Pharrell Comes To Terms With The Message Behind ‘Blurred Lines’ In Light Of #MeToo

It was the music video that launched a thousand conversations about not only the continual objectification of women’s bodies, but the way rape culture gets easily integrated into pop culture and sets the norm for women’s decisions around sexuality taking a backseat to that of men. It reinforced the status quo that men taking advantage of women is “no big deal”, adding to the “she wanted it” narrative by codifying this idea in a catchy hit song.

2013’s ‘Blurred Lines’ was controversial as much for its lyrical content as well as its visual aesthetics, but today, a music video like that probably wouldn’t escape without an even bigger amount of backlash and industry retribution, thanks in major part to the rise of women taking a stand against sexual misconduct in the workplace via the #MeToo movement. It is the movement that was initially started by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago to raise awareness about sexual assault toward black women, but in light of a strong of news stories about powerful men in Hollywood being accused of rape, harassment and intimidation, the hashtag became even bigger when actress Alyssa Milano amplified it in 2016.

Nearly every interview with any major celebrity these days cannot escape questions about the reckoning and house-cleaning that is happening within the entertainment industry, including artist Pharrell Williams who spoke to Women’s Wear Daily at the Chanel Mademoiselle Privé exhibition in Hong Kong recently.

A long-time champion of female empowerment, especially of women in political leadership as seen in his participation in Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign in 2016, Pharrell spoke about his support for #MeToo but also what he has learned about the type of message sent by ‘Blurred Lines’ after the fact.

“The past six to eight months, I feel like is what I learned maybe four to five years ago. Which is as the eras change so does what is accepted by society changes. You know what I’m saying? There were men and women that accepted a standard. Men and women who had an expectation of what you could and could not do or say. That changes, and that’s been wrong all along,” he told WWD’s Tiffany Ap.

It’s still a little baffling to us that Pharrell chose to be part of the ‘Blurred Lines’ song and video given his mostly astute take on female empowerment down to specific issues. He tells WWD that championing women cannot just be lip service, as often happens in the corporate world.

“How long have women been able to vote? Or what about this pay gap…There are people who run companies [who] love their wives, or love their husbands, or love their partners. Whatever their gender is, running a company and yet still, they allow females to get paid 30 percent less than a man. That’s not fair,” he said.

As for learning about the damage a narrative like ‘Blurred Lines’ perpetuates, he said his evolution comes down to one action specifically – listening. It took him a while to get to a place where he recognizes the awful way the song perpetuates rape culture, as his initial reaction to the backlash was to dig in his heels back in 2014 and claim he would never degrade women. However, when asked whether the music video would have a place in today’s pop landscape given the #MeToo movement, his answer was honest and refreshing.

“No way. That was the beginning, and one of the things that opened my eyes. And while it felt justified because it was a female director and it was her idea, it still just settled me a certain kind of way…I understand that while the intentions of the song were one thing, the way that some women could have felt based off of her past experiences or someone she’s known or an inherent fear. I saw, I understood it,” he said.

His involvement with Chanel is a testament to the way he is attuned to the importance of equality, as he told the audience at the Privé show how the brand employs 10,000 people and 90% of them are women.

“This is a brand that’s all about female empowerment,” he said to the crowd.

He also drew comparisons to Coco Chanel herself, the way she refused to stay within the boundaries of what was accepted for women in her day, and says one of the responsibilities that comes with being woke is to take action and speak up.

“Just like Chanel. Women who refused to see the walls or the ceilings or the boundaries — we need more of that. Nobody is perfect, you’re not perfect, I’m not perfect, [but] the minute you become enlightened it’s your responsibility to share that shine,” he said.

Kudos to Pharrell for at least acknowledging the way ‘Blurred Lines’ goes against his penchant for supporting women. A lot of the change we are seeing among men and companies right now is because of women willing to speak out, confront the systemic inequality, and force uncomfortable but necessary conversations in mainstream media. Here’s to more men speaking out in support of the #MeToo movement, taking the time to listen and learn from those around them.



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