BY EMILY ALFORD
Last week, R&B singer and walking cultural lightning rod Robin Thicke unleashed “Get Her Back” onto the Internet. Thicke has been marketing the video and his new album, Paula, as a confessional of sorts, one long love song to win back his wife, actress Paula Patton, who announced their split in February.
If you haven’t seen the video, it’s an odd juxtaposition of a weeping, bloody Thicke, presumably physically wounded from the emotional pain of losing his wife and a series of text messages that recreate the demise of his marriage. The texts say things like “I hate myself” and “You embarrass me,” while Thicke wipes tears from his face and croons about modifying his behavior to win his estranged wife’s affections.
Oh, and in between shots of Thicke crying are cutaways to a naked woman writhing in a pool of water. Occasionally, the woman’s manicured hands reach around Thicke’s body to massage his bare chest. At one point the words “You drink too much” hover near the woman’s exposed ass.
Just last summer, there was an uproar over the use of gratuitous nudity in Thicke’s hit “Blurred Lines,” a video in which naked models danced around fully clothed men while Thicke crooned “I know you want it” into the camera. This summer gives us yet another Thicke video where a inexplicably naked woman caresses herself with absolutely no context, but this time, Thicke is also naked; while “Blurred Lines” could have been viewed as titillating, “Get Her Back” is weird. And kind of threatening.
The video suggests Thicke’s recent success and sexual image (from dry humping Miley Cyrus at the VMAs to groping a woman in an Instagram photo) led to the demise of Thicke’s nine-year marriage—as text messages read “We had everything” and “I don’t even know who you are.” The same could be said for the naked model in the video. Who is she? Why is she there? Is it impossible for this man to make a video that doesn’t require a woman to take off her clothes?
There’s an argument to be made that Thicke’s nudity (like Miley Cyrus’s in “Wrecking Ball”) could be a metaphor for raw emotional honesty, but the woman’s nudity seems to simply be a testament to Thicke’s virility even as he makes himself emotionally vulnerable. Imagine if “Wrecking Ball” had also included a naked man gyrating in heaps of construction rubble. What would have been the point?
And where is the uproar over the unnecessary sexuality in Thicke’s video? The Internet collectively clutched its pearls in alarm when Miley Cyrus took off her clothes and swung on that wrecking ball last year, but the shots were no more graphic than the nude shots of the model in Thicke’s video or the close-up of his own bare chest.
Is nudity only outrageous if the woman has some measure of control over the direction of the video? In Miley’s case, she must have sat in countless preproduction meetings and decided that the nudity in the video matched the message of the song. It was her choice to disrobe, but a video would have been made either way.
The model in Thicke’s video had no such choice. She could either get naked and get paid, or keep her clothes on and go home. This video would have been made either way. So are we less indignant because the naked model is essentially Thicke’s employee?
But the biggest problem in the video is its insistence on sexualizing Thicke’s ex-wife, who wants no part of this album or even Thicke’s attempts to win her back. There’s a reason they had to hire a stand-in for Patton—the woman is going through a divorce and wants her privacy, which Thicke seems unwilling to give.
Throughout “Get Her Back,” Thicke faces the camera head on, wearing a contrite expression except for the shot of the model rubbing his chest, but cutaways to the model focus on various parts of her naked body. If the model is meant to be a stand-in for Patton, then what’s the message? That her grief at the end of her nearly decade long marriage is less important than her ass?
The video is tantamount to harassment when you take into consideration the fact that Patton, unlike Thicke, has remained mum about the breakup since her publicist announced it in February. Why, when his estranged wife clearly wants privacy, would Robin Thicke release a video airing dirty laundry while a naked proxy caresses the husband Patton wants to be away from?
The tender, sexual moments in the video presuppose the idea that Thicke’s public plea will be successful, that he’ll “get her back,” and in the process he’ll publicly hound her no matter what her wishes may be.
Even the final “This is just the beginning” message is menacing when coupled with the fact that Patton did not ask for any of this. If the other messages in the video are to be believed, Thicke’s estranged wife has made it clear that she’s not ready to forgive and forget.
Paula seems like an ill-conceived attempt to force a reconciliation against Patton’s will by a husband who seems tone deaf to his wife’s desires. The whole thing might be sad if it weren’t so creepy.
Emily Alford is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer. Her work has also appeared in xoJane. For fun, she runs Bathshebas.net, which is like The Onion, if The Onion was angrier and feministier.
Photo via Robin Thicke/VEVO