At the end of 2013, when I made my predictions for what would happen in the year to come, one of them was “Robin Thicke will return to pre-Blurred Lines fame level.” It was something of a throwaway line. I figured a 36-year-old lucking into a monster hit was more of a fluke then a signal that he’s going to be a mainstay on the top 40. What I couldn’t have predicted was just how far he would sink.
Thicke’s new album Paula came out two weeks ago, and has been one of the biggest bombs the music world has seen in some time. It sold about 530 copies in the UK, and just 53 in Australia. Things were a little better in the US, where the album debuted at No. 9, and sold 24,000 copies. Still, the notion that Thicke was going to turn his smash hit into a longtime career as a pop mainstay has been thoroughly squashed.
Before “Blurred Lines,” Thicke was a reasonably popular R&B singer, who happened to not have a great deal of success on the pop charts, save for his 2006 hit “Lost Without U,” which is actually a really good song, if you can get past how grossed out you are at the notion of enjoying a Robin Thicke song. But while Thicke wasn’t a huge star, he was fairly well-respected. That will likely no longer be the case.
As you probably remember, there was a ton of controversy concerning the lyrics to “Blurred Lines,” which some thought were advocating rape, or at least were being far too flippant about the subject. The video, in which Thicke and Pharrell pose with naked models, did not help matters. On a personal note, I thought the lyrics were pretty questionable, but wondered how they could be seen as worse than Enrique Iglesias’ “Tonight I’m Fuckin’ You,” or Jamie Foxx and T-Pain’s “Blame It,” but in any case, the notion stuck with Thicke throughout the year, and the onus was on him to prove the music world that he wasn’t a great big creepy misogynist.
As you might guess, making an entire album about stalking your ex-wife, and essentially launching a campaign to talk her into coming back in the most awkward way possible, did not help matters. It’s not just that listeners are bored by Paula, it’s that the few people who were actually willing to listen to the thing from start to finish were horrified by what they heard. If Thicke was seen as a sexist before, he’s now seen as a full blown creeper with a really big women problem.
Any thought that Thicke would be able to deflect the controversy of “Blurred Lines” and parlay his new found fame into continued Top 40 success is gone now. His new album has failed miserably, and the female audience – who has given him the most support up to this point – just sees a sniveling lecher.
The smart thing for Robin Thicke to do after “Blurred Lines” would have been to quickly get back in the studio with Pharrell, and put out a slick pop album with lyrics that no one could possibly put off by, in order to keep the momentum going. Instead, he’s kept the questionable themes without any of the catchy melodies that made people want to awkwardly try to defend him. Despite his recent mistakes, Robin Thicke actually is a pretty talented singer, and a look through his pre-Blurred Lines discography will reveal some surprisingly good material. Unfortunately, he may have gone too far this time. His questionable lyrics and attitudes about women have buried, and it would not be surprising if he vanished from view entirely before too long.