Robin Thicke wrote a song called Blurred Lines that is “kinda rape-y” but it has an upbeat tempo and a pop-y beat so it can’t be really scary because your toes still tap. A kinda rape-y, not totally scary, toe tapping pop song. It is the musical equivalent of the weird guy down the hall who seems friendly but still creeps you out. And just like the weird little dude, the song received mixed reactions. Some people dismissing it as a harmless ditty while others crying out that a monster lurks just below the pop-y surface.
Thicke defended the song by saying, “I think that’s what great art does — it’s supposed to stir conversation, it’s supposed to make us talk about what’s important and what the relationships between men and women are.” Unfortunately what Thicke failed to notice is that no one on either side of the controversy was claiming Blurred Lines to be great art. That really was never the issue.
Next Diane Martel is hired to direct the video and in her own words spends much time thinking about “…ideas for what the girls could wear in the video, some images of his (Helmut Newton) work came to mind. I realized they could wear … shoes. This would get some attention for the song and the artist.”
She goes on to say about the controversy, “I don’t think the video is sexist. The lyrics are ridiculous; the guys are silly as fuck. That said, I respect women who are watching out for negative images in pop culture and who find the nudity offensive, but I find [the video] meta and playful.”
Unfortunately Martel and Thicke forgot to exchange notes on their artistic merit and vision of this video so he completely contradicts the director by saying (which he later claims to be a joke), “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.” But then he later confuses the issue more when he says, “It was actually the director’s idea. I had mentioned to her that I wanted to do a very funny and silly video. … And she said, ‘well, what if we have the girls take their clothes off?”
Yes, I can see the well thought out artistic expression that went into the decision that funny and silly translates as women being topless and wearing… shoes. One of the models in the video seconded Martel’s appreciation for women on the lookout for misogyny by adding, “”I really appreciate that people are watching out for that stuff.” By that “stuff” I can only assume she means bare breasted women wearing… shoes in a kinda-sorta rape-y video.
Now enter Miley Cyrus, another ex-Disney pop singer desperate to shed her mouse ears, who reenacted the video for us live at the VMA awards. By reenact I mean she appears half-naked with a foam finger and those ever funny and silly… shoes. Her performance was awkward at best, with her “twerking” her ass against Robin Thicke’s penis and hanging her exceptionally long tongue out the side of her mouth. For this she was slammed hard. She was called a slut, a whore, and blamed for the psychological damaged caused to children around the world. Yet, no one seemed to want to point out that Robin Thicke, who is middle-aged, was an equal participant to this cringe worthy performance and who started this whole mess with his kinda-rape-y, funny, silly song.
Just recently Miley spoke out on the controversy saying, “Me and Robin (Thicke) the whole time said, ‘You know, we’re about to make history right now,'” She then added in response to the following public reaction, “They’re over thinking it … You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I didn’t even think about it ’cause that’s just me.”
So where does that leave us, the audience? And no, you cannot dismiss your audience, Miss Cyrus. No artist can. Unless you want to sit hang around your living rooms singing and twerking all alone you have to acknowledge that without an audience there is no performance. An artist performs and an audience reacts. That’s how it works. The general public isn’t over thinking anything; they are doing their job and reacting. Unfortunately for Miley, Robin and Diane, it probably wasn’t the reaction they wanted. Or was it?
I’ve spent the last week thinking about this song, the video and the VMA performance because the honest truth was I didn’t know how to feel except a vague sense of icky. And now I understand why. Because the artists creating this disaster didn’t put the right kind thought into what they were creating in the first place. They didn’t uphold their end of the artist/audience agreement. And this is a huge problem. Sure there was some misdirected thought such as, “We’re going to make history” and “this would get attention,” but what each of these participants failed to do in a really big way was take responsibility as an artist for their point of view and voice. Martel sums it up perfectly when she said, “I’ve been thinking about music videos, marketing, and the Internet for a while. I want to make videos that sell records. This is my main focus right now, not to make videos that express my own obsessions, but to make videos that move units.”
That is why the song, the video and the VMA performance felt icky, not scary, not hateful, not shocking, not slutty, just icky. If artistry is in fact becoming a retail business, as these people seem to be approaching their craft, then the selling of Blurred Lines is the equivalent of Walmart. Cheap goods manufactured for quick sales. A kinda-sorta rape-y song, half-naked women, an ex-Disney star, a foam finger, and… shoes, all being boxed up for the mass consumer.
The only thing missing was the actual art.