The Week In Pop: Robin Thicke’s Paula Is Pitiful, But Don’t Pity Him
“Blurred Lines” did a lot of good for Robin Thicke. It made him a household name (and hashtag!), gave him his first #1 single, and basically secured his place in the fabric of pop culture for the rest of his life. But the song, its salacious video, and all the attendant success and controversy — including the tawdry VMAs performance that featured him dressed up as Beetlejuice grinding on Miley Cyrus while she feigned masturbation with a foam finger — also apparently took a toll on Thicke’s marriage to Paula Patton, his high-school sweetheart, wife of nine years, and the mother of his child. They separated earlier this year amidst allegations of infidelity on Thicke’s part. Now Thicke has recorded an album called Paula designed to win back the estranged Patton.
It’s not going to work. Assuming the marital discord is not just a publicity stunt, as Noisey suggests it is, there’s no way Thicke’s Paula ploy is getting him anywhere. For one thing, as Complex neatly summarized, Paula is not really about winning Patton back — it’s about Thicke throwing a pity party for himself. That’s clear to anybody who has watched the video for the lukewarm soul-jazz single “Get Her Back,” laced with what appear to be dismissive text messages from Patton. Look at this thing!
Aside from the many female hands that appear to be fondling Thicke(?!), putting Patton on blast like that doesn’t seem like the most effective way to rekindle her affection. It does, however, seem calculated to rewrite “wife leaves cheating husband” as “repentant husband pursues resistant wife” in the public eye. The guy has made this personal crusade into a public spectacle all year, dedicating various songs to Patton in concert and praising her in his Billboard Awards acceptance speech. What in theory seems like a guy sacrificing his dignity to atone for his wrongs in practice feels more like Thicke finding a way to stay in the spotlight now that none of his other singles caught on last year. (Try to hum a little bit of the Kendrick Lamar/2 Chainz collab “Give It 2 U.” You can’t.) In an era when living without shame is one of the surest routes to fame, he is basically putting on his own real-time reality TV series.
Furthermore, the deeper you venture into Paula, the harder it is to take Thicke seriously. He sounded a lot more passionate singing about having a good time with girls at the club all over last year’s record than he does on these tepid low-key soul tracks. Compared to the palpable pain that courses through Marvin Gaye’s breakup opus Here, My Dear, Thicke is practically flatlining throughout Paula. (Here’s Thicke jacking Gaye’s swag again, BTW.) Drowsy vocal performances like these aren’t exactly selling the contriteness. Nor are the numerous flourishes throughout Paula that serve to confuse the message, such as the all-female chorus that scolds Thicke, “You’ve done something bad, baby!” or “The Opposite Of Me,” which seems to suggest there’s nothing Thicke can do to become the good man Patton wants him to be. “Whatever I Want” is either Thicke bragging about how he’s free now or wagging his finger at Patton for cutting and running. And the brassy big band cut “Living In New York City” doesn’t make any sense beyond giving a burst of energy to such a downtempo album. Only on minor-key closing song “Forever Love” does Thicke sound genuinely sad about his wife leaving him.
And, OK, let’s assume he really does mean it. If I’m Patton, these flimsy songs of pleading aren’t going to stir my soul. Thicke wrote and produced this whole record, presumably in the interim between February and now. If authoring the whole thing himself is supposed to show that this is a direct dispatch from his broken heart, sure, I get that. Still, he would have been a lot better off bringing back Pharrell or, like, any top-notch writers and producers. Usher’s similarly minded Confessions worked because it was stacked with absolute jams, whereas Paula has maybe one or two songs I’d ever like to hear again. Thicke has always been a vanilla kind of guy, and his talents mainly lie with his effortlessly smoky vocals. As evidenced by songs like “Too Little, Too Late,” which I originally mistook for one of those obnoxious McDonald’s ads that runs on Spotify, he’s not nearly as good at creating the atmosphere in which those vocals thrive. Opener “You’re My Fantasy” proves it really does take two to tango, and the gospel piano ballad “Still Madly Crazy” feels way too sane. The background singers seem a lot more invested in the cutesy concept of “Lock The Door.” So much of the album implicitly communicates, “See? I can be boring for you!” Even the relatively flavorful blues-rocker “Black Tar Cloud,” which puts that all-female chorus to mighty fine use, is plagued by horrendous lyrics such as “Thought that everyone was gonna eat the chip/ Turns out I’m the only one who double-dipped.” I’m all for reconciliation if the guy is really cleaning up his act, and I’m all for Thicke remaining in the public eye if he keeps releasing songs as eminently likable as “Blurred Lines.” It’s just that these songs aren’t strong enough to save a marriage or a career.
WHO IS RYN WEAVER?
A lustering, state-of-the-art pop song called “OctaHate” by an unknown singer named Ryn Weaver appeared online Tuesday. It was co-written by Charli XCX and produced by an all-star team including Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos Cashmere Cat, and Benny Blanco. And it was seriously great where plasticine synthpop is concerned — existing in some undefined plane between festivals and radio, almost certainly the most effortlessly pretty single I’ve heard this summer. The song racked up more than 100,000 plays in its first 24 hours thanks in part to tweets from the likes of Angelakos, Charli XCX, Jessie Ware, and Hayley Williams. It took over Billboard’s Twitter chart. And now apparently How To Dress Well wants to write with Weaver:
@RynWeaver DM let's write together ASAP!
— how to dress well (@HowToDressWell) June 25, 2014
So, who is this woman? According to some sleuth work in the Stereogum comments section, Weaver used to act and sing under the name Aryn Wüthrich. She seems to be affiliated with the record label Friends Keep Secrets. She sang on a Cashmere Cat track and has covered Joanna Newsom, and she appeared in an episode of CSI once. Weaver dropped by the comments of our post to explain how “OctaHate” came about:
i met benny at a party a year back and showed him my sound cloud… he had already been working with cashmere cat a bit… and he showed michael some of my music that I had produced and written on my own… and we all kinda just started to make some music. I’m signed to friends keep secrets… and indie. this is actually more of a passion project for them but it’s my vision.
There was also this:
I’m actually broke as fuck. I dropped out of college to start making music, and was couch surfing… and i’m still couch surfing. The NY/ Cali thing is because we recorded it out there and my family is from there but now i currently live in nyc.
So, there you have it! Struggling actress moves to NYC, meets some big-time producers, reinvents her persona, and makes the music of her dreams. I’m looking forward to hearing more of it.
Speaking of reinventing your persona and making the music of your dreams… If you had any doubt that “big on the internet” translates to “just plain big” these days, check out the albums chart this week. Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence handily debuts at #1 with 182,000 in first-week sales, followed by Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour at #2 with 166,000, which would have been enough to land the top spot many weeks this year. Of course, both Del Rey and Smith expanded their fame significantly through traditional channels like radio (Cedric Gervais’ “Summertime Sadness” remix) and TV (Smith’s media blitz has taken him just about everywhere a performer can go). Although Smith’s “Stay With Me” recently cracked the top 10 of the Hot 100 and Del Rey’s “West Coast” made it to #17, both of their successes seemingly affirm that you don’t need a hit single to top the albums chart. The two charts are simply different beasts.
Notably, both Del Rey and Smith beat Linkin Park, whose previous four albums all reached #1. Linkin Park’s latest could still make it to #1 in the future, of course, but for now, The Hunting Party, which enters at #3 with 110,000 sold, is the group’s first album to fall short of the top spot since 2000 debut album Hybrid Theory topped out at #2. As Billboard notes, this is the first time this year that three albums have sold in excess of 100,000 copies in the same week. Other top-10 debuts include Willie Nelson’s Band Of Brothers (#5, 37,000), Jennifer Lopez’s A.K.A. (#8, 33,000), and Deadmau5’s while(1<2) (#9, 30,000). The rest of the top 10 includes the Frozen soundtrack (#4), Miranda Lambert’s Platinum (#6), Jack White’s Lazaretto (#7), and Brantley Gilbert’s Just As I Am (#10).
Over on the singles chart, Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”/”Problem” 1-2 punch rules for a fifth straight week. As Billboard’s stats gurus so helpfully point out, this ties Ashanti’s 2002 feat (with her solo joint “Foolish” and guesting on Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?”) for the longest such accomplishment by a female solo artist and matches both Pharrell’s five-week “Blurred Lines”/”Get Lucky” one-twofer from last summer and T.I.’s 2008 run with “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life.” Do realize this means Azalea has owned the top two spots on the Hot 100 for more than a month now? Do you think Ariana Grande released a solo version of “Problem” as a way to get around her giant Iggy-shaped roadblock to #1?
For a second straight week, the Canadian reggae-pop group MAGIC! lands at #3 with “Rude,” their song about asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. It is the kind of song you will absolutely hate the first time you hear it and be passively singing along with the next 999,999 times. Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong” is up to #4, and Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” is at #5, both new peaks. (Smith’s collaboration with Disclosure, “Latch,” is up to #12 this week, nearly two years after its original release.) The bottom half of the top 10 includes Jason Derulo and Snoop Dogg’s “Wiggle” (#6), John Legend’s “All Of Me” (#7), Calvis Harris’ “Summer” (#8), DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What” (#9), and Pharrell’s “Happy” (#10). Expect to see Maroon 5’s mediocre “Maps,” which debuted at #14, in the top 10 soon, and hopefully “Latch” will make it up there too.
Jhene Aiko – “To Love & Die” (Feat. Cocaine 80)
Say this for Jhene Aiko: You will never mistake her for anybody else. The lead single from her LP Souled Out doesn’t have the off-kilter hook that helped “The Worst” become a radio hit, but Aiko’s vocal performance is sufficiently alluring. Still, if this is the best single she has to offer, her album is going to be better as sleeping music than listening music (and, come to think of it, this stuff might inspire some intense dreams).
Keyshia Cole – “She”
The tag informs us that Mustard is on the beat, but “She” feels more like Mike Will Made It. The song’s moody, noisy take on the R&B slow jam is very “Blood On The Leaves” meets Nothing Was The Same. And while that pulsating dubstep bass runs the risk of rendering this song dated from the beginning, on the other hand, it sounds really fucking good with Cole singing on it. I haven’t heard too many mainstream R&B singers weave explicitly EDM sounds into their music this effectively. So despite some initial apprehension, I am on board with this. Also, I still can’t believe this is a DJ Mustard production; maybe it’s one of those instances where there were like 12 other producers involved, but either way it’s nice to know the popping, snapping minimalist ratchet overlord can pull off more than just his one amazingly effective trick.
Wiz Khalifa – “KK” (Feat. Juicy J & Project Pat)
“We Dem Boyz” is such a massive BBQ jam that I caught myself wondering if Wiz’s new Blacc Hollywood would be secretly great, but no, here’s the second single. Our Memphis heroes wreck shop as usual, but you have to endure two minutes of absolute garbage before they show up. There are plenty of perfectly good ways to enjoy quality rapping by Three 6 Mafia affiliates without subjecting yourself to this.
Bleachers – “Like A River Runs”
Is it just me, or is Jack Antonoff about to put out one of the best retro-futuristic pop-rock albums of the year two years after he did it with Fun.?
Duke Dumont – “Won’t Look Back”
Call it C+C Music Factory-core.
5 Seconds Of Summer – “Amnesia”
This acoustic teardrop is the mall-punk boy band version of Eric Church’s “Give Me Back My Hometown,” which is to say that it’s not nearly as good as Church’s song but it will assuredly be a pop radio hit anyway. Incidentally, “Amnesia” was penned by Good Charlotte brothers Joel and Benji Madden, who have their own folksy duo project in the works.
Doprah – “Stranger People”
Lorde and (to a lesser extent) Kimbra have already proven New Zealand is fully capable of exporting pop stars who don’t feel the need to curb their inherent oddity; in fact, those two have been known to ramp up that weirdness from time to time, particularly Kimbra. Is Doprah next in line? She’s certainly got the production values and the unrepentant strangeness. But unlike her forebears in the Kiwi , there’s not much of a song to sell here. As my esteemed colleague Miles Bowe put it, “Both the song and the video are really trying too hard. Even the band name feels like posturing, they should just change it to RIYL: Grimes, FKA Twigs, Gaga.”
NEWS IN BRIEF
- MTV is bringing back TRL for one day only 7/2 as part of an Ariana Grande promotion. [The Hollywood Reporter]
- Adele’s 25 is reportedly finished and will be released by surprise, which makes sense; everybody talks about “pulling a Beyoncé” these days, but Adele’s one of the few artists big enough to pull it off. [The Daily Star]
- Lifetime’s Zendaya-starring Aaliyah biopic might include a storyline about her alleged annulled marriage to R. Kelly as a 15-year-old. [Page Six]
- The RIAA has named Katy Perry the top certified digital artist in terms of gold and platinum records. [RIAA]
- Nicki Minaj and Drake are recording a new song together for her album The Pink Print. [Capital Xtra]
- Billboard put together a playlist of Michael Jackson’s 50 biggest chart hits. [Billboard]
- The new Trey Songz album Trigga is streaming in full. [MTV]
- Paris Hilton has not given up on a pop music career; she’s got a new single on the way. [Idolator]
- Alicia Keys is working on a new album too. [WWD]