Robin Thicke’s ironic rise to pop stardom

It is without a doubt that Robin Thicke is currently blazing a musical trail, spearheaded by the international success of his number-one hit single, “Blurred Lines”.

But is he blurring the lines between R&B and pop on his journey? Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Robin Thicke’s evolution

Thicke is known to many at the moment as forerunner in the blue-eyed soul variety of R&B music. His brooding melodies and thoughtful songwriting have been a staple on Urban AC radio for years, starting with the 2006 release of his acclaimed album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke. It was with this album that Robin re-introduced himself to the world, shedding his shoulder-length locks and bohemian garb for a more clean-cut image and mature sound. This album brought us powerful tracks like “Wanna Love You Girl” (featuring Pharrell) and “Lost Without You,” and to date is his most commercially successful album, having reached Platinum status in the United States.

Although The Evolution Of Robin Thicke had its commercial moments, the beauty was within the music itself.

Putting music first, Robin Thicke continued to create solid R&B albums in the years to follow, releasing Something Else in 2008 and Love After War in 2011, both albums with a solid focus on love songs, evoking the stylings of the Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, respectively.

There weren’t many moments in media, if any at all, where Thicke’s musical lane was questioned because there was no need; he was staying true to his soulful roots. It was with the 2009 release of Sex Therapy that Robin Thicke alluded to his current experimental style; blending his soulful vocals with more upbeat tempos, interspersing these songs between the R&B tracks from him that we know and love.

Sex Therapy was a bit more daring creatively, citing a slew of collaborators including Jay Z, Estelle, Snoop Lion, and Nicki Minaj, but it seems that the formula was a bit premature. Given the fact that this album was released between two solid R&B efforts with more poignant content, Sex Therapy in a way lost some listeners as it was a bit ahead of its time.

Fast forward to 2013, and Robin Thicke is in the midst of releasing his sixth solo studio album, Blurred Lines, led by the single of the same name. The single is undeniably funky, citing Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” as inspiration, and accompanied by the likes of Pharrell and T.I. Upon first listen, “Blurred Lines” is not “classic Robin Thicke,” and reminded some of another blue-eyed soul singer; Justin Timberlake. The Justin comparisons were constant considering the two just happen to be white R&B singers, but sonically, Justin has always been more pop, and Robin, more soul.

Trading places with Timberlake

With Justin’s release of part one of The 20/20 Experience, he offered fans a more refined, adult sound that the public has compared to none other than the catalog of Robin Thicke. In interviews, Robin has mentioned that with the new album, he and wife Paula Patton wanted music that was fun again and that they could dance to, hence tracks like “Blurred Lines” and “Take It Easy On Me,” along with production credits from none other than frequent Justin collaborator Timbaland. He even thanked Justin in an interview with New York City’s Hot 97, stating,

He actually helped me a lot. His sound went more R&B and more soulful, and that’s what I’ve been doing my whole career, so it really opened up a door [for pop success].”

So was Robin Thicke’s splash into pop stardom accidental? No. Was there a formula? Yes. In Robin’s previous soulful R&B work, the formula was quite safe, for lack of better words, from a marketing perspective. His songs were created for a very specific audience that was a bit older in urban markets, and the visuals were just as meticulous, not releasing any promo images or music videos that could shock this core group.

What has set Robin apart from R&B market, and into the larger pop audience, is that of shock value and the welcoming of dance elements into his music.  The “Blurred Lines” music video was clearly one of the most-talked-about music videos in any genre to date, laden with innuendo and focused on scantily clad women. Critics questioned his level of taste, but this visual statement was in a way, another reintroduction to Robin Thicke, the cool guy that can still sing his heart out, but make you dance at the same time.

The “Blurred Lines” record has peaked at number one in twenty countries, reaching multi-platinum status in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Italy, which is a huge accomplishment for Robin Thicke.

With the album in now stores, let’s hope that this formula works for fans new and old alike. Will the album sales reach platinum status like the single has? We will just have to wait and see.