"What's so special about Justin Timberlake? Why does he get to hang out with naked models on YouTube, and I don't?"
That could well be a thought balloon floating over the head of Robin Thicke, whose song "Blurred Lines," with Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes and rapper T.I.,has been atop the Billboard pop chart for five weeks now.
The song, an homage of sorts to Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" is plenty poppy and catchy. But surely a big part of its rise is due to its Diane Martel-directed video which - in its unrated version - features models Elle Evans, Emily Ratajkowski, and Jessi M'Bengue in not much more than their shoes.
YouTube decided the vid violated its no nudity policy, so if you want to watch the NSFW version, you have to watch it on Vevo. The Huffington Post called the song "rapey," but Martel has defended the video against charges of misogyny, telling Grantland: "I directed the girls to look into the camera, this is very intentional, and they do it most of the time; they are in the power postion. I don't think the video is sexist."
But is it art? Not in the same way that Timberlake's "Tunnel Vision" is, according to YouTube. Plenty of Thicke fans noted the similarities between the object of their ardor's suave white dude singing R&B approach, and that of Timberlake's when JT's The 20/20 Experience came out earlier this year.
Now Thicke fans have further reason to grumble: Timberlake seems to have taken a page out of the Canadian singer's playbook with the "Tunnel Vision" vid, in which, like Thicke, he decided to take the music video tradition of objectifying women to a pointedly obvious extreme by having the models go pretty much buck naked.
YouTube also banned the JT clip at first. But after further consideration - or maybe record company pressure? - they decided to allow the nudity in the Timberlake video, in which the singer is fully clad, just as Thicke and male co-horts are in the "Blurred Lines" clip. The explanation is that YouTube makes exceptions "when [nudity] is presented in an educational, documentary or artistic context." So if you read a warning and promise you're old enough, you can pass on through to "Tunnel Vision."
What's particularly dumb about this is that the nudity in the JT clip is stylized in a darkly lit, soft-core, slow motion sort of way - and really is just plain silly, That, I guess, is what makes it "artistic."
The "Blurred Lines" vid, by comparison, works in the service of a shorter, and better, song. And at least it's proud to be silly, instead of taking itself so seriously, the way "Tunnel Vision" does.
I've got a summer playlist story coming in this Sunday's Inquirer, which will feature both Thicke and Timberlake. Come back to In the Mix to hear that mix on Spotify.