Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The thicke end of the wedge

Much has been made of Robin Thicke’s indifferent album sales figures, hundreds in this country as opposed to hundreds of thousands for his last effort. We all love a bit of schadenfreude but the sheer quantity of glee could easily be pronounced professional trolling (by proxy?).

Politically-correct commentators seem keen to attribute his downfall to the backlash against the divisive ‘Blurred Lines’ and its borderline-‘rapey’ lyrics and dated misogynistic video but this is unlikely to be the case. The backlash started early and did nothing to diminish the vast sales of that mega-track or its accompanying album. If anything they contributed to its all-encompassing vastness. The well-deserved criticism also seems to have done little harm to the global domination of song-collaborator Pharrell yet Thicke gets to wear it like a crown of thorns.

Haters gonna hate, it’s easier to deflect the animosity when you’re riding a wave of success, somewhat harder when you’re in free-fall.  Not that many should shed tears for him, the likely earnings from ‘that song’ and subsequent album would keep him off-the-streets for a considerable period of time. He earned, experienced and probably enjoyed his fifteen minutes but, like most acts, it will always lead him to yearn for more.

The hubris that infects a lot of successful artists led him to believe that he could interest his newly acquired audience in an entire album dedicated to the break-up of his marriage. Turns out he couldn’t. What might have been a good ploy for a land-grab, following up a huge album so quickly could’ve capitalised on his success, instead it has turned into the current story of popular music – having a big hit doesn’t mean you have fans.

The argument is that a lot of people liked Blurred Lines and didn’t like Robin. Some of them clearly liked that song enough to warrant buying the album to see if there were any more like it. This alone is the reason why albums will probably always exist. People persist in the theory that music fans are all about single-tracks and playlists but then an album featuring ‘one song’ sells multi-millions and seems to disprove that.
Robin Thicke spent many years trying to build an audience and finally found it by playing to the crowd, hitting the lowest-common-denominator with a ‘provocative’ video. Crowds have their own mentality, acting as they do en masse and often on impulse. A crowd also attracts a fair share of agitators keen to ridicule the populist. In an ideal world your best option would be not to give them any ammunition. That advice clearly didn’t penetrate Robin’s world but then it can be difficult to tell successful artists how to behave, that’s the kind of guidance that normally earns you a P45.

Thicke now needs to prove he’s resilient, that he has skin that (almost) matches his surname. He could grow a sense of humour to rival James Blunt He could make a silent album for insomniacs or he could get back to the grindstone and try to make better music. Failing that I hope he’s still got Pharrell on speed-dial.

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