No. 1 on the charts — but not in fans’ hearts. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams created a radio hit with 2013’s “Blurred Lines,” a song that has continued to drum up controversy years later.
“Blurred Lines” was the lead single from Thicke’s 2013 record of the same name and spent 12 consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the longest run of any song that year. It was certified diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America in June 2018 and earned two nominations at the 56th annual Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year.
Despite its industry success, the song has been heavily criticized since its debut. Thicke told the Daily Star in 2013 that the lyrics were “mostly throwaway fun,” adding that the song was about “the blurred line between a good girl and bad girl, people who want to get naughty.” Many listeners have argued that the single’s catchy refrain — “I know you want it” — promotes rape culture by disregarding verbal consent.
The criticism continued with the music video, which featured models Emily Ratajkowski, Elle Evans and Jessi M’Bengue cozying up to the “Magic” singer, who was married to Paula Patton at the time. Thicke reassured the Daily Star that his then-wife had no issues with the suggestive video. (The duo split in 2014.)
“She was excited about it right away and loved the video and wanted to watch it like 10 times, then she would jump on my bones,” he told the outlet, joking that anyone calling the clip sexist should come up with more “original” insults. “To me, if my videos are sexist, then so are the paintings at the Louvre.”
At the time, Thicke said that both he and Williams “have a lot of respect for women,” despite facing backlash for the song’s NSFW lyrics. While the producer stood by his work at first, he later told GQ in 2019 that he was “embarrassed” by the collab.
“My mind opened up to what was actually being said in the song and how it could make someone feel,” the 13-time Grammy winner explained. “Even though it wasn’t the majority, it didn’t matter. I cared what they were feeling too. I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn’t realized that. Didn’t realize that some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind.”
Even the “Lost Without U” artist has expressed some regret since the track blew up. In February 2021, he reflected on feeling “lost” while working on the song.
“I’d lost the intention, you know what I mean? I needed to regain my perspective and my positive intention of what my music was for — and what my life was for,” he told The New York Post. “Obviously, I was dealing with some bad habits. I was dealing with some personal issues on the inside that therapy and self-realization helped me get to and to get through.”
Though it wasn’t the response he was hoping for, Thicke noted that “Blurred Lines” opened up “a conversation that needed to be had” about masculinity and consent. “It doesn’t matter what your intentions were when you wrote the song … [if] people were being negatively affected by it,” he added. “And I think now, obviously, culture, society has moved into a completely different place.”
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Keep scrolling for a rundown of the 2013 song’s biggest controversies: