Home » On Sex, Videos and Blurred Lines

On Sex, Videos and Blurred Lines

One of the most challenging parts of being a blogger and writer is keeping up with the ridiculously fast pace of the news cycle. Thanks to the internet, stories spread faster than wild fire. If you don’t jump on a story right away, you can guarantee that someone else will write it. Life as a writer is busy. I always put my clients first, so often I’ll come across things in pop culture or the news that I want to write about, however by the time I have the space in my schedule to cover it on Skinny Dip, the moment has passed and it no longer feels relevant. This is exactly what happened when Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines video was released last Spring.

A year later, the video still makes me throw up in my mouth every time I see it. However, I’ve been patiently waiting for Robin Thicke to show up in the headlines again so I can write about it without seeming completely late to the party. Lucky for me, that opportunity has arrived! Last week Thicke was the target on an online petition to have him removed as one of the performers at this year’s Juno Awards (The Canadian equivalent of The Grammy’s) Shortly thereafter, Thicke conveniently backed out of the Juno performance “to rest his voice.” 

For those of you who have been living in a yurt in Antarctica and/or cut off from civilization for the past year, Thicke  has been the target of widespread criticism because of the song’s lyrics and video which promote misogyny, rape culture and the degradation of women. The lyrics of the song suggest that there are “blurred lines” when it comes to sexual consent with it’s repeated refrains of “I know you want it.”  The song’s four-minute video, an unrated version of which has racked up more than 31 million views on YouTube, features topless women dancing around Thicke, Pharell Williams and rapper T.I. However, when it comes to inducing vomit, the piece de resistance is the mylar balloons that spell out “Robin Thicke has a big dick” near the end of the video.

To make matters more disturbing, Thicke has responded to the video’s backlash by saying the song is “a feminist movement within itself.” Clearly, someone needs to school Robin Thicke on the definition of feminism. Thicke told GQ,“We tried to do everything that was taboo. Bestiality, drug injections, and everything that is completely derogatory towards women.” He later noted, “What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I’ve never gotten to do that before.” I find that hard to believe.

From Macleans to Jezebel to Vice, pretty much everyone has weighed in on the Blurred Lines situation. So, I’m not sure what I can add to the argument that hasn’t already been said and said very well. The video is gross and creepy. The lyrics are undeniably misogynist and “rapey.” And the whole thing just makes me want to slap the smug grin right off Thicke’s stubbled face. However, the video is merely a drop in the hat when it comes to the shift that’s taken place over the past 15 years in regards to the sexual politics of music videos.

When I think back to the music videos that I remember from when I was a teenager in the early to mid-90’s, things were different. Salt-n-Pepa suggested “let’s talk about sex.” TLC sang about “giving you the red light special” while in baggy pants adorned with condoms. Madonna discussed sexual expression, homosexuality, AIDS and asked us “Would this sound better if I was a man? Would you like better if I was?” all while proclaiming to be nobody’s bitch in the song Human Nature. Even the less mainstream R&B artists I was really into – like Adina Howard and girl group Nuttin’ Nyce – had songs that were really sexually explicit but in a way that was fun and empowering. With the exception of maybe Madonna, these women managed to do all of this while wearing what now seems like a shocking amount of clothing. Between the ample eye candy and groups like Jodeci literally ripping their shirts off on stage, if there was skin to be shown, a lot of it was male.

Don’t believe me? My inner anthropologist couldn’t resist digging up some evidence. Behold exhibit A, B, and C taken from some of my favourite songs & videos from the 1990’s.

1) One of my favourite girl groups of all time: TLC. It took me far too long to realize that it wasn’t a fried egg attached to Left Eye’s shirt, but a yellow condom. Now I think it’s cool. 2) From Salt-n-Pepa’s “Whatta Man” video – a fun, ear-worm of a song that extolled the virtues of being in the company of a good man (& provided equally nice visuals) Once upon a a time, men were shirtless in videos too. 3) From Nuttin’ Nyce’s “Froggystyle” video which features a man in a doggy collar, surrounded by a bunch of women wearing actual jackets and shirts – imagery I doubt you’d see in a music video from 2014. 

Although I don’t watch that many music videos these days, when I do, I feel like the dynamics have completely flipped over to the other extreme. Today’s videos have swapped “sexuality” for “sexy.” Miley Cyrus sings about heartbreak while nearly naked. Lady Gaga (whom I actually kind of adore) sings bubblegum pop while in get-ups that would be better at home in a futuristic Siouxie and the Banshees video. Rihanna sings about “strip clubs and dollar bills”, while women expertly twerk and spin on poles in the background. The words and images often don’t connect, resulting in a kind of cognitive dissonance. When it comes to sex and music, we’re saying less but showing a whole hell of a lot more.

Although I wouldn’t object to seeing more gorgeous specimens of manhood in my favourite music videos (ahem, I could live inside D’Angelo’s “How Does it Feel?” video) I don’t think showing more skin is really the answer. If Ariel Levy’s book “Female Chauvinist Pigs” has taught me anything, it’s that reverse misogyny and chauvinism doesn’t lead to equality. If anything, videos like Blurred Lines are a reminder of how wildly out of whack things have become. Something has to give and I’m not sure how we’re going to get there.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. When I showed Joe the Intern the Blurred Lines video for the first time a few months ago, his reaction was immediate. He’s since begged me to let him blog his thoughts, so I’ll let him take it from here.


*This blog post was not tested on humans. With the exception of the video screenshots, all photos were taken by me. 

What do you think of the Blurred Lines video? 

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