This isn’t a defense of Robin Thicke. No one should defend a man who tried to emotionally manipulate his ex-wife, who lied about his involvement with “Blurred Lines,” who was “high on Vicodin and alcohol” when he showed up at the studio to record the song. No, this is a defense against the “Blurred Lines” verdict, which awarded more than $7 million to the children of Marvin Gaye, whose “Got To Give It Up” was found to be more than just an homage for Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ smash hit. Let’s recall something Questlove said back in 2013.
I know there are people who will look at me weirdly. I’m siding with Robin Thicke; I’m going against the estate of Marvin Gaye. And I’m definitely anti-misogynist — even after the Michele Bachman incident. I’m definitely a feminist at heart. But at the end of the day, you know, Huey Lewis and Ray Parker Jr. went through this with “Ghostbusters.” George Harrison went through this with “My Sweet Lord” and the “He’s So Fine” thing with the Chiffons. There’s a thin line, but for the sake of hip-hop culture: Look, technically it’s not plagiarized. It’s not the same chord progression. It’s a feeling. Because there’s a cowbell in it and a fender Rhodes as the main instrumentation — that still doesn’t make it plagiarized. We all know it’s derivative. That’s how Pharrell works. Everything that Pharrell produces is derivative of another song — but it’s an homage.
If it were a case of melodic plagiarism, I would definitely side with the estate. But in this case — yes, the song is douchey, in a kind of a fun way. I know the history of the “Elvising” of music. But I’m still siding with Pharrell and Robin on this one. (Via)
Pharrell’s reported plea in court was that he wasn’t ripping off Gaye, he was channeling “that ’70s feeling,” which sounds nonsensical, but there’s some logic to it. In trial, the infringement was “NOT considered to be willful,” meaning the ruling “suggests that songs that merely have a similar feel may be infringing,” according to Tech Dirt. What do the two songs have in common? The rhythm is similar-ish and they share a familiar bassline, but the lyrics are original (terrible and rape-y, but original) and to go back to what Questlove said, “There’s a cowbell in it, and a fender Rhodes as the main instrumentation. That still doesn’t make it plagiarized.”
When exactly does “resemblance” become “infringement?” That’s what was on trial, and despite the verdict, I’m still not sure we have an answer. It’s the musical equivalent of a “football move,” based less on fact (going off the sheet music, “Blurred Lines” is an entirely different song than “Got To Give It Up”) and more on sight and sound, in which case, Nickelback should sue itself.
Thicke and Pharrell will likely appeal the decision: “We are reviewing the decision, considering our options, and you will hear more from us soon about this matter,” said Pharrell’s rep, but it still sets an unfortunate precedent. Worst of all, I’m on Thicke’s side.