Image via GQ

Pharrell Williams is evolving.

In a new interview with GQ, the singer, producer, and fashion innovator discussed personal and political evolution, spiritual warfare in America, and his newfound appreciation for the fact that we live in a "chauvinistic" culture—an appreciation he gained through criticism he faced for the lyrics of "Blurred Lines," the 2013 hit he cowrote with Robin Thicke.

When that song first appeared, it was quickly criticized for its "rapey" implications and coercive lyrics that pushed the boundaries of consent. Williams defended the song at the time of its release, and he told GQ that when he created it, he believed the song was actually a tribute to women's independence and sexual liberation. Also, the fact that some women enjoyed the song somehow led him to believe it would be enjoyable for all women. "I didn't get it at first. Because there were older white women who, when that song came on, they would behave in some of the most surprising ways ever… So when there started to be an issue with it, lyrically, I was like, 'What are you talking about?' There are women who really like the song and connect to the energy that just gets you up." (Because older white women are obviously the arbiters of all women's sexual preferences).

Fortunately, his views and understanding changed over time. "I realized that there are men who use that same language when taking advantage of a woman, and it doesn't matter that that's not my behavior. Or the way I think about things," he said. "It just matters how it affects women…. I cared what they were feeling, too. I realized that we live in a chauvinist culture in our country. Hadn't realized that. Didn't realize that some of my songs catered to that. So that blew my mind."

While Pharrell's comments are indicative of a lifetime of ignorance, they actually reveal something that should be praised more: a growth mindset.

Most men, and humans in general, are not born with innate knowledge of what is acceptable and what is not in terms of sexual consent, and a great deal of media and social norms (like hit songs like "Blurred Lines") only serve to rehash distorted perceptions of what is acceptable and what is not, perceptions usually shaped by the very chauvinistic culture that they help perpetuate.

Although Pharrell's comments on "Blurred Lines" might make us cringe, at least he's realized that consent isn't something people should be coerced into, that women often have different ideas of what constitutes consent, and that desire should always be clarified and re-confirmed prior to each sexual act. If more people were like Pharrell, open to learning about what it actually means to be a feminist and willing to listen to others' voices, then we would be living in a very different world.

GQ.com

This doesn't mean we should be willing to forgive inappropriate behavior or provide abusers with a cushion of forgiveness. Too often, men who are implicated in #MeToo cases are willingly reintegrated into society and allowed to continue with their careers, while research and follow-ups with women who reported assault cases reveal that these groups often suffer, in terms of their careers and mental health and other aspects of their lives.

So instead of being preemptively forgiving of willful ignorance, we should be willing to embrace people like Pharrell who reshape their worldviews after learning from their past mistakes. Most of the interview finds Pharrell speaking with a highly tuned sense of moral and ethical responsibility as well as a strong feminist ethic. He openly supports women's leadership and criticizes white male-led masculinity while addressing the fallout that is resulting from the downfall of this ancient and destructive hierarchy. "Man, what would the world be like if women held all of the highest positions worldwide?" he said.

He also addressed the fact that gender politics can't be extricated from other issues like race and class. "If you ask me, when we talk about masculinity, it's also very racial, this conversation," he said. "Because the dominant force on this planet right now is the older straight white male. And there's a particular portion of them that senses a tanning effect. They sense a feminizing effect. They sense a nonbinary effect when it comes to gender."

It does seem like he's had thick blinders on for a very long time. For example, he states that he "just read the Declaration of Independence the other day" and his "jaw dropped" when he saw that the document "[refers] to the Native Americans as merciless savages." On the other hand, while these ideas might be well-known in progressive circles, much of America still celebrates Columbus Day. To collectively grow, we're going to have to be open to a lot of people having these kinds of revelations, which are of course too little too late, but are better than nothing.

GQ

Maybe the wisest thing Pharrell says in the whole interview is, "I don't think my opinion is everything. I don't know anyone else's plight." As Socrates once said, "All I know is I know nothing, and I am not quite sure I know that." These ideas are the polar opposite of the message of "Blurred Lines," which is, of course, "I know you want it."

That's not to say that we should forgive people who disregard others' rights to exist or walk safely in the streets, or that anyone should be expected to corral their anger when faced with bigotry. But instead, maybe we should be more open to those who have done the work and grown and changed, and allies should never pretend to be authorities on others' experiences.

The Internet's algorithm may thrive off dissent and snap judgments, and nuance and active listening may be lost causes in this age of polarity, but change and evolution are some of this life's only constants. In light of this, we need to be more comfortable with growth and with admitting that we've done wrong in the past. We need to listen to the voices of others and accept discomfort and criticism instead of resisting them.

Recently, the actress Jameela Jamil faced heat for stating that she only recently learned of the extent of George W. Bush's war crimes in Iran, and in response, she started the hashtag #ProgressNotPerfection in order to emphasize the importance of being open to learning, to questions, and to changing our minds in order to change the world.

So in the spirit of #ProgressNotPerfection, here's to Pharrell speaking the truth and denouncing "Blurred Lines" six years after the fact. It would've been nice if that happened before the song's release, and if we could've been spared the collective trauma of watching Miley Cyrus twerk on Robin Thicke—but that's in the past. Today we're living in the era of flying cars, hopefully a female president, and finally admitting that we don't know a damn thing.

GQ

CULTURE

Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.

OF COURSE. i.imgur.com

That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.

Implications

So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.