The 17 Weird Moments That Kept Us Talking About "Blurred Lines" for Two Whole Years
For the two years since the March 2013 release of "Blurred Lines," the song has had one of the wildest and most drawn out histories in pop music. According to the courts, it began as a hit song in 1977, became a hit again in 2013, mutated into a NSFW video (crowned an "an orgy of female objectification"), horrified the masses by inspiring Miley Cyrus to twerk (thus launching her career revival) and then became an epically long plagiarism trial with Marvin Gaye's family that only ended on Tuesday of this week. After two years, this song has been such a crazy part of pop culture that we'll almost miss it.
Here are the wildest moments in the history of what the Guardian deemed the "most controversial song of the decade."
The video that started it all:
"Blurred Lines" exploded into the cultural conversation when its unrated video debuted in March 2013. It depicted a group of nearly nude models fawning over the fully suited trio of Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. (The SFW version, embedded above, put the models in some crop tops and plastic clothes to evade censorship.) Immediately, discussion began about the song's crude sexual politics ("I hate these blurred lines," "I know you want it"), the underlying meaning of which is glaringly evident in the videos. Rape Crisis, a charity that spreads awareness about of sexual violence, told the Independent its lyrics "glamourise violence against women and to reinforce rape myths." But through all the controversy, it kept racking up views and radio spins.
Thicke's crazy interview about degrading women
Thicke admitted in a May 2013 GQ profile that the video was intended to degrade women. "We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women," he told GQ. "People say, 'Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?' I'm like, 'Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I've never gotten to do that before.'" He explained that this was because he was married and respected women.
In that same interview, he also mentioned that he and Pharrell used Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" as inspiration. I was like, "Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove," Thicke said. That comment would later prove problematic.
Miley Cyrus's unseeable twerk
Thicke made a brief appearance during Miley Cyrus' tongue-flicking, teddy bear-filled performance at the 2013 VMAs. He came on stage wearing a suit straight out of the movie Beetlejuice. During the song's chorus, Cyrus bowed in front of Thicke and delivered the "twerk felt around the world." The moment provoked the ire of parent-interest groups like the Parents Television Council, who accused MTV of "sexually [exploiting] young women." It also provoked the ire of those with an eye for identity politics, who accused Cyrus of appropriating a black cultural tradition. That dance would practically launch Cyrus's epic rebirth as a controversial pop star. It would bring twerking into pop vogue (see: Taylor Swift a year later). And there was "Blurred Lines" right in the middle of it all.
Gaye's family accuses, Pharrell and Thicke preemptively sue
By the fall, members of Marvin Gaye's family had already accused Thicke and Pharrell of plagiarizing the singer-songwriter's 1977 song "Got To Give it Up." According to Billboard, Thicke and Pharrell attempted to head them off at the pass by offering a six-figure settlement. The Gaye family declined.
Thicke and Pharrell then preemptively filed a lawsuit against the Gaye family, asking a judge to rule in August 2013 that "Blurred Lines" doesn't plagiarize Gaye's song. That lawsuit only succeeded in pissing off the Gaye family more. "We're not happy with the way that he went about doing business let alone suing us for something where he clearly got his inspiration from at the least," Marvin Gaye's son, Marvin Gaye III told TMZ. From there, the Gaye family filed their own lawsuit, igniting of the zaniest courtroom dramas in pop history.
Thicke releases the extremely awkward Paula
Whether it was his erratic behavior, alleged cheating or just general sleaziness, something about Thicke's actions began to alienate him from his wife, Paula Patton. They split in February 2014, and Patton filed for divorce in October 2014 after a 21-year relationship.
To try and win her back, Thicke came up with the most humiliating publicity stunt ever conceived. He wrote her an album, entitled Paula. He promoted it with a Twitter Q&A using the hashtag #AskThicke. The conversation was immediately swarmed with questions like:
The beatdown was simultaneously hilarious and hard to watch. The album's sales figures were even worse. Paula sold a pitiful 25,000 copies in its first week. Blurred Lines sold seven times that when Thicke was on top of the world.
Thicke claims to have been drunk and high for every interview
In the trial's April deposition, Thicke admitted he had been addicted to alcohol and Vicodin during the recording and subsequent promotion of "Blurred Lines."
"Every day I woke up, I would take a Vicodin to start the day and then I would fill up a water bottle with vodka and drink it before and during my interviews," Thicke said in court, according to Entertainment Tonight. "I don't recall many things that I said. In fact, I was quite surprised when I read them back sometimes." All those interviews where Thicke admitted to using Gaye as inspiration — that was just the Vicodin talking.
Pharrell is "not comfortable"
Pharrell's deposition was equally muddled. He claimed that he could read sheet music, but when handed a piece of sheet music and asked to describe notes and durations, he refused. "I'm not comfortable," he said eight times, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Eventually, the attorney himself got uncomfortable and gave up that tack. It would come up again when the trial actually started in February.
