but don’t get it if you get with me

“I’m a nice guy, but don’t get confused, you gettin it” (Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines) | pending

The modern male dilemma: Patriarchal history says that women are supposed to be treated as lesser than men, while modern liberal sensibilities tell us that we should be empathetic.

This line, for me, is evidence that the gender balance is still, well, unbalanced. TI, wracked with insecurity, claims to be a nice guy despite commodifying women, calling them ‘bitches’, hunting them out for sexual exploitation. The whole song echoes this confusion.

And now, as an antidote to all that latent misogyny, here are two excellent video parodies of the original.

Enjoy,

-Flirtations, U

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