Pharrell Talks "Blurred Lines" and "The New Masculinity"

Life consists of chain reactions. The things that have yet to happen are the reason others have. That was my biggest takeaway from the November issue of GQ Magazine, titled “The New Masculinity,” covered by musician and producer Pharrell Williams. The interview within the issue discusses evolving masculinity and “spiritual warfare.” When asked why Williams decided to say yes to the cover and concept, he stated he doesn’t “necessarily know that the masculinity is new as much as the conversation is new.”   

When discussing the nature of gender lines and toxic masculinity, Pharrell notes the shift in perspective occurred for him long before the wider conversation hit mainstream media and online discussions, with movements such as the #MeToo movement. He admits it started with “Blurred Lines,” the massive hit performed by Pharrell, Robin Thicke and rapper T.I., as well as produced by Williams, released in the spring of 2013.

This collaboration lasted on the top of the billboard charts for 12 consecutive weeks and was declared the top-selling song of the year worldwide. It certainly could be described as the soundtrack to the summer of 2013 for a plethora of people. Up until it got overplayed through early fall and everyone wanted to smash their radio every time it came on the radio. However, with the success “Blurred Lines” was having and the stacks of money it was surely making, the song began to draw a different kind of attention. Various groups of people couldn’t help but notice the underlying tone of misogyny, seeming to promote the culture of date rape.   

Williams admits to the interviewer, initially, he didn’t understand the problem with the lyrics when the controversy first arose and people began to speak up regarding the discomfort with the language and phrases used within the song. Simply, he was confused. The song was rising the charts and staying there, he felt as if most people connected with the song and it made them feel good. Until, he took a step back as he had the realization, “that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, it doesn’t matter that that’s not my behavior. Or the way I think about things. It just matters how it affects women.”  

In a time where survivors of sexual harassment and assault, both men and women, felt as if they were being silenced, this song was rising the charts while utilizing suggestive language parallel to that of sexual misconduct. During 2013, conversations that were mainly being had behind closed doors, allowed for the general public to initially look past the tone of the lyrics and focus in on the up-tempo beat and catchy melodies, both Pharrell and Robin Thicke are widely known for. Before really diving into discussing the controversy in detail, Pharrell states, the songs he had released in the past he “would never write or sing today.” Which raises a thought-provoking question that if today, in 2019, “Blurred Lines” were to be released, would it ever reach the amount of success it did in 2013?   

I have trouble believing that the concept of the song would even make it past a brainstorming session in a music studio if it were thought of in 2019. We are in an era where the conversation has evolved and it is only asked that people become more and more socially and politically aware of the things they say and the impact it holds. Especially if you’re as much of an influential figure as Pharrell. If you listen to the songs that are still topping the charts today, some lyrics can be looked at as just as suggestive, insensitive and disrespectful. So, it is hard to say.

On the other hand, we are now in a space where people's opinions and feelings are immediately posted out into the world and fortunately enough, listened to. Plus, we are now in the midst of the online craze, "cancel culture," which could understandably be any public figure's worst nightmare to be "canceled" by the general public. To the point, where everyone is a little but more in tune with various perspectives that various groups may hold and how certain messages and language can affect them. Ultimately, it seems there is always going to be a group of people who can look past things and there are people who choose to set boundaries as to what messages they choose to contribute to. Pharrell Williams certainly chose to. Hopefully, others are not too far behind. 

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