In an era of bitterness and misogyny wrapped intricately as love songs, I’ve actually always been fond of Robin Thicke’s ballads. They show a certain dedication and desire, and since many of them were written for his wife Paula Patton, a rare look into what vulnerable, full love looks like. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Al Green, so Thicke always sounded like home. Yes, I want my lover to sing sweetly about how being without me is insufferable, and also communicate his insecurities as Thicke did on “Lost Without You.” And what a sweet walk down memory lane “For the Rest of My Life” is, describing the couple’s courtship through their long relationship.
Paula and Robin had been in love for a long time—high school sweethearts who figured out how to make it work not only as adults, but while withstanding the glitz, glamour and terror of Hollywood. It was Paula who graced the cover of the singer’s 2005 album A Beautiful World, and she’s has been the vixen in most of his videos. More swoonage? In Thicke’s “I Don’t Know How It Feels to Be You,” he offers the following lyrics in response to his efforts at understanding and relating to his wife as a Black woman:
Though I try to learn your step
I don’t know what makes you dance
I don’t know what turns your gray skies back to blue
Though I try to see your side
I swallow all my pride
There is no way I can take a step in your shoes
Yes. I’m utterly and completely here for all of that, Robin.
But the crooner lost me with “Blurred Lines,” and of course you’ve read many a think piece on why. Writer Sezin Koehler penned the following concerning last summer’s hit:
Ultimately, Robin Thicke’s rape anthem is about male desire and male dominance over a woman’s personal sexual agency. The rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome. Thus, instead of treating a woman like a human being and respecting her subjectivity, she’s relegated to the role of living sex doll whose existence is naught but for the pleasure of a man.
Here we are again, Robin and I. He and Paula separated in February, and although we aren’t privy to why, many speculate that Thicke’s possibly inappropriate public behavior with women besides his wife has something to do with it. I’d assume that Thicke’s broadcasted philandering is a toned down version of heaven only knows what. So I feel you, Paula.
Robin Thicke is determined to win his wife back, however. When I first heard he was on a public journey to get back into his wife’s good graces, I was happy to see the effort. At first. After all, this is also the era of cool where such shows of humility, of making bad choices and asking for forgiveness, is a lost art and sentiment. Male soul singers are so busy intoning about how “these hoes ain’t loyal,” they fail to acknowledge why such loyalty isn’t given or furthermore deserved.
That’s neither here nor there, right? Thicke wants his wife back. He wrote an entire album for her, Paula, which debuts on July 1. Every time he performs, it seems, he is begging his wife to come back to him. Jo is not against begging. As I write this post, I’m listening to Marvin Gaye’s I Want You, and listen, the begging doesn’t get better than Marvin beseeching his future wife Janice to love him (in all ways) and live with him.
One has to ask herself though: what if Paula is truly done with her husband? What if he’s been abusive, unfaithful, or has otherwise irreversibly damaged their marriage? What if Paula Patton wants to move on with her life and not be embarrassed or publicly (and globally) harrassed by Robin’s antics?
Before we champion Thicke for being a real man, we have to contemplate what messages we’ve received about what manhood looks like, how it’s practiced and portrayed. While Robin Thicke should want to “fight” for his marriage and his wife, he should ensure he does so without disrespecting and invading his wife’s autonomy.
Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti gets us straight concerning Robin’s public pleading and new song and video “Get Her Back”: “[R]omanticizing the creepy and potentially harassing efforts of a man obsessed with this ex sends a dangerous message to young men about what ‘romance’ really is. Hint: it has nothing to do with haranguing and publicly shaming us back into a relationship.”
Let’s not forget that the album comes out next week, so… youneedmorepeople.com, Robin.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and solider of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.