You’d be hard pressed to find a non-pornographic video with more nudity crammed into four minutes than Robin Thickes’ new music video, “Blurred Lines.” The video features the R&B singer Thicke prancing around with Pharrell, T.I., and three beautiful, very naked models. The video, uniquely filmed and produced, is far from the worst offender in its genre in terms of demeaning women. Nonetheless, it is still problematic for the way it normalizes the differences between the two genders and uses the female body as little more than a publicity stunt.
Female nudity has been in music videos for ages, but the first thing that sets this one apart is how oddly non-sexual it is. Whereas J. Cole used brief nudity in his own “Power Trip” as part of a narrative involving a strip club, unrequited love, and murder, there is no such intrigue here: the women simply wander around a photo studio, playing with assorted props and mugging unsmilingly at the camera. They don’t seem particularly thrilled to be dancing along, but nor do they look embarrassed or used. They just go through the motions without the bat of a lash.
The lack of interest extends over to the three performing men. Pharrell spends more time mimicking the song’s basslines and mouthing the words than interacting with the stunning women around him. T.I., usually a surly symbol of masculinity, is more goofy and unthreatening than we’ve seen in a while. And Thicke, whose lack of real charisma has kept him from becoming a star of Timberlake’s or Levine’s stature, waltzes around in dark glasses and establishes no rapport with any of the girls who are there to increase his sex appeal. It is almost as if the complete baring of everything serves only to neuter any sexual tension. Indeed, the garish, yellow lighting of the studio, combined with models’ postures, recalls Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” rather than the Maxim 100.
Maybe this is the point: that in its blatancy, the video becomes an artistic statement. There is little subtlety here, from the frolicking women to the bold, hashtagged #THICKE that flashes insistently throughout. The over-obvious blend of art and marketing recalls the pop-art of Andy Warhol’s soup cans; through this lens, the video can be seen a critique of the incessant Twitterverse, or alternately a sly, self-conscious attempt to raise hype. (And it’s probably not a bad thing that more people are hearing this song — it’s a stone cold groove that shows all three artists at their playful strongest.)
However, the quality of the song doesn’t take away from the sexism embedded within the video. Next to three dapper performers, the three women are stripped of their clothes and voices — except for one soft “meow,” they say nothing at all. Their presence in the video doesn’t really evoke sex or glamour in a powerful way, but simply controversy. There may not be violence or subservience here, but “Blurred Lines” reinforces a status quo where men suiting up and women birthday suiting up now seems to be the routine way to party.