Because he's 'happy'!

Because he's 'happy'!
The handsome hitmaker responsible for three big global smashes — “Happy”, and the equally ubiquitous “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” — brings a big-hatted fashion glamour to any party. And right now, he can do no wrong.

Take “Happy”, for instance. Starting life as a song on a cartoon soundtrack (Despicable Me 2), the spirit-lifting anthem to exuberance reached number one in the UK and the United States, and has had 350 million YouTube views.

Presented with evidence of the outpouring of global love for the track by Oprah Winfrey, the normally ice-chilled Pharrell was reduced to tears. Even his skyscraping Buffalo hat, a reimagining of a 1982 Vivienne Westwood design and initially ridiculed as a fashion stroke too far after he premiered it at January’s Grammy Awards, is now acceptable.

Early discovery

Williams has been this way — a relentless blur of ideas, contacts, collaborations and style — since growing up in Virginia, the son of a schoolteacher mother and house-painter father. He says his parents never doubted his abilities as a teenage producer or the viability of a career in music. “I didn’t go to college ’cause right out of high school I started music, so I was making more money than they could explain. They didn’t understand it at first, but they were supportive.”

This singer, songwriter and producer has a lot going on, and not just in terms of his outré style. Is that busy-ness a product of the synaesthesia from which he reportedly suffers? (The neurological condition causes a “blending” of the senses, so sounds manifest as colours, or letters as smells.) “It’s not suffering,” he replies, quietly, slowly. “It’s just the way I’ve always seen music. But there are so many people who are like that. It’s not a rarity. One of the main things I try to educate the public on is, most artists have it.”

Pharrell has long been a in-demand artiste-producer. Among myriad other achievements, he co-produced and co-wrote many of the songs on Justin Timberlake’s huge-selling first solo album, Justified — songs that he and his producing partner Chad Hugo wrote with Michael Jackson in mind. But over the past year or so, Pharrell’s profile as a falsetto-voiced star has gone stellar. His second solo album G I R L is selling like hot cakes. Even if “most artistes” have synaesthesia, not many of them can turn it into musical gold the way Pharrell can.

How did he visualise “Happy”, “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines”, songs he co-wrote and sang? “It’s more of a colour thing,” says Pharrell. OK. What colours would he describe them as? There is a pause. “Get Lucky”, he eventually begins, is “more like Renaissance-type colours. And “Happy” is like yellows. And mustards. And slight slivers of orange and a tinge of brown in the verses. And in the choruses it’s more like sherbet colours. Like bright sherbet orange. Like pastel oranges. And blues. It’s rainbow-ish. Because those are like minor colours. But they’re exotic colours, juxtaposed to the sharpness and the brightness of the major sensation that’s in the verses.”

I broach the subject of his conduct — rude, frankly — in the past. He wasn’t good at interviews, I begin. He nods. “But I was appreciative that everyone was patient with me. I was happy with everyone being so patient with my misunderstanding of what promo[tion] was for and why it was necessary.”

Journey in music

There is indeed a sense that Pharrell has learnt his lesson. As well he might. After a stellar early 21st century, Pharrell went off the boil around the time of his poorly received first solo album, 2006’s In My Mind. He admits as much when we discuss the topic of his 2013 marriage to model/designer Helen Lasichanh (they have a son, born in 2008. He’s called Rocket). Prior to their relationship, he had a long stint playing the field and, as a musician, was hardly known as a beacon of feminism.

The notional concept behind G I R L is part of his rebrand, something that was even more necessary in light of “Blurred Lines’” lyrics — described by some as “rapey”, and which contributed to the song being banned in a number of British student unions. He says his album’s title has that typographical look because “I wanted it to read differently in text. ’Cause there’s so much between those letters. You know?”

I don’t, so I let him press on. “I wanted to give back to a demographic that has just been giving to me for over 20 years. Which is women. I have male fans, too,” he confirms. “But the women, they never left my side,” he says, which is no doubt true. “I wanted to explain my affinity for them from A to Z.” Pharrell is not happy about gender injustice and inequality, from wages to human rights. “Certain places on earth there’s still legislation that tries to tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Those things need to change, and need to change rapidly. Because the perception is that we live in a male-dominated society but we really don’t.” Well, we do, but Pharrell is talking in biological terms. “The real truth of the matter is that no human being can be created without going through the conduit of a woman’s body....So woman are at the centre of humanity, and they need to be treated as such,” he concludes firmly.

“I think I got married because I looked at life much differently after… feeling like…” He stops and gathers his thoughts from somewhere. “The end of ’07 I felt like I had no purpose.” A big pause. “I was more concerned with the imagery the music stimulated versus the music itself.”

So his last solo album suffered? “Yeah, because there was no real intention for like — I’d say 80 per cent of it was braggadocio,” he admits. “Most of it was just like, I wanted to compete with my peers.

“But this album,” he says of his oddly titled, yellow-hued project, “was all intention, all purpose. That’s why I’m ever-so-grateful. Because it’s just been met with a warm reception.”

That said, he credits the makers of hit cartoon Despicable Me 2 with helping him, well, get over himself. It was they who asked him to write the straight up-and-down ode to joy that has relit his career. “With ‘Happy’ I was too busy trying to please the producers and the directors and writers. And it worked, because had I been trying to please myself I would have overshot. And it would have been just like tastemakers’ music only. But because I was trying to open myself up to go beyond what I thought was appropriate, and add more intention into it — which was to try and make Gru, the evil protagonist of Despicable Me, happy — I need to figure a way to make him [happy] on an ultimate level. A relentless level.”

All the collaborations — Britney, Madonna, Beyoncé, Mika, Jamie Cullum, Usher, Gwen Stefani, to name a top-of-the-head handful — have all given him something. Not working with Jackson is not a sadness, “because we’re provided with circumstances that we deduce the lessons that are there for us to learn, and you have to be grateful for those”. That said, “I always wanted to work with Oasis.”

Would he work with U2? “Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t?” As much as he’s good at being a solo pop star (and not just because he possesses a sloe-eyed smile to die for), “I love sharing the spotlight. That’s what it’s for. It’s like sunlight, right? It’s not just for you and me. It’s for everyone. There’s room under the sun for everyone. I get a joy out of sharing the light.”

Does he get as much buzz from fashion as music? “Sure. You have five senses, and for every sense there’s an art form. It all coincides. For each sense there’s a sub-modality. For hearing, there’s music. For visual, there’s so many things — sculpture, design, drawing, painting. That could go on and on and on. For taste, food, the culinary arts. That’s gustatory. For olfactory, which is the nose, there’s fragrance. I just did one with Comme Des Garçons. It’s called Girl.” What are the signature notes? “It’s mostly wood.”

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