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Opinion: Did Robin Thicke Play Copycat With “Blurred Lines”?

Brent Faulkner Brent Faulkner
August 26th, 2013 10:30am EDT
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Robin Thicke

If you went all summer without ever becoming acquainted with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, well you must be very unfamiliar with pop culture and radio these days. You’re a ‘fossil’ basically, and I mean that in the most respectful yet humorous way.  “Blurred Lines” has been simply inescapable crowning the Billboard Hot 100 for 11 consecutive weeks.  As good as this single was for my homie Robin (his career looked like the bottom was about to completely come out from under it), it also has given him a fair some issues.  The video was much raunchier than the song itself, even if the song wasn’t exactly angelic.  I’m sure many (most) men appreciated the topless models prancing around and would’ve killed to have been in Thicke, Pharrell‘s, or T.I.’s position, but it definitely didn’t please everyone (YouTube amongst ‘em).  Also whenever the word misogynistic enters in, WELL, you try to run from that…avoid it like the plague.

Marvin Gaye

The biggest issues with “Blurred Lines” actually are much less controversial than topless prancing. It is the alleged plagiarism.  It is no secret that there seems to be some relationship of the Marvin Gaye classic “Got To Give It Up” to “Blurred Lines”.  I agree with that much because, well, Thicke himself has always been a proponent of retro and neo-soul styles and “Blurred Lines” is no different.  If you listen to the Pharrell produced production, the groove very much channels the 70s funky-soul sound, specifically that signature percussive element that Gaye’s music sported.  Also the ‘vibe’ and sensibility of “Blurred Lines” matches that of “Got To Give It Up”, which is also a sensually-charged cut by an artist who definitely incited plenty of bedroom talk… you catch my drift.

With those similarities out of the way, what about the differences? Are there any? Plenty.  I do believe that Thicke and company were greatly inspired by the Marvin Gaye ‘model’, but I don’t believe that “Blurred Lines” is a direct copycat.  Thicke did offer the Gaye family a settlement, which they refused.  I would’ve taken the settlement because I don’t believe the family has enough ‘meat’ within their case to win more money. Allow me to rely on my gifted ears and my masters degree in music theory/composition (I’mma about to go ‘smart’, not ‘stupid’ here!)

“Blurred Lines” is centered in the key of G major, and revolves around a hella' simple harmonic progression, involving the tonic chord (G) and the dominant chord (D and D7) for you theory heads (there is also the descending bass line with a few accentuating chords if you wanna get technical). Gaye’s song is also pretty simplistic structurally as well, but has a bit more complexity.  Established in the key of A, “Got To Give It Up” incorporates tonic (A), subdominant (D7), and dominant/dominant-seventh chords (E and E7).  Musically, there is also more play on the lowered 7th scale degree (indigenous to the blues/jazz) as well as more colorful ornamental ideas, etc.  These differences alone make this a difficult case for the Gaye family. If you get technical/academic about it, the musicologists and theorists like myself will always side with “Blurred Lines”, no matter if they have other reservations with the song.

Advantage Thicke with no disrespect to one of my favorites, the legendary, sensual, socially conscious Marvin Gaye.

Photo Credits: WENN, Sony BMG


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