Congratulations, Robin Thicke! “Blurred Lines” is the worst song of this or any other year. I can’t remember the last time there was a hit song this ghastly – the sound of Adam Sandler taking a falsetto hate-whizz on Marvin Gaye‘s grave. I guess the year’s not over yet so it’s theoretically possible a worse contender could emerge, but I don’t see it happening. Let me put it this way: Christina Aguilera and Mariah Carey could pay their holiday respects to Lou Reed with a duet medley of “The Black Angel’s Death Song”/”O Little Town of Bethlehem” and it would still be a distant second.
It was easily the worst summer hit since the 2001 remake of “Lady Marmalade” – the one where somebody said, “Hey, let’s redo ‘Lady Marmalade’ without the cowbell, because it would be a better song that way.” But that was a hit for about two weeks, whereas “Blurred Lines” has stuck around forever. It’s not just another terrible song. Its historic badness is an achievement that demands respect.
How can one song cram in so many failed decisions per minute? How can this poor guy aspire to be Marvin Gaye with vocal chops better suited to the Fred Durst songbook? How could he look so lost and terrified next to Miley at the VMAs? Didn’t anyone tell him how dippy he looks holding a microphone when the other hand’s in his pocket? How can Pharrell sound so embarrassed to be there? Nothing embarrasses Pharrell. (The guy spent the summer on the radio comparing his boner to “the rising of the phoenix” and he made even that sound cool.)
Note: I have zero interest in persuading you to agree with me. If you enjoy “Blurred Lines,” I wouldn’t dream of changing your mind. But I’m still amazed, after all these months of airplay, at my immature and irrational loathing for this song. Understand, it’s not simply a reasoned critical perspective, pointing out the obvious flaws in craft and tone. It’s more like: I want to hurt this song. I want to wound it emotionally. I would fantasize about punching this song in the nose, if songs had noses. I want this song to cry.
Musically, it rips off a beloved soul legend. I refer, of course, to the Nineties boy band Color Me Badd – specifically their 1992 Number One hit “All 4 Love.” Which wasn’t even the best Color Me Badd song – that would be “I Wanna Sex You Up.” What kind of addled mind tries to jack “All 4 Love” instead of “I Wanna Sex You Up”? How dare he defile the Color Me Badd legacy? You’re no Color Me Badd, Robin Thicke. You’re no Mint Condition or Hi-Five. You’re not even Another Bad Creation.
As for Marvin Gaye – nothing wrong with copying genius if you do it right. “Got To Give It Up” creates the illusion of unforced ease, as if Marvin just breezed into a party that was already grooving full blast. But “Blurred Lines” sounds like a guy trying miserably hard to get it right, and therefore getting it wrong. He packs in all these cutesy do-I-make-you-proud details. (Oh, that “hey hey hey.”) He sings “good girl” like he’s cheering up a depressed shih tzu. He strains his sniffly little screech trying to prove he’s worthy. But alas, he’s unworthy of George Michael‘s stubble. Unworthy of Marvin Gaye’s non-functional silent E. Unworthy of four-fifths of Robyn’s name. As a connoisseur of pop trash, I’m baffled I can’t find anything to like about a song this bad. That’s part of why I hate it.
Also, in terms of geometry, it’s impossible for lines to be blurred because lines are straight by definition. If they get blurred, they’re not lines anymore. Then they’re “squiggles” or “blotches” or something. This is just math, Robin Thicke!
I always thought I could never hate a song more than Cat Stevens‘s “Wild World,” and indeed, “Wild World” always sounds every bit as terrible as I remember. “I never want to see you sad, girl / Don’t be a bad girl” – that has to be the worst lyric of the pre-Robin Thicke era. The way Cat hums along with the piano solo – that is some virtuoso sucking. But Robin has reached Cat’s rarefied level. That’s not the kind of sucking you achieve by accident. You have to earn it. And wow, Robin was willing to put in the work.
Greil Marcus wrote a classic Interview column in 1994 about the difference between hating the Stone Temple Pilots and hating the Spin Doctors. For him, hating STP was more fun because he knew he’d keep hating them passionately for years to come. Whereas, he added sadly, “I know I’ll forget the Spin Doctors.” It’s true. Some hatreds stay with you and some don’t. I used to think I would hate Vanessa Williams’ prom theme “Save the Best for Last” for the rest of my life. But when it dropped off the radio, it dropped out of my heart. Now I hear it every few years and think, “Oh yeah, this one. Damn, I hated this song. ‘Sometimes the very thing you’re looking for / Is the one thing you can’t see’ – what does that even mean? Why would you be looking for it if you could see it? But as soon as this song is over, I’m going right back to forgetting it. What happened to us, Vanessa? Where did our hate go?”
So will “Blurred Lines” stand the test of time? Will it go on sucking for years like “Wild World?” Is this feeling an eternal flame? Or will it vanish, like “Save the Best for Last?” Well, in the words of a band who sucked wildly in 1982 and were immediately forgotten, only time will tell. But one thing is for sure. Nothing in 2013 sucked like “Blurred Lines.” And this was the year we got a Leonardo DiCaprio remake of The Great Gatsby. Everything next year will just have to suck a little harder.