Gaye vs Thicke: a case of petty pop survivalism
Yes, that damn song, that inane controversy-magnet, ‘Blurred Lines’, is back in the news again. But, rather than charged with holding women back everywhere, this time Robin Thicke’s global smash is said to be guilty of plagiarising ‘Got To Give It Up’ by the late great Marvin Gaye. The similarity between the two tunes is undeniable, but in the back-and-forth of lawsuits and countersuits that have resulted, the whole thing smacks of little more than petty pop survivalism, on both sides.
It all began in August, when rumbles of possible litigation from the Gaye estate led Thicke and his collaborators, producer Pharrell Williams and rent-a-rapper TI, to sue the family in order to establish the song wasn’t in breach of copyright. They admitted to writing ‘Blurred Lines’ to ‘evoke an era’, but insist that, in pursuing the claim, the Gayes were effectively trying to ‘claim ownership of an entire genre’. Although Thicke and company expressed their ‘utmost respect and admiration for Marvin Gaye’, they elected to proceed with the litigation in order to defend their ‘massively successful composition’.
It seems that the Gaye family reckoned the best way to defend one ludicrous lawsuit is to countersue with another. Last week, they pushed ahead with their copyright claim, and as further proof of what they call Thicke’s ‘Marvin Gaye fixation’ they now claim to have found a second example of infringement. Apparently, Thicke’s ‘Love After War’ ‘unlawfully copies’ Gaye’s ‘After The Dance’. The image of them trawling through Gaye and Thicke’s work, desperate to find anything that vaguely resembled one another, shows their case is considerably better researched, if not even more laughable and desperate.
They are also suing EMI, which owns the publishing rights to both tracks in question, alleging, among other things, that the label planted a ‘knowingly false story’ in the press, saying the family had turned down a six-figure settlement in order to make them appear unreasonable.
As with these types of scrappy claims, it’s difficult to see which side will prevail. But that’s hardly the point. For the Gaye estate it’s a decent stab at squeezing some more royalties out of Marvin’s legacy, while for Thicke, after his inevitable failure to create a follow-up hit single, it’s presented as yet another means of shoring up ‘Blurred Lines”s stock and keeping it in the headlines, and perhaps even the charts. After all the blather already uttered over this song, this may well be the pettiest chapter in the debacle yet.
Christian Butler is a writer and musician based in London.