“I Certainly Didn’t Want To Be Remembered As The Girl From ‘Blurred Lines’”
Ten years ago, model Elle Evans starred in the music video for what would become “the most controversial song of the decade.” She’s finally ready to talk about it.
The year 2013 was a strange moment of repose for pop music. Taylor Swift was still in her Red era. Justin Timberlake had just released “Mirrors.” Macklemore was… a thing. As for me? I was 28 and busy planning my wedding. At the top of my list of songs for the band to learn was Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines” (feat. T.I.), which practically hopped off the airwaves and into my ear’s inner cavity when it debuted.
The No. 1 bop for 12 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 — and the subsequent “unrated” music video, directed by Diane Martel and released March 28, 2013 — had already become mired in controversy for its inartful lyrics about “good girls” who “want it” and a video in which the female models were in various states of undress but the men were fully clothed. But I was in love with the track’s slick opening sequence: "Bomp, bomp, bomp — everybody get up!" followed by a few slippery yawps and Robin Thicke’s falsetto. The song felt like a ride, one that always left me breathless and eager to go again. In videos from our wedding day, my husband and I can be seen dancing on the stage to the winking lyrics: “OK now he was close/ tried to domesticate you.” The band must have played it three times. I’m sure I asked for more.
The first time Louisiana-raised model Elle Evans heard “Blurred Lines” was on the set for its music video, for which she was cast alongside up-and-coming models Jessi M’Bengue and Emily Ratajkowski. “I didn’t really know what it was for at the time, because they were keeping it really hush-hush,” she says when we connect over the phone. “The direction we were given is that we were untouchable. You know, ‘Every single guy in place wants you. They would do anything to get you, yet you’re not giving it up.’”
Evans, who was 23 and had been paying off her student loans with modeling gigs, wasn’t spooked by the nudity required for the video. She and Ratajkowski had both recently posed nude for photographer Samuel Bayer’s 12-foot triptychs. “I definitely used my looks to make money, because that was kind of the only option I had at the time. And those jobs, they did pay the bills,” she says. “I would say to my manager, ‘I don’t really want to get stuck in these naked roles.’ And her response would be, ‘What if Julia Roberts never did Pretty Woman because she [didn’t want to play] a prostitute?’”
The unrated video, which shows Evans snuggling a baby goat and riding a plush dog in nothing but a thong, was originally intended to satirize a red-blooded Terry Richardson-esque shoot. “I wanted to deal with the misogynist, funny lyrics in a way where the girls were going to overpower the men,” Martel told Grantland at the time. “It also forces the men to feel playful and not at all like predators... I don’t think the video is sexist.” In a since-deleted VH1 interview, Thicke put it this way: “We pretty much wanted to take all the taboos of what you’re not supposed to do — bestiality, you know, injecting a girl in her bum with a five-foot syringe — I just wanted to break every rule of things you’re not supposed to do and make people realize how silly some of these rules are.”
The idea made sense to Evans, who says director Diane Martel told the models to dial down the sex appeal. “I remember Diane shouting, like, ‘That’s too sexy. Don’t be too sexy. This is not the club, you know. This is not a lap dance.’ There’s parts where I’m sitting on the stool and T.I. is brushing my hair. [Diane] wanted me just kind of chilling, just kind of a little bit of a shimmy shake,” she says. “I felt like I was in the power position, even among all these superstar recording artists. It was a really great feeling.” (Martel declined Bustle’s request for an interview.)
The direction we were given is that we were untouchable. You know, ‘Every single guy in place wants you. They would do anything to get you, yet you’re not giving it up.’
In the years since the song became one of the bestselling singles of all time, any intended comment on the male gaze has been lost. After the unrated version of the video was almost immediately banned from YouTube for being too explicit, the criticism was swift. Blogger Lisa Huynh asked her followers if they’d heard “Robin Thicke’s new rape song.” Then came a much-maligned VMA performance with Miley Cyrus and the eventually successful copyright lawsuit by Marvin Gaye’s estate, which required Thicke and Williams to pay almost $5 million to Marvin Gaye’s family after a jury declared the song was plagiarized from Gaye’s 1977 single “Got to Give It Up.” “Blurred Lines” had gone from unassailable song of the summer to groan-inducing punchline. “I was like, ‘OK, we’ve had enough, you know? Like, stop force-feeding us this song,’” Evans says. “People did kind of get tired of it.”
But perhaps more damning than the conversation around the song’s chorus of “You know you want it,” a common refrain in non-consensual sex, was Ratajkowski’s account of being groped by Thicke on set, allegations corroborated by Martel. “Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt the coolness and foreignness of a stranger’s hands cupping my bare breasts from behind,” Ratajkowski wrote in her 2021 collection of essays called My Body. “I instinctively moved away, looking back at Robin Thicke.” Though Martel had intended the shoot to be empowering, Ratajkowski writes, “With that one gesture, Robin Thicke had reminded everyone on set that we women weren’t actually in charge. I didn’t have any real power as the naked girl dancing around in his music video. I was nothing more than the hired mannequin.”
Ten years later, Evans still remembers how the tone on set changed that day — even if no one acknowledged it at the time. “All the stuff with Emily and Robin there together, that was a closed set. So they had no one else watching,” she says. “But what I remember is that, toward the end of the shoot, Emily did leave very abruptly. There was kind of a bit of a scramble among the production team, like, ‘What are we gonna do? How do we shoot the rest of the video without her?’” Evans recalls. “I was told that she had a flight to catch.”
For years after the “Blurred Lines” bubble burst, Evans tried to distance herself from the video (as did Williams, who later acknowledged its lyrics contribute to “chauvinist culture”). “I certainly didn’t want to be remembered only as the girl from ‘Blurred Lines,’” Evans says. “It did become something I didn’t want to talk about.” Still, few bring up her appearances in not one but two videos for Beyoncé’s Lemonade album later that same year. (That’s Elle in the white wig at 4:58 in “Haunted” and behind Beyoncé in an army helmet in “Superpower.”) “Those are hands down some of the best shoots I’ve been in just as far as production,” she says. “Robin Thicke and Pharrell and T.I. are big in the industry, but they’re not on Beyoncé’s level. I mean, Robin Thicke is not even close. Like it’s a completely different category.”
Anyway, she’s no longer a 20-something model seeking her big break in Hollywood. After years of bit parts on shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and movies like Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, in which she played “Amber the Zombie Stripper,” Evans, now 33, has all but left the game. “When I first moved out of my small town, I thought that being rich and famous equaled success and happiness. And I quickly realized by moving to LA and getting into the industry, that it’s not for me personally,” she says. “My life has completely changed. I’m a wife now. I’m a mom now, and that’s my main focus.” Still, she’s buoyed by the change she’s seen from afar. “I can’t really compare jobs these days to jobs a decade ago, but from what I’ve seen, there’s definitely been a big shift. I think it’s amazing. I really do.”
And though she’s willing to talk about the song’s enduring legacy — “I think it shouldn’t be forgotten, because of the lessons that we learned from it,” she says — she’s not getting down to that memorable bomp-bomp-bomp anytime soon. When Evans married Muse frontman Matt Bellamy in 2019, she had her own list of requests. “I remember specifically telling the DJ, ‘Don’t play the ‘Cha Cha Slide.’ Don’t play the ‘Wobble.’ And don’t play ‘Blurred Lines,’” she says. “We’ll kill you.’”