A little over a year ago I wrote an article about Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ track “Blurred Lines,” and the allegations by the estate of Marvin Gaye that Thicke and Williams had copied Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Got to Give it Up.” The two songs have striking similarities, in particular the falsetto singing and percussion groove, but “Blurred Lines” is not plagiarism. In fact, if Thicke and Williams had truly copied “Got to Give it Up,” “Blurred Lines” would have been a much more interesting track.
Over the last year the infringement case has been moving along and recently the judge unsealed the depositions given by Thicke and Williams. Their statements under oath revealed some interesting and entertaining facts. Most notable of these is that Williams is the primary author of the song, and that Thicke only contributed some vocal harmonies and melodic changes in the second verse. The other fact that’s being heavily reported is Thicke’s admission that he was drunk and on Vicodin when he recorded “Blurred Lines” with Williams.
While stories of pop stars on pills are entertaining, what I found most interesting was the admission by both Thicke and Williams that their story about writing the song by jamming together in the studio was a lie designed to create a more interesting narrative for the song, and to ultimately sell more records. Additionally when one reads through the deposition, there are moments of great vulnerability and humanity—especially from Thicke—who admits that his dishonesty cost him his marriage.
One of the the more telling moments is when Thicke is questioned about authorship of the song; his response singles out “Blurred Lines” as one of the few tracks he hadn’t written and produced on his own. Thicke greatly diminishes his own participation in creating the song. He says at one point: “But the truth is Pharrell made it without me…and I was lucky to be in the room.” This happened just after Thicke confirmed that he owns 20% authorship of the song. After admitting that Williams had essentially composed the entire song, Thicke explains that “this was the first time I had a song out that wasn’t personal and had nothing to do with me, and yet it was my biggest [success], which, you know, was very tough for me.”
Williams’ deposition corroborated Thicke’s account of the recording session and admitted that the story told to GQ about the creation of “Blurred Lines” was not true. At one point Williams says: “this is what happens in our industry. You know, people are made to look like they have much more authorship in the situation than they actually do.”
What began over a year ago about as a plagiarism dispute has illuminated an interesting thing about pop hits and their origins. Thicke and Williams are now recanting the things they said to the media regarding the creation of “Blurred Lines,” now claiming that interview statements were hype and mostly untrue in order to sell records. However, it could be they are telling a different story in order to protect themselves from a copyright infringement suit. But no matter what the case is, they are either lying now or were lying then, and it makes me wonder how much and how often this kind of lying occurs.
Author’s Note: I highly recommend taking the hour or so to read through both Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ depositions. These documents provide fascinating insights into the creation of a summer dance hit, celebrity, and the marketing of pop music. Additionally there are some hilarious and entertaining exchanges between the lawyers representing the Marvin Gaye estate and both Thicke and Williams.