Last week poop pop singer Robin Thicke (son of Growing Pains‘ Alan) filed a very strange lawsuit: facing an imminent legal claim by Marvin Gaye’s family that Thicke’s song-of-the-summer smash “Blurred Lines” infringed on the copyright of Gaye’s disco classic “Got To Give It Up,” Thicke and his co-writers requested a preemptive ruling to the contrary: that Thicke’s song does not infringe upon Gaye’s. It was reported that Thicke offered the Gaye heirs a six-figure settlement in hopes of making the whole thing go away, but the offer was rejected and the whole thing appears to be headed for court.
Despite the fact that it seems to have supplanted “Get Lucky” as the biggest song of the year, I’m not a huge fan of “Blurred Lines.” I first heard it in a commercial for a portable speaker that ran ad nauseam during the NBA playoffs, and what got my attention was not the song but Thicke’s absurdly sexy co-stars in the ad, cavorting about in their underwear against an all-white background. (Those ladies appeared nude in the official video for the song, but I guess they shot some alternate footage with the portable speaker in which they kept their clothes on and made a commercial out of it.)
Like everyone, the first thing I noticed about the commercial (after the girls) was the song’s similarity to “Got To Give It Up.” The second thing I noticed was the girls again. The third thing I noticed was Robin Thicke’s singular lack of chemistry with either his costars or the camera. Then the girls again. Then the portable speaker. (Great job, ad guys.)
You know how when you hear a great song, it stays in your head and you want to listen to it again? Well, that is not what happened here. Instead, those girls stayed in my head, and I wanted to see them again. (I’ve been faithful to my wife for 15 years, I have to take the thrills where I can get them.)
I knew the song was by Robin Thicke because of the giant red #THICKE splashed across the screen during the commercial, so it didn’t take me long to find the song on YouTube. The girls were just as lovely as I remembered, and with even less clothing! Mission accomplished on that front.
Thicke’s weird, wooden on-camera presence is pretty distracting, though. Can he not see through those sunglasses? Is that why he’s tilting his head in that weird way? Does he not like to be around sexy models? Was he suffering through some kind of gastric distress on the day of the shoot? Why make dance music if you’re not going to dance or even demostrate basic rhythm in the video? Seriously, if you can’t see through the glasses, take them off. These thoughts were unwelcome distractions from my continued enjoyment of the women in the video.
Robin Thicke kinda seems like a dicke
— Wolfgang Van Halen (@WolfVanHalen) August 3, 2013
A weird thing happened, though: later on, it occurred to me that I’d actually sought out a music video for an unfamiliar song based on a TV commercial, something I’d never done before. That got me to thinking about the video itself again, and while I was able to remember the girls with no difficulty, I couldn’t remember anything about the song. I had actively made an effort to get this song stuck in my head (the better to keep the girls there) and it didn’t take. It’s hard to think of a more spectacular failure of songwriting.
I’m a huge fan, on the other hand, of Marvin Gaye in general and “Got To Give It Up” in particular. I have two copies of it on vinyl, and I have never seen it fail to move a dance floor. Robin Thicke apparently feels the same way, because he told GQ at the time of the song’s release that it was one of his favorite songs of all time. “I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove,'” he continued.
However, as much as it pains me to say so, I don’t think Robin Thicke owes Marvin Gaye a dime. While “Blurred Lines” immediately brought “Got To Give It Up” to mind the first time I heard it, it doesn’t do it through sampling, or any overt copying of the music. The chord changes are different, the key is different, the bass part is different, the lyrics are different, the vocal melody is different… it’s just a similar feel. Imitating and copying are not the same thing. In both songs, the singer is singing in a high falsetto, the bass is the most prominent instrument, and there’s a lot of cowbell. None of those things constitute plagiarism.
If Robin Thicke owes Marvin Gaye, then Marvin Gaye owes Sam Cooke, Sam Cooke owes Nat King Cole, every melodic rock band ever owes the Beatles, the Beatles owe Buddy Holly, and Led Zeppelin owes EVERYTHING to a whole bunch of old blues guys. (Actually, scratch that last one. Led Zeppelin does owe everything to a whole bunch of old blues guys.)
When comedian Lewis Black appears on The Daily Show, his segment is called “Back in Black.” Obviously, the ideal intro music for “Back in Black” would be the AC/DC song of the same name. But licensing rights to use well-known songs on TV shows are expensive, so The Daily Show uses a soundalike version of “Back In Black.” It’s exactly the same, but totally different: it’s still loud, it’s still in E, but the chord progression is slightly tweaked, the little lick at the end of the riff is different. You can easily tell what it’s supposed to be, but it’s just different enough to avoid legal action. And that soundalike sounds a lot closer to “Back In Black” than “Blurred Lines” sounds to “Got To Give It Up.”
Fact: Alan Thicke and Robin Thicke once tag-teamed a girl named Mrs. THICK. No relation, but lines were definitely blurred that afternoon.
— Jon Daly (@jondaly) August 15, 2013
Is Robin Thicke guilty of lack of originality? Yes. Of shamelessly engaging in the sincerest form of flattery? Absolutely. Do I respect him as an artist? Not really. Is standing around fully dressed and having naked women drape themselves over you a little creepy? Sure is. Does he generally come off as a smug, entitled D-bag? I don’t know the man, but based on the public image he’s projecting I’d say yes. Did he come off even douchier on the VMA’s the other night? Of course he did: he sang into a gold microphone while wearing a bedazzled version of Beetlejuice’s suit. But he hasn’t done anything that nearly every musician before him has done to one degree or another.
So I’m going to split the difference and put the “Blurred Lines” video on with the sound off while “Got To Give It Up” plays on the turntable. (Those girls didn’t do anything wrong and neither did I!)
Enjoy your moment at the top of the hill, Mr. Thicke. I’d be very surprised if you get another one. But do yourself a favor and stop with the settlement offers. They are just blood in the water, they make you look like you have a guilty conscience, and they only make it likelier that the Gayes do everything in their power to take every dime you’ve fairly earned.
One more piece of advice: put that Beetlejuice suit under a black light ASAP. It looks like Miley Cyrus might have gotten something contagious on it.