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12 Nov 2019 16:14
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  •   Home > News > International

    Pharrell Williams condemns Blurred Lines years after defending the song against 'rapey' criticism

    The artist tells GQ Magazine the song uses the same language of men "when taking advantage of a woman" but that it took him "a lot of time and growth" to realise it.

    US rapper and music producer Pharrell Williams has denounced Blurred Lines, a pop song he released with Robin Thicke in 2013, saying he was "embarrassed" by some of his earlier music.

    Williams, in an interview with GQ magazine, said some of his songs catered to a "chauvinist culture", singling out the criticism of Blurred Lines as a turning point for him.

    "I realised that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn't matter that that's not my behaviour," he said.

    "It just matters how it affects women.

    "My mind opened up to what was actually being said in the song and how it could make someone feel."

    The rapper told the magazine he was "embarrassed" by some of his old songs which he would not write today, saying it "took a lot of time and growth" to come to that realisation.

    Jadey O'Regan, a lecturer at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music at the University of Sydney, said Williams' comments were positive but that the artist should have known better.

    "I think it's very surprising that even in 2013 he didn't seem to realise that the music industry and the culture he was contributing to was a chauvinistic culture," Dr O'Regan said.

    "But not everyone learns that at the same time."

    Williams had previously defended criticism of Blurred Lines, telling Pitchfork the message had been "misconstrued" in an interview in 2014.

    "When you pull back and look at the entire song, the point is: She's a good girl, and even good girls want to do things, and that's where you have the blurred lines," he said.

    "People who are agitated just want to be mad, and I accept their opinion."

    But in 2018, he told culture website WWD the song would not have a place in today's world.

    "No way," he said.

    'It's easy to say sorry'

    Dr O'Regan pointed out that, while Williams has now condemned the song, he still benefited from it financially.

    "Apologising is meaningful but you have to follow through after that," she said.

    "It's really easy to say sorry… but how about putting your money where your mouth is and make the music industry an inclusive place for women and people who identify as female or non-binary?"

    Dr O'Regan said it was easy to be cynical about artists in the wake of the MeToo movement, which brought a heightened awareness of exploitation and inequality in the entertainment industry.

    But she hopes that someone like Williams coming out and criticising his own work is indicative of real change in the industry.

    "This is a man with a lot of power and a lot of money and a lot of influence, he could do some good with this," Dr O'Regan said.

    'Catchy' but 'uncomfortable'

    When Blurred Lines was first released, there was criticism that the lyrics perpetuated rape culture and was triggering to women who had experienced sexual assault.

    For some, lyrics such as "I know you want it" trivialised the disconnect between a woman's appearance and behaviour and a man interpreting it as consent for sex.

    In a piece for culture website The Daily Beast, Tricia Romano described the song as "kind of rapey".

    "The nudity might be fine if the song was called, Let's All Have Some Fun, but it's called Blurred Lines and the subject itself is enough to make some female music fans uncomfortable," she wrote.

    "The song is about how a girl really wants crazy wild sex but doesn't say it — positing that age-old problem where men think no means yes into a catchy, hummable song."

    However, others defended the song, such as Jennifer Lai, who wrote about the song in a piece for Slate in 2013.

    "The lines here aren't between rape and consensual sex," she wrote.

    "Perhaps it really is about getting mixed signals from a lady who you think might be interested in doing the deed — and then letting her know exactly where you stand so she can make the next move — if she wants."

    'What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman'

    Thicke told GQ in 2013 that the whole idea of the music video was to do something taboo.

    "Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women," he said.

    "Because all three of us are happily married with children, we were like, 'we're the perfect guys to make fun of this'.

    "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. I've always respected women'."

    He later said his comments had been taken out of context.

    In an interview with Complex in 2013, the most prominent model in the song's film clip, Emily Ratajkowski, said she thought the lyrics were "playful" and "self-aware".

    "I'm glad that people are criticising pop lyrics because I think that's an important thing to do," she said.

    Ratajkowski said the video was "making fun of itself".

    An "unrated" version of the clip, featuring Ratajkowski and other women topless, was taken off YouTube after complaints about nudity. Users can still view the clip on YouTube today, however, after signing in to verify their age.

    In 2015, Ratajkowski told the LA Times she thought the confidence the women in the video projected was "refreshing".

    "We took something that on paper sounded really sexist and misogynistic and made it more interesting, which is why women love that video and why it became a viral success," she said.

    Song subject of copyright court battle

    Last year a court quashed an appeal launched by Williams and Pharrell after the estate of Marvin Gaye successfully sued for copyright infringement.

    The Gaye estate said Blurred Lines copied elements of the singer's 1976 track Got to Give It Up.

    The trial over Blurred Lines ended with jurors awarding Gaye's family more than $US7 million. The verdict was later trimmed to $US5.3 million.

    The Gaye family also received 50 per cent interest in ongoing royalties from the song.

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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