My favourite song of the week – of this year so far, possibly – is Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I. As my boyfriend pointed out, it sounds a lot like Got to Give it Up by Marvin Gaye, but hey, that’s a great song! Let’s all make more of them! It’s the kind of track that everyone wished Justin Timberlake would release to knock The 20/20 Experience out of its slumber and into our hearts.
Two versions of the video have been released: in one, our three heroes cavort with very young and very pretty women against a white background while huge red hashtags with the word ‘#THICKE’ flash across their faces; in the other, exactly the same but with exposed breasts. I only came across the topless one because dozens of YouTube commenters were saying how much better the ‘unrated’ version was. Personally, I am not a fan.
I am not saying that bare bosoms have no place in music videos generally. A few boobs bobbing around in the background of Pharrell’s Lapdance didn’t change that video much. But for me, in the case of Robin and T.I. especially, their personal lives are a big part of their public personas, and in this instance they overshadow the video.
Pharrell, Robin and T.I. are now 39, 36 and 32 respectively (for contrast, that is about 1,857 maturity years older than Chris Brown is) and have been releasing singles since the early noughties: experienced enough to not have to resort to jiggling jugs for a few extra page views. Pharrell is engaged and has a child now, while the other two enjoy long-standing high-profile marriages with lovely, famous and talented women of respective Precious-starring and No Scrubs-writing fame. (Not wanting for one second to disparage any of these topless video ladies; one day these young women might go on to write classic rap songs that you scream at two in the morning on your way to the club with your friend who thinks that a scrub is a guy who thinks he’s fly and is also known as a bus stop.)
This is not to say that all of their videos need to be of Robin rolling around under the sheets with his real life wife (he already did that with Love After War) or outtakes from Tiny and Toya of T.I. raising his million kids (slight exaggeration). I can tell the difference between music videos and reality. Justin Timberlake isn’t really Elton John, Michael Jackson wasn’t really a zombie (or was he?) and Taylor Swift doesn’t have any trouble getting boyfriends (slight understatement).
Add this behind-the-scenes context plus three handsome famous men pulling facial expressions like they’ve never seen a pair of tits before and times it by flesh-coloured g-strings for the ‘ooh she’s naked/oops, she’s not’ factor and the effect is very Carry On RnB. This is not to mention how cowabunga dude! the hashtags are probably going to look in ten years’ time. It feels desperate. They have taken a modern Stevie Wonder or vintage JT-level song and paired it with a video that looks like it belongs on Channel AKA at 4am. Would Stevie Wonder’s videos be much improved by the addition of a breasticle or two? (This one, perhaps?)