Get Them Back: Where Are Robin Thicke's Fans?
Associated Press/Mesfin Fekadu | 7/31/2014, 3:48 p.m.
Robin Thicke may be pleading to get his wife back, but he needs to work on getting his fans back, too.
The crooner's new album, "Paula," sold only 24,000 units in its debut week in the United States. That's a far cry from the "Blurred Lines" album, which sold 177,000 units when it debuted last July.
The Pharrell-produced "Blurred Lines" smash was the No. 1 song of 2013, selling 7 million tracks.
"In some ways Robin Thicke had an incredible year in 2013 ... but I think there can be a downside to that fame overload. You can be too famous, too big," Rolling Stone senior editor Simon Vozick-Levinson said Wednesday. "There was a backlash to 'Blurred Lines,' and I think we're really seeing the aftermath of that backlash play out."
"Paula," which has had mixed reviews, was named after Thicke's estranged wife, actress Paula Patton. The 37-year-old is hoping to win her back with the album, which he's promoted with performances on morning TV programs and awards shows that have all led with reconciliation pleas.
Experts say his pleas may be turning off fans.
"Last year 'Blurred Lines' walked a really careful line between making people dance and creeping them out; the way he sort of sang about pushing boundaries of women made a lot of people really uncomfortable," Vozick-Levinson said. "And I think unfortunately his new album has only made that impression worse."
In Canada, "Paula" only sold 550 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That's in contrast to "Blurred Lines," which sold 13,000 units when it debuted last year.
"Paula" is a return to Thicke's R&B roots. It doesn't feature high-profile producers like Pharrell and Dr. Luke like "Blurred Lines," which veered into pop and electro-tinged territory, earning Grammy nominations and selling 730,000 units. But Thicke hasn't created a splash with his latest single, "Get Her Back," which debuted at No. 82 this week on the Hot 100 chart two months after its release.
Despite weak sales, "Paula" debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 albums chart — just another sign of declining album sales in the music industry. M. Tye Comer, editor of Billboard.com, said he didn't expect the album to be a hit, but still thought the numbers were shocking.
"I was a little surprised that the numbers were so low, especially considering the fact that it hasn't been that long since 'Blurred Lines,'" said Comer.
Representatives for Thicke and his label didn't respond to requests for an interview.
Pre-album buzz crashed last week when Thicke attempted to chat with fans about "Paula" via Twitter. VH1 hosted the Q&A, where fans angrily tweeted about "Blurred Lines" and accused Thicke of misogyny. It was a reminder that the controversy surrounding "Blurred Lines," including a lawsuit claiming the song stole from Marvin Gaye and Thicke's disastrous MTV Video Music Awards performance with Miley Cyrus, is still strong.
Thicke's 2003 debut album was unsuccessful, but his 2006 sophomore album, "The Evolution of Robin Thicke," marked his official breakthrough. He had signed with Pharrell, hit the top of the R&B charts with "Lost Without U" and opened on a tour for Beyonce — all helping the album sell 1.7 million copies. What followed were gold-selling efforts and mediocre R&B hits, until "Blurred Lines" helped him tap into a younger audience and reach international fame.
"I think it's hard for any artist of any caliber to come back after a song that was sort of that big and that ubiquitous," Comer said. "The tone of his new music and the subject matter is the complete antithesis of what 'Blurred Lines' was."
Vozick-Levinson said Thicke is dealing with the repercussions of crossing over to the mainstream.
"Last year he kind of in some ways cashed that in and went for this mainstream, pop, Top 40 crossover, which worked for him in the short term, but there are long-term risks with doing that," he said. "You run the risk of alienating your first fan base or alternatively you run the risk of weirding out your new fan base when you go back to your more normal, typical sound."