Hanging Out (Sorta) With Pharrell
At deafening decibels, the DJ plays a kinetic mix of Baltimore club music and ’90s hip-hop. But here in Mansion, the opulent new nightspot in Olde Towne Portsmouth, you come