Pharrell Williams has distanced himself from Blurred Lines, his 2013 collaboration with Robin Thicke, which provoked controversy for its depiction of sexual politics.
Countless universities banned the song from being played at student events owing to the lyric “I know you want it” – and a video in which the pair cavorted with topless models.
Williams has told GQ magazine that he didn’t understand the uproar at first, because women appeared to like the song. “So when there started to be an issue with it, lyrically, I was, like, ‘What are you talking about? There are women who really like the song and connect to the energy that just gets you up. And ‘I know you want it’ – women sing those kinds of lyrics all the time. So it’s, like, What’s rapey about that?’”
He said that he came to understand that the language used in the song is also used by men “when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn’t matter that that’s not my behaviour. Or the way I think about things. It just matters how it affects women.”
Williams “realised that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn’t realised that. Didn’t realise some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind.”
In 2013 Williams repeatedly denied that the song endorsed coercive behaviour. "When you pull back and look at the entire song, the point is: She's a good girl, and even good girls want to do things, and that's where you have the blurred lines," he told the US music magazine Pitchfork. "She expresses it in dancing because she's a good girl. People who are agitated just want to be mad, and I accept their opinion."
Despite the backlash the song went to number one in countries around the world, including Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, and some critics disputed the interpretation of the lyrics.
"It could definitely refer to the tired, overused good-girl-with-a-freaky-streak fantasy," wrote Slate magazine's Jennifer Lai. "Or, perhaps it really is about getting mixed signals from a lady who you think might be interested in doing the deed – and then letting her know exactly where you stand so she can make the next move – if she wants."
The dispute was not the end of Williams and Thicke's strife over the song. In March 2015 a jury found Thicke and Williams liable for copyright infringement based on the hit's similarity to Marvin Gaye's Got to Give It Up. They were ordered to pay $7.4 million to Gaye's estate, followed by a second payment of $5 million following a final judgment in December 2018.
The case has become a lightning rod for discussions about the limitations of musical inspiration. – Guardian