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The Controversy Around Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines

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Mainstream ideas and attitudes set trends. As individuals and as a society, we respond to the ideas put forth by the many facets of entertainment deemed mainstream. But ultimately, as individuals, we need to think about how our values become affected and how the misalignment of those values can affect society. An example of how mainstream pop culture influences society is the concept of rape culture. Rape culture claims that behavior and misconceptions about rape are so prevalent in society, that behaviors sometimes become normalized. In this essay, I will argue that despite the wide acceptance and success of Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” the song lacks intellectual value, lacks originality, and also perpetuates an attitude that contributes to the normalization of the behaviors associated with rape. First, we will discern the differences between intellectual value and success in the music industry. Second, we will explore a lawsuit, and final verdict accusing the song of infringing on existing material. Lastly, we will analyze how the very lyrics, in congruence with the music video contribute to normalizing behavior most prevalent in sexual assault.

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The song “Blurred Lines” lacked to provide intellectual value to the audience. In order to explore this, we will take intellectual value to mean the stimulation of thinking music provides. For many, different genres and songs spark insight or thought, in other words, cause intellectual stimulation. The stimulation does not have to be the same or lead to the same conclusion; the mere act of starting or progressing a link of thought that is furthered by the listener allows a song to have intellectual value. “Blurred Lines” failed to provide such stimulation. This is because the lyrics did not prompt listeners to think beyond. Because the song provided more of a danceable tune, and the “lyrics were concealed by the upbeat Pharrell production,” the song prompted a more physical response rather than an intellectual one. (Jefferson, 2018)

While we do recognize that the 2013 song won eight Grammy awards almost immediately after its release, it does not mean that it provides intellectual value. The Grammy awards are meant to signify accomplishments in the music industry and are presented annually by The Recording Academy. Among the awards the “Blurred Lines” collaborators won, were “Top 40 Hit,” “Top R&B Song,” “Top 100 Song,” “Best Song of the Year” and “Top Digital Song.” “Blurred Lines’” acceptance of the Grammy awards in 2014, were for the most part, due to reaching various achievements in commercial success rather than intellectual value. We will now explore the allegations against “Blurred Lines” collaborators for copyright infringement.

Professionals in the creative field must use caution when inspired by the work of others. The use of intellectual property protection allows individuals who create works of art to be protected against unauthorized use of their work. We do have to recognize the difference between inspiration and transgression. The copyright.gov website, maintained by the US Office of Copyright, states that even though there are circumstances that permit the limited use of others’ work, in music, “there are no legal rules” regarding the “use of a specific number of words, [or] a certain number of musical notes.” However, analysis of rhythms, keystrokes, sheet music, and additional elements have, in the past, been scrutinized to determine whether copyright infringement has been committed. A lawsuit was brought forth by Mavin Gaye’s heirs against Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and their publishing company which claimed that portions of “Blurred Lines” were not at all distinct from the song “Gotta Give it Up.” During the court proceedings, music experts, from both parties, were asked about the likeness of the songs. 

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