Friday FREAK OUT! Is Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” really ‘rapey’?

Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines”, has been listed #1 on the charts in the US and the UK two weeks in a row, but that’s not what the ruckus is all about. This song, and accompanying video (especially the explicit unrated video that was banned from youtube), has been criticized as being ‘rapey’ on blogs such as Vagenda and Feminist in LA, and even a Canadian model who made her own video, “Robin Thicke is a D*CK“. The hoopla has made it into CNN’s nightly news, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, to name a few.

So, what are people freakin’ out about?

– A recurring song lyric, “you know you want it”, whispered into girls’ ears
– The use of various “nonsensical” props in the videos, including a needle, a bicycle, and farm animals??20130621-012143.jpg
– Depicting ‘good girls’ as really wanting wild sex
– Showing scantily clad women dancing around/with fully clothed men
– The domestication of women (this is my biggest problem-I can brush my own hair!)
– An announcement that “Robin Thicke has a Big D…” (shown, ironically, with balloons)

While Thicke’s song does depict pressuring women to engage in sexual activities assumed to be wild and outrageous and the assumption of an internalized yet not actualized crazy sexual desire, there is no demonstration of a forced sexual encounter. It does show ‘blurred lines’ of sexuality and clearly omits any depiction of consent; however, I would not go so far as to call it ‘rapey’. Just because a sexually charged experience does not explicitly demonstrate consent does not mean it is not consensual.

Remember, this is not the first song with sexually suggestive lyrics or the first music video with scantily clad women being objectified by men. I agree with Tricia Romano, that “Thicke’s video would barely register on the outrage meter when compared to most garden-variety hip-hop videos featuring bling and babes.” And someone at SPIN, a super trendy music magazine, finds lots of the parts that have been criticized as problems in the video downright amusing. In addition, it’s important to acknowledge that many couples are in fact inspired by this song…I just last night heard a story of a couple that performed a choreographed dance to “Blurred Lines” as the entry to their wedding reception. And while it is entirely possible that their relationship has not yet included a conversation about consent, I, as the optimist, like to think that it has, and that their well-received, playful expression via this song represents some ‘fun’ in their relationship. And it is unrealistic to think that actual sexual encounters in any relationship are completely void of ‘blurred lines’. Thicke may not be demonstrating the most politically correct sexual values, but what may make people uncomfortable is the reality of what is presented. In addition, attaching a ‘rapey’ label to a song that resonates with the masses may in effect ostracize an audience that needs to hear the message about the importance of consent.

So, given the controversy about “Blurred Lines” being a rape song, or a love song, or just a song, what can educators (or parents, or any adult for that matter) do with this poppy, admittedly catchy piece of culture that is topping the charts right now as this year’s ‘summer anthem’? The observations about the problems with “Blurred Lines” are an important part of media literacy – something that should be an essential component of everyone’s education. We NEED to examine lyrics and think critically about what music is telling us and what videos are showing us. Each and every one of us should be thinking about…

– what does the song say about desire- both female and male?
– what does the song say about how men attract women, and how women attract men?
– what does the song say about expectations of gender roles?
– how does the song address the idea of consent?
– how might the song/video contribute to rape culture?
– how might this song influence someone’s idea of sexual performance?
– what do YOU think of this song?

Because maybe freak-outs about songs like this give us an opportunity to sit down and answer these questions, rather than just dance and sing along to yet another a fun, yet creepy song.

3 thoughts on “Friday FREAK OUT! Is Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” really ‘rapey’?

  1. Hi there– I’m a health teacher outside of Boston, and really appreciate the discussion questions at the end of your post. Every semester I do the BPHC “Sound Nutritional Label” activity with my students– cool if I use your questions with them next time around?

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