Blurred Lines & Crossed Wires: Aidan Moffat On Robin Thicke
, July 10th, 2014 14:18
This week, Aidan Moffat was engulfed in a Twitterstorm after offering an opinion on Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines'. Here, Moffat explains his full position on the song
…and suddenly they burst through the windows, shattering the thin glass as they sweep in and take aim. In an unspoken act of mutual sacrifice, my brother and I run to separate safe-rooms – this way, at least one of us will survive. I reach my room and find my Uzi, check it's loaded, peek through the crack of the door and scream: “I'm not a rape apologist!”
I wake up next to my girlfriend and our baby girl; I'm soaked, panicked and nauseous. And all because I dared to express an opinion.
If I seem a year out of synch by discussing Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I.'s controversial super-hit, 'Blurred Lines', the truth is I've been afraid to. I've long since felt the song was misinterpreted and Thicke became the whipping boy for an otherwise just cause, but I knew to express that publicly would lead to insults and character assassinations. This week, angered by two separate, puerile newspaper pieces that sneeringly mocked Thicke's new sales figures, I decided to voice my feelings online – a little crudely, I grant you – and was proven right. But to my surprise, the majority of response was supportive and came from women.
Why do I feel the song has been misinterpreted? Firstly, I don't believe the line “I know you want it” is as “rapey” – probably the worst new word of the century so far – as others claim. It's arrogant, yes, but for many it's the language of sex and flirtation; I've said it myself, women have said it to me, and in every single instance the phrase was a statement of fact and not an ominous threat of violence. It's a common phrase employed nightly by both genders all over the world to suggest sexual confidence, designed to secure intimacy between consenting partners. It may also be unsavoury and unwelcome to many other ears, but I think it's unfair to assume anything of its author other than cockiness. And those “blurred lines”? In the context of the whole song, it seems to me that these are not a question of sexual consent but rather the fidelity and indecision of the subject. The lyrics that are rarely quoted – probably because they don't support the criticisms – are:
"Okay, now he was close, tried to domesticate you / But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature / Just let me liberate you."
Here we have a woman who is either married or deeply attached, and unhappily so, as the line infers – “tried to domesticate you” – being offered an erotic escape. Last year also saw the publication of an excellent, accessible study by Daniel Bergner, What Do Women Want? – Adventures In The Science Of Female Desire, that challenges the preconceived myths of women's sexuality, such as the need for emotional connection and the lack of natural predisposition to promiscuity. As most women and anyone who's ever had sex with a woman can tell you, these archaic ideas are nonsense – and yet, in a patriarchal society, they prevail. So it's these lines, I think, that make the song so popular with millions of women. “Women don't need men to liberate them!” was one of the responses I received here, but that's a misreading of the word itself, removed from its context. Let me help you break free from the dull cage of sexless domesticity, the song says – unleash your dormant passion. So will this woman be a “good girl” as society continues to dictate, or will she shun the stifling shackles of convention and do whatever she wants? She can't seem to decide.
And then, immediately after, there's this lyric:
"You don't need no papers / That man is not your maker."
The message here is plain: no one owns you, and you do not need a man's permission to do what you enjoy. That doesn't sound much like misogyny to me. And keep in mind that these five lines are not a single occurrence – they're repeated several times throughout the song and are one of its many melodic and lyrical hooks. Any song's narrative is open to opposing interpretations, and when 'Blurred Lines'' full lyrics are scrutinised – rather than the cherry-picked quotes that suit one's argument – a new, more complex story is revealed. And while it's poorly written and badly worded, I struggle to find the supposed malice within.
There are many other words in the song, of course. “Bitch” is used, but we can hardly single out 'Blurred Lines' for that. And “I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two” is vile and indefensible – but Robin Thicke neither wrote nor sang that. Should we consider a race element to Thicke's demonisation? The same papers that chastised Pharrell for 'Blurred Lines' have since tried to rebrand him a feminist, and T.I. – who provides the disturbing line quoted above, and the song's only explicit allusion to violence – is hardly ever mentioned. And yet Thicke remains the constant, easy target – the righteous can pillory him all day long without fear of accusations of racial and cultural superiority, and meanwhile the charts remain stuffed with pop songs filled with misogynist language and far more troubling rape allegories. I mean, have you heard Pitbull?
