In a lengthy legal battle that concluded in 2018, a judge ruled that Pharrell, the song’s producer/co-writer, and singer/co-writer Robin Thicke would have to pay just shy of $5 million to the family of late singer Marvin Gaye over similarities between Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.” But in the GQ video segment, Pharrell maintains that the two tracks only share a “feeling,” which can’t be copyrighted.
Detailing his production process with Neptunes production partner Chad Hugo (who didn’t work on “Blurred Lines”), Pharrell says the duo often try to “reverse-engineer the songs that do something to us emotionally and … figure out if we can build a building that doesn’t look the same but makes you feel the same way.” He adds, “I did that [with] ‘Blurred Lines’ and got myself in trouble.”
“Ridiculously,” Rubin adds, saying “Blurred Lines” “is nothing like” the Gaye track. “Nope. But the feeling was,” Pharrell interjects, agreeing that a feel can’t be copyrighted. “You can’t copyright a feeling,” he says. “All salsa songs sound pretty much the same.” He also admits that the verdict affected him emotionally: “It hurt my feelings because I would never take anything from anyone. And that really set me back.”
Rubin argues that the case sets a dangerous precedent for modern songwriters and producers, who are forced to tread more carefully in fear of other copyright suits.
“It’s bad for music because we’ve had an understanding of what a song is, and now based on that one case, there’s a question of what a song is,” he says. “It’s not what it used to be because in the past, it would be the chords, the melody and the words … And your chords, your melody and your words — none of them had anything to do [with the Gaye song] … It leaves us as music-makers in a really uncomfortable place making things because we don’t know what you can do.”
Despite the lingering effects of the trial, Pharrell has maintained his packed production schedule. Among several other projects in 2019, he recently co-produced Beck’s upcoming 14th LP, Hyperspace.