During this, the last official week of summer, we thought we’d compare this year’s “Song of Summer” with last year’s official hit to see which would win the title of “Most Offensive.” For the sake of argument, we’re calling “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke the winner of 2013 (though it was pretty much a tie with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”) and naming “Rude” by the band Magic! the winner of 2014 (though we’re sure many arguments could be made for “Fancy,” “Problem,” “Chandelier,” even “All About That Bass”…the list goes on). When it comes to our car-radio listening experiences these past two summers, Thicke and Magic! are the S.O.S. champions, hands down.
So since we’re dealing with these songs as radio hits, let us dismiss their videos entirely, at least for this particular column. After all, it wouldn’t be a fair fight: in the objectification department,¬†”Blurred Lines,” with its topless women bouncing around the fully-clad male singers, would easily and roundly¬†kick “Rude”‘s ass, what with its casual-Friday wedding attire and adorkable lead singer.
Actually, we imagine most people would automatically give the title to “Blurred Lines,” even just musically speaking, considering its traditionally sexually suggestive R&B roots and all the controversy and criticism the song’s lyrics garnered: ¬†I know you want it…I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two… Lines like that, along with the narrator referencing toking up with this “bitch”, getting blasted, her playing hard to get and him hating “these blurred lines,” resulted in the song being widely labeled as “rapey,” accused of sending mixed messages about consent, to the point where several student unions in the UK banned the song outright! ¬†(It also probably didn’t help that Robin Thicke often comes across as a slimy, philandering, drunken, musical liar.)
By contrast, Magic!’s “Rude” has seemed sweet and romantic, with its light reggae beats under lyrics about wanting to get married and create a family. The narrator is so in love with this woman, and so emotionally hurt by her father’s rejection of him, we can’t help but fall in love with this sensitive ponytail guy right back!
Even so: in this Battle of the Sexists, “Rude” is the winner.
As sleazy and smarmy as “Blurred Lines” is, its lyrics are still open to interpretation:¬†The way you grab me /¬†Must wanna get nasty /¬†Go ahead, get at me… As some mags like Slate and XOJane argued last summer, the woman is actively touching him, and though the narrator may be misinterpreting what that ultimately means, he’s leaving the call up to her, inviting her to make the first move. Same thing happens during T.I.’s rap: ¬†So I just watch(in) and wait(in) for you to salute /¬†But you didn’t pick.¬†She has sexual agency. And it can’t be denied that there are certainly straight women for whom having a guy whisper confident, alpha-male, dirty nothings in their ear is a real turn on (hey, there’s no accounting for fantasy fodder…or taste.) Perhaps the big crime in this song is not condoning date rape but endorsing cheesy, egotistical, pick-up artist techniques.
In “Blurred Lines,” the woman seems to have a choice; in “Rude,” she doesn’t even have a role. The lyrics are straight out of the 1950s, even though it was written around 2013: man wants to marry “that girl,” so he seeks out her father¬†to ask for his permission, which — hello? — isn’t his to give! The only person the singer has to ask is her. Just because the dad is “an old-fashioned man” doesn’t mean his old-fashioned sexism should be honored or met in kind.¬†Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?¬†the narrator croons, as if she is something to be owned, as if this is a necessary step in the processes of two heteros getting married these days. Even if you’re a sucker for long-time traditions grounded in the ancient practice of women being traded like chattel in property deals, why not update things by going to both sets of¬†parents¬†as a united couple and hoping for their blessing. After all, marriage is no longer a deal made solely by patriarchs conducting real estate business; it’s a commitment entered into by two consenting, equal partners. Do we need to mention again that this is North America in the 21st century?
With “Blurred Lines,” you know you’re getting a sexed-up, sexist song — there’s no hiding it. With “Rude,” its retro sexism is hidden under layers of romance and love, which makes it more insidious. One is about casual sex, which automatically doesn’t get much respect, crap lyrics or not; the other is about marriage, which automatically seems more noble in our puritanical culture. Don’t be fooled!
“Blurred Lines” is way easier to dance to, anyway.
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