And then, of course, there's that video. Again, it's indefensible and crass, and again, it wasn't Thicke's idea. Yes, he's in it – as are Pharrell and T.I. – but it was conceived and directed by Diane Martel, so while it's wrong to hold anyone solely accountable, it remains baffling to think why anyone involved could ever have thought it was a good idea. On reading her comments, the director would have us believe it's a failed attempt at irony. And what a colossal failure it is – it's awful, sexist and asinine - but, in my opinion, there are worse. Soon after 'Blurred Lines' came Justin Timberlake's video for 'Tunnel Vision', in which fully nude women are literally used as blank canvases for the projection of male expression, but there wasn't much fuss about that, curiously. And, more recently, it was only accusations of sexual abuse perpetrated by its director, Terry Richardson, that finally saw Lady Gaga's video for 'Do What U Want' pulled, a video that sees her drugged by a man who was famously tried and acquitted of paedophilia, and then molested as she lies unconscious – it was even described as “an advert for rape” by one of the few people who've seen the full reel. These are just two examples, sadly – staggeringly stupid and sexist ideas are everywhere and constant.
“But the song is part of a wider rape culture rhetoric,” I hear some say. I can understand that point of view, certainly, especially when the video is considered. But as I've described above, different women hear different things; the song is an individual, subjective experience, and for every woman who finds it offensive there's another who doesn't. And, if we do agree that the song is part of a wider rhetoric, it would still be just a part – a teardrop in a vast sea. University bars proudly banned 'Blurred Lines' from their playlists, but I bet if we had a flick through the rest of their approved material we'd find countless lyrics of far worse taste and sentiment.
As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised and pleased to find the strongest support for my opinion came from women – and although some women also disagreed with me, they were still open to discussion. The overwhelming majority of insults and ire came from men, and when I commented on this I was again accused of sexism and told this information was “irrelevant”. It's not irrelevant at all – indeed it's crucially pertinent because I think it supports the idea that the millions of women who enjoy 'Blurred Lines' do so because they hear the same narrative of sexual freedom and domestic liberation within the lyrics as I do. You might say that it shouldn't be a man's place to offer such liberation, to which I would counter that nor is it your or my place to tell any woman what she should or should not enjoy.
So that's what I think about 'Blurred Lines'. You may disagree, but that in no way extends you the right to suggest I should be silenced or I'm some kind of rapist sympathiser. The most obnoxious response I received went something like this: “Do us all a favour and shut down your account and hide in a cupboard, you hideous rape apologist.” Such is the song of the righteous keyboard hero: You don't agree with me and therefore you should not be allowed a voice. I think there's a word for that.
I am not a rape apologist. I'm not even sure such a thing can exist, short of being a rapist oneself. Like most people, rape disgusts and terrifies me, confounds and saddens me. In recent months there have been two brutal gang rapes within a mile of where my family sleep, and an 18-year-old man was prosecuted for raping a 51-one-year-old woman and beating her with an electric iron in her own home last December – also just a few streets away. These and more similar attacks led to a recent Facebook campaign and midnight march in protest, and though I couldn't attend myself – I stayed at home with the sleeping kids while their mum marched with friends – the huge turnout made me proud to be a Glasgow citizen. And it's ridiculous that I feel I have to mention that here just because I happen to interpret the lyrics of a pop song differently to the accepted opinion of the supposedly morally superior, but that's just the way it goes – either you agree with the right people or you're guilty by association. I'm guilty of nothing more than trying to understand the complex appeal of a controversial four-minute chart hit, based on personal analysis of the work itself and not the media furore that followed. You may think I'm wrong, but that doesn't mean I'm any kind of misogynist who endorses rape culture – which I should hope is plainly evident from my words above and below – and nor are the majority of millions who still dance to the song on a Friday night, one year on.
All music is subjective – different people hear different messages in the same song. And while all opinions are valid, none are truly right. That's the nature of all art and, indeed, life – and that's something the noble internet warriors of the modern world need to keep in mind.
After all this depressing talk of violence, I'm off to give my wee girl a cuddle. And while you and I may disagree on the effect and intent of a single pop song, I can assure you we both agree on one thing: we need to build a better world for our daughters and sons.