Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thicke as a brick

Pop singer's latest offering is bone-headed and, more importantly, totally creepy

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Just when you thought Robin Thicke couldn't get any more gross than last summer's Blurred Lines, he releases the music video Get Her Back. Looks like "stalker-ish" is this year's "rape-y."

The video is part of an elaborate (and woefully misguided) campaign to win back his estranged wife, Paula Patton. In February, the couple issued a statement to People magazine announcing their separation. This came on the heels of the 2013 MTV Video Awards, where Robin was photographed with a woman who is not his wife. Unfortunately for him, they were standing in front of a mirror, and his covert ass grab became very public.

Get Her Back is the first single off Thicke's forthcoming album -- titled Paula, naturally -- due out next week. It features songs with titles such as You're My Fantasy, Still Madly Crazy, Love Can Grow Back -- and, on the more disturbing end, Lock the Door and Whatever I Want. He's begged for forgiveness onstage and on social media; the hashtags #Paula and #GetHerBack have been simultaneously used to hype the album.

Because if you're going to go to all that trouble to publicly harass/shame your wife into getting back together with you, you might as well make some money while you're at it, right?

Released Monday, the shudder-inducing clip -- or, "the musician's latest romantic gesture," depending on who you ask -- features Thicke, bloodied and shirtless, sad-eyed and pathetic, outlining his various transgressions ("I never should have raised my voice or made you feel so small"). He cries. He rages. He romps with a naked woman who looks eerily like Patton. There are various scenes of violence -- including unsettling his 'n' hers drowning scenes. Throughout the video, a real (or imagined, it's not clear) text message exchange appears on the screen: "I wrote a whole album about you," he says. "I don't care," she responds. The conversation ends, chillingly, with this message from Thicke: "This is just the beginning."

This is just the beginning.

If we're working under the Oxford dictionary's definition of stalking -- to harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention -- then surely an entire album campaign qualifies as such.

Even if this is some icky publicity stunt that Patton herself is actually in on -- which some, such as Noisey, the music affiliate of Vice, have suggested -- it still reinforces that well-worn but nonetheless dangerous pop-culture trope that acting like a stalker is somehow a romantic gesture.

As Amanda Hess notes at Slate, this love-me-or-else narrative isn't new and can be found in many pop songs, sung by both male and female singers -- from the Beatles' Run For Your Life to End of the Road by Boyz II Men; from Peggy March's I Will Run to You to practically every second entry in Taylor Swift's catalogue.

But, as Hess points out, when female singers put themselves in the stalker role, their songs tend to become viewed as empowerment anthems.

"While the male stalking narratives serve to reinforce a real social problem -- the idea that seduction looks indistinguishable from abuse -- putting a woman in the stalker's position turns the song into a power fantasy that's not backed up by horrifying real-world statistics."

Indeed, that's what's most disturbing about Get Her Back -- it plays directly into that idea that seduction looks indistinguishable from abuse. That the video was called "tender" by Spin is telling. The song itself is a delicate, summery earworm. Through heavy-handed imagery and puppy-dog eyes, Thicke places himself in the role of the victim -- of his own self-flagellation, that is. He wants to make it clear he blames himself, that it's his fault. He's play-acting a sadsack trying to win our sympathies, to soften us. As if to say, "Look how broken-hearted I am. I am so sorry."

This is not romantic. This is manipulation. And whether she's in on it or not, Paula Patton isn't a human being with agency in this scenario. She's a plot device on Thicke's concept album. A marketing tactic. A hashtag. She's quite literally an object of his desire.

I do not feel sorry for Robin Thicke. To quote a tweet from Ottawa activist Julie Lalonde: "Robin Thicke doesn't need a 'hug.' He needs a restraining order."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 D3

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