The court executes the strangest jury screening
In screening the jury, the court included a strange, but necessary, question. "Who was offended by the music video for "Blurred Lines," which features bare-chested, nearly nude women?" the court asked, according to Billboard. One concerned parent claimed she couldn't remain impartial. "I have two young daughters," she said, "I'm trying to raise them to be empowered and not use their sexuality to sell things." She was promptly dismissed from the courtroom, and thankfully did not have to suffer through any of the ensuing legal contortion.
The trial opens ominously
The trial's opening day was not a good start. Thicke "did nothing but smile," according to Billboard. Yet Gaye family's attorney, Richard Busch, offered the jury a warning about this seemingly innocent expression: "They will smile at you and they will be charming. Keep one thing in mind: They are professional performers."
Thicke plays a piano medley
Because the Gaye family technically only owns the sheet music to Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up," no recordings of the song could actually be presented in court. To circumvent that, Thicke sat down piano and played a medley of pop hits to show the jury that lots of songs share similar chords but don't necessarily copy each other. He sang U2's "With Or Without You," the Beatles's "Let It Be," Alphaville's "Forever Young," Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" and Michael Jackson's "Man In the Mirror" — all songs, it should be noted, that the Axis of Awesome included in their 2011 "4 Chords" video to make the same point.
Giving this brief musical 101 turned out to be pretty necessary, as one of the juror's would ask the judge at the end of the trial's first week, "Is there only one way to write a chord?"
Thicke tries to take credit for a song he didn't write
Thicke also apparently lied about his writing credit on the song. "I remember bouncing ideas back and forth with [Pharrell], but we didn't keep any of mine," Thicke admitted on February 25th, according to the Hollywood Reporter. But Thicke still insisted he get a writing credit. "I felt it was a little white lie that didn't hurt his career but boosted mine," he said in his deposition and repeated in court, according to Spin.
Professional musicologists make accusations
Two musicologists took the stand Thursday and Friday at the end of the trials' first week to discuss specific shared features between the songs. Harvard professor Ingrid Monson, who studies African-American music, said the way the bass line pairs with the "reggae- or ragtime-influenced keyboard melody," as described by the Hollywood Reporter, was really rare in Motown music. She took this as a sign to "suggest that while 'Blurred Lines' was being written, 'Got To Give It Up' was playing in the background," which may have been overstepping her boundaries of professional opinion into unfounded accusation. Her remark was stricken from the record.
The song's earnings are revealed — and they're obscene
To start the trial's second week of deliberations, jurors took a look at the song's earnings, which are absolutely astronomical. The song's fun beat, derogatory lyrics and thin portrayal of women as sex objects made its creators a total of $16,675,690. Sexism definitely still sells. If Thicke and Williams are found guilty, a good portion of that will be going back to the Gaye family, with more to cover the damages due to the "reduction of the fair market value of the worth of licensing" Gaye's original, Billboard reports.
Miley Cyrus was the track's real muse
According to Pharrell, the only way that Gaye's appears on "Blurred Lines" is in "feel." Miley Cyrus was (clearly) the real inspiration for the track.
On the night he wrote "Blurred Lines," Pharrell was also recording with Cyrus and rapper Earl Sweatshirt in two other studios. "I was doing a bunch of country-sounding music with Miley," Pharrell said in court on March 4th. When he went to work on Thicke's track, Cyrus' country "yodeling" followed him. "It was like blending this country sound with this up-tempo groove," he said. It's just another example of a disappointing pop happening that is, ultimately, Miley Cyrus' fault.
Pharrell explains away the lyrical similarities
Just because the "Blurred Lines" lyrics "Shake around, get up, get down," sound similar to the "Move it up, turn it round, shake it down," in Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" doesn't mean they were copied, according to Pharrell. "In the average black family of the '70s, that's what we do when a song comes on," he told the court. "That's what my dad used to say." And for the record: Around, up, down is different than up, around, down, as any Dance Dance Revolution game would be happy to remind you.
The closing arguments are vicious
"What it boils down to is 'Yes, we copied. Yes, we took it. Yes, we lied about it. Yes, we changed our story every time,'" the Gaye family's lawyer said in his closing statement, per the Hollywood Reporter. "It boils down to this: Who do you believe? Are you going to believe Robin Thicke, who told us all he's not an honest person?"
Thicke and Pharrell's attorney, on the other hand, cited the potential fallout that might come from ruling in the Gaye family's favor. "The wrong decision here will stifle musicians and the record companies that have to finance their careers by sending a message that they can't honor an era, a style or a groove," he said, according to CBS Los Angeles. "This is more important than money."
Towards the end of his speech, he repeated this point with much more evocative language. "There are no virgin births in music," he said. "Let my clients go forth and continue to make their magic." No such luck. Those magicians owe the Gaye family nearly $7.4 million.
And the losers' statements suggest that this is still. not. over.
Pharrell, Thicke and T.I. repeated their lawyer's warnings in a joint statement, saying it sets a "horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward. Thicke and Pharrell's lawyer announced Wednesday that they would be appealing the decision, confirming that, really, "Blurred Lines" will never end.