2014 columns, Music

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

by Chad Parkhill , August 8, 20141 Comment

Robin Thicke

 

Robin Thicke’s latest album, Paula, is remarkable for a number of reasons. Aside from the baldness of its artistic mission – namely, to woo back Thicke’s now-separated wife Paula Patton – and its startlingly amateur cover design, it has also inverted the old canard that success has many parents and failure is an orphan. Since its abysmal sales in the UK and Australia were first reported, various cultural professionals have been keen to name a definitive cause for its failure. So what, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop?

We might begin by noting that Paula is only a flop in the context of the remarkable success of ‘Blurred Lines’, which was the best-selling digital single worldwide in 2013 (with 14.8 million paid downloads). By nearly any measure ‘Blurred Lines’ was the song of 2013, boasting the best combined sales of any song in the UK for that year and being pipped to the post for Billboard’s most popular song of the same year – measured by a combination of radio plays, sales and streams – only by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s 2012 sleeper hit ‘Thrift Shop’.

Paula’s sales have been miserable by comparison: it debuted at number nine on the US Billboard charts, selling 24,000 copies in its first week; in the same time period in the UK it sold a mere 530 copies. Several media outlets triumphantly crowed that Paula had sold fewer than fifty-four copies in its first week in Australia, but this figure was based on a misunderstanding of the album’s local release date and how ARIA counts pre-sales. (However it can’t have sold very many copies here, as it has thus far failed to chart in the ARIA top fifty.) But please, a little perspective: for artists like Swans or tUnE-yArDs – whose work critics venerate but the buying public strongly resists – achieving US sales of 24,000 in an album’s first week would be an incredible coup.

Does Paula’s failure have anything to do with the backlash against ‘Blurred Lines’ for its sexist content? No doubt many people exercised their right not to purchase Thicke’s music after finding the lyrics and video to ‘Blurred Lines’ a bit skeevy – I am among them – but this kind of action barely dinted the song’s sales. And as nice as this scenario would be, it seems unlikely that 14.776 million or so buyers of ‘Blurred Lines’ subsequently developed a feminist consciousness robust enough to prevent them from ponying up for Paula.

Can we blame the lack of a coherent marketing campaign prior to Paula’s release? This is a tempting answer, given that the amount of pre-release publicity was effectively nil. However, it’s worth remembering that Beyoncé’s recent self-titled album sold millions of copies with no advance publicity whatsoever. By the same token, there have been many high-profile flops with extensive marketing campaigns behind them, such as Guns N’ Roses’ infamous Chinese Democracy. (The explanation that Paula has tanked thanks to the early intervention of critics is so deluded as to almost not warrant a response – all we might note is that if critical approbation or lack thereof had a sufficiently strong influence on album sales as to cruel Paula’s chances of success, then we’d see albums like Ben Frost’s A U R O R A racing up the charts.)

One theory does go some way towards explaining the gap between the sales of ‘Blurred Lines’ and Paula – namely, the argument that people bought ‘Blurred Lines’ in spite of Thicke, rather than because of him. Thicke himself isn’t much of a presence in ‘Blurred Lines’, instead acting more as a delivery system for Pharrell’s production work – that insistent cowbell and hi-hat groove, those falsetto yelps. This argument is buttressed by the fact that the mammoth sales of ‘Blurred Lines’ the single didn’t translate into equally impressive sales of Blurred Lines the album, which has yet to sell more than a million copies in the US.

This theory might also explain why a number of critics and journalists have gone out of their way to trumpet Paula’s supposed failures, often through rather self-serving analyses: if this failure has many would-be parents lining up to take credit, it’s because Thicke’s failure is seen as everyone else’s success. Which is another way to say that Paula’s reception gives us the unedifying spectacle of critics and the public cruelly proving what many of us have suspected since ‘Blurred Lines’ became embroiled in controversy: millions of people will happily listen to Thicke’s music, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they like him.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




9781925266115

S.A. Jones

Light and Shade: Myfanwy Jones’ Leap

Grief, like depression, is potentially difficult material for a novelist to handle. To feel real, the reader has to be close enough to feel the raw, howling pain. But the reader needs reprieve too. It’s a balance of light and shade that Myfanwy Jones pulls off in her second novel, Leap. Read more »

the-story-of-the-lost-child

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their August picks

Looking for a book recommendation? After a busy month dominated by the Melbourne Writers Festival’s huge range of events, staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading. Read more »

daniel-handler

Kate Harper

‘I think about terrible things happening’: An interview with Daniel Handler

Given the current age of acute media-fuelled panic over childhood trauma and accidentally fucking them up, Daniel Handler’s (aka Lemony Snicket) dastardly depictions of children fighting to survive can be read as tales of wonder. Kate Harper chats to Handler ahead of his upcoming Melbourne appearances. Read more »

