Robin Thicke: Smirky But Sincere On 'Blurred Lines'

By Ken Tucker

August 22, 2013

Robin Thicke exudes a kind of oily charm that is, with the right material, by no means off-putting. A prime example is the single "Blurred Lines," which gives you the complete Robin Thicke Experience. The song is a come-on, because basically all Thicke does in his music is try to put the make on women. What prevents him from being too creepy is that he's also genial, even gentlemanly and debonair, when the object of his lust shoots him down. Sometimes his songs sound like parodies of hip-hop, of the sort Andy Samberg does with his pals in The Lonely Island, as in "For the Rest of My Life."

Listen and look past his roué image, and Robin Thicke is revealed as an earnest nostalgist. He persistently makes music that hearkens back to the quiet-storm soul and disco of the '70s and '80s. He's a smirky but sincere curator of the old sounds he loves, straining to approximate the croons of vocalists such as Peabo Bryson, Frankie Beverly and Philippe Wynne.

Blurred Lines is, overall, a fetching pop collection — a dreamy make-out record. But it threatens to be overshadowed by "Blurred Lines" the single, which is a phenomenon that just keeps on inspiring cultural contradictions. The video for the song shows Thicke, producer Pharrell Williams and the rapper T.I. surrounded by skimpily dressed young women who flit around the men and buzz away. Some people were offended by this. Now there's a question about the song's provenance; specifically, think of the percolating rhythm of Marvin Gaye's 1977 song "Got to Give It Up."

Last week, it was recently announced that Thicke's legal team is doing some preemptive work: They're suing Marvin Gaye's estate to prevent any potential lawsuit over the similarities between "Blurred Lines" and "Got to Give It Up." For good measure, Thicke's team included the 1974 Funkadelic song "Sexy Ways" in the suit just in case, even as author George Clinton has already said he has nothing against Thicke's song.

Now, when it comes to filching melodies and hooks, I give pop music a lot of slack. Whenever someone wants to yell sonic plagiarism, I get this image in my mind of Jimmy Page holding a stack of old blues-guitar records and chuckling with a wily rasp. One thing pop music is tidy about is recycling. Robin Thicke is not going to cut into the sales of Marvin Gaye or Funkadelic music; if anything, these songs are now going to be listened to by a generation that may not have heard the songs previously. As for Robin Thicke, well, he's a hard worker — he's been churning out songs for other acts, as well as himself, since the late '90s. And he's done it by blurring stylistic lines with a wink and a smile that just gets more sly, more knowing, with every release.

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