PETALING JAYA, Malaysia—Robin Thicke enters a room full of reporters, looking like he just stepped out of the music video of his song “Blurred Lines”—fitted black suit, crisp white shirt, aviators, smug smile.
He tries to settle on a couch a tad too low for his 6’2” frame. “Can I have a chair… I’m too big,” he quips, drawing laughs. “Sorry about that.” He takes off his shades, which for some of the ladies, is as good as peeling his shirt off.
Not very long ago, mentioning Robin Thicke to casual music listeners was likely to fetch quizzical stares and furrowed brows. After over a decade of modest success, crooning to smooth and romantic R&B tunes, the man not a few pundits dismissed as a poor man’s Justin Timberlake notched his first No. 1 hit. In March, he dropped “Blurred Lines,” his sixth studio album’s title track.
A dance-pop ditty with a ’70s funk vibe, coupled with Thicke’s slick, come-hither falsetto, “Blurred Lines” is a collaborative effort between the 36-year-old singer and hip-hop artists Pharrell Williams and T.I. The song shot to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 and stayed there for 12 straight weeks. The mag eventually declared it “Song of the Summer.”
“The great thing about music is that sometimes you can’t describe why you like something—it just gets in your bones,” Thicke tells Southeast Asian journalists during a press con at the Sunway Resort Hotel and Spa, hours before headlining “MTV World Stage: Live in Malaysia” at the nearby Sunway Lagoon amusement park.
“The song seemed to have crossed age and racial boundaries. I don’t know how it happened. I wish I could do it every time, but it just doesn’t work that way,” says Thicke, adding that he sees himself as a soulful, passionate performer.
“Soul is the center [of my music]. Some of my favorite artists are Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen—all very soulful people,” he points out.
Thicke, son of Canadian actor Alan Thicke and American singer-actress Gloria Loring, has always aspired to become an artist. Only recently did he realize that he wanted to become an “entertainer.” This desire manifested itself in “Blurred Lines” and his more recent works, which Thicke describes as “less broody and serious” than his past efforts.
“I just want to have fun and be happy. My music is the reflection of who I want to be,” he explains. Sound-wise, he points out, “Blurred Lines” is no different from the songs in “A Beautiful World,” his first album. “The difference,” he says, “is that ‘Blurred Lines’ has a sense of humor— something that I didn’t have in my past albums.”
But the singer can’t fully claim that his success is purely because of his music. His recent rise to fame is as controversial as it was meteoric. The unrated version of the “Blurred Lines” music video featured Thicke, Williams and T.I. cavorting and horsing around with three topless female models with nothing on but G-strings.
For Thicke and music video director Diane Martel, “Blurred Lines” was meant to be funny, even silly. But critics, particularly those from feminist groups, blasted him for this song and video that, they believed, objectified women.
Asked by the Inquirer what he thinks of all the flak, Thicke says he feels bad that his work didn’t connect with the sensibilities of his critics. “I can’t please everyone—I can’t do that. I have to please myself as an artist first, and make sure that my family and friends like and support what I do. But beyond that, I can’t make everybody happy,” he says.
“If you sell 10 million records,” he continues, “it means there are five billion people who didn’t buy it. So it’s not about who doesn’t get it—it’s about who does get it. And I hope more people get it.”
Thick believes that his music, for the most part, has been about love, equality and fairness. “I do a video with naked girls, and now I’m a sexist,” he rues. “I’m dealing with that and trying to figure out how all that happened.”
About his risqué and much-talked about performance at the recent MTV Video Music Awards with Miley Cyrus, on the other hand, Thicke maintains that he and the young pop star knew exactly what they were doing. “Celebrity is a crazy thing… [The VMAs] is the place to shock, awe and provoke.”
Aside from his music, Thicke’s personal life has become a hot topic online, following rumors that he has been cheating on his wife and childhood sweetheart Paula Patton, with whom he has a 3-year-old son, Julian Fuego. Though he isn’t asked directly about the issue, Thicke reveals that he’s a very family-oriented man, and that he’s at his happiest when he’s with his little boy. “My wife and my son are the most important things in the world to me,” he stresses.
Instead of letting controversies such as this one get the better of him, Thicke takes things in stride, happy with all the attention his music and performances have been getting because, he says, this gives him a chance to spread his music. “Now I have a chance to make more music, and hopefully it will get noticed. That’s the whole point— to get people to know who I am.”
At the end of the day, Thicke says, it’s about challenging himself to make great music for the rest of his life. “When I die, the only thing that will matter is the music that I left behind, not some performance that everyone will forget.”
(“MTV World Stage: Live in Malaysia 2013” airs in the Philippines on Sept. 21, Saturday, 11.30 a.m. on MTV.)