One-Direction

Rebecca Shaw

Right Direction: The value of fandom

I have a pop-culture confession to make to you, Internet. It isn’t something I’ve been trying to keep hidden for fear of seeming uncool, because that ship sailed long ago. But it is something I haven’t opened up about until this point. I, Rebecca Shaw, have become a One Direction fan. Read more »

abortion

Rebecca Shaw

Choice Without Stigma: Dismantling the abortion taboo

Abortion is still illegal in the criminal code in Queensland – even in this, the Year of Our Beyoncé 2015. While women are unlikely to face practical obstacles to abortion due to the law, it can still cause isolation and unnecessary fear, and creates a stigma around the act. Read more »

17177200132_2383e88c36_k

Rebecca Shaw

Rage Against the Marriage: The inanity of same sex marriage debate in Australia

I am someone who is completely comfortable in my sexuality, and who classifies myself as the genus Lesbionisos. I am 100% certain that I am not abnormal, an abomination, or in any way inferior to heterosexual people. Sometimes I even secretly think non-heterosexuals might be superior. But I haven’t always been this assured. Read more »

The_Gift_2015_Film_Poster1

Anwen Crawford

Memorable Chills: Edgerton’s Gift

The Gift is Australian actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut — he also wrote, produced, and stars in it — and it bodes well for Edgerton’s directing career. A psychological thriller, The Gift is efficiently and quite memorably chilling, at least for the first half. Read more »

wolfpack-1024

Joanna Di Mattia

Escaping The Wolfpack: Inside and outside the screen

The Wolfpack introduces us to the six Angulo brothers, who were kept virtual prisoners for 14 years in their Lower East Side apartment. More than a captivity narrative, this is a film about the influence of cameras and screens, and the transfixing, liberating power of cinema. Read more »

f9a2809e-97eb-400d-b491-b4b6a6f09930-2060x1236

Clem Bastow

Telling Stories: Women screenwriters and the obligation to represent

There is something in the recent call to arms for female writers and directors to ‘tell your story’ that leaves me feeling bereft, not vindicated. The idea that As A Woman I must write about women first and foremost is a special kind of hell. Read more »

actf_rtt2_hero

Alexis Drevikovsky

Have You Ever Felt Like This: Going Round the Twist again

Working from home one day, I took my lunchbreak away from my laptop and flicked idly through the TV channels, hoping for a midday movie with Reese Witherspoon or, even better, an old episode of Cheers. What I found was beyond my wildest dreams. I excitedly texted my mate Alison: Round the Twist is on ABC3! Read more »

golden-age-of-television

Jane Hone

How the Golden Age of Television Brought Us Back Together

I recently heard someone say that it used to be that at 6pm, everyone would sit down to watch The Cosby Show. It seemed at once a quaint and almost sci-fi notion ­– millions of people watching the same show at the same time. How things have changed. Read more »

glitch abc tv

Stephanie Van Schilt

A Glitch in the System: The ABC’s undead gamble

In one gasping breath, Glitch shows that the ABC is stumbling towards something beloved by TV audiences the world over, but that regularly eludes the Australian and film and TV industry: genre. And not just any genre, but the ‘return-from-the-dead’ zombie-style genre. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

Edinburgh

Jane Howard

The Impenetrable City: Getting lost at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

I just saw a one-on-one performance piece that ended in my bursting into tears and the artist sitting with me and holding my hands in hers for maybe ten, maybe fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We had a shared piece of history, and her work was delicate and took me by surprise, and I have a cold, and I am homesick, and I don’t know why I’m in Edinburgh, and I’ve cried a lot, and now I’m in a gallery because I couldn’t face another show. Read more »

Resized__863

Jane Howard

A Mess of a Brain: A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing at Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In some ways it seems like an impossible task to take Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing and translate it to any other art form. How to find a life for a book that is so internal, so unrelenting, in anything other than the pure words of its narrator as they appear on the page? Read more »

Keith - photo Shane Reid

Jane Howard

Local Courage, Global Reach: The National Play Festival

There is something to be gained from observing any collection of works in close proximity, and in these readings you could see the way Australian playwrights are reaching out into the world. Together, these works show the minds of our playwrights in robust health, with works that are itching to find their audience. Read more »