Pharrell Says Criticism of 'Blurred Lines' as 'Rapey' Opened His Mind

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Pharrell Williams is the gown-clad cover star of GQ’s “New Masculinity” issue, and the accompanying interview finds him making many socially conscious observations. One of them is: “I just read the Declaration of Independence the other day and my jaw dropped. Referring to the Native Americans as merciless savages—that’s in the Declaration of Independence, bro.”

More to the point of this blog, with GQ, Pharrell discusses his journey to understanding the common criticism of the 2013 mega-hit “Blurred Lines,” which he wrote and performed with Robin Thicke and T.I. (and produced himself). Pharrell had previously dismissed the notion that the song’s lyrics were reminiscent of things a rapist might say, telling Time Out London in 2014: “There were lots of women who wanted to understand what we meant by those lyrics. But the two lines go: ‘You don’t need no papers/That man is not your maker.’ Boom! Lyrically, you’re done: there’s nothing else to talk about. ‘That man is not your maker.’ Plus that treatment was written and shot by a female director, who’s a feminist.’”

But now he gets it, or at least says he does. During the interview, Pharrell alludes to older songs of his that embarrass him and that he says he’d never write or sing today. After a follow-up question, it seems clear that one of those songs is “Blurred Lines,” which he speaks about at length:

I think “Blurred Lines” opened me up. I didn’t get it at first. Because there were older white women who, when that song came on, they would behave in some of the most surprising ways ever. And I would be like, wow. They would have me blushing. 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?

And then I realized that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn’t matter that that’s not my behavior. Or the way I think about things. It just matters how it affects women. And I was like, Got it. I get it. Cool. My mind opened up to what was actually being said in the song and how it could make someone feel. Even though it wasn’t the majority, it didn’t matter. I cared what they were feeling too. I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn’t realized that. Didn’t realize that some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind.

Well, better late than never to seeing our chauvinist culture for what it is.

Elsewhere in the interview, Pharrell talks LGBTQ rights and racism. Also when interviewer Will Welch (who happens to be GQ’s editor-in-chief) mentions the election and how 2020 sounds “like something out of The Jetsons,” Pharrell replies, “There are flying cars. Not many, but they exist.” Did you know that? I didn’t know that. Tell us more about these flying cars, Pharrell!

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Rich Juzwiak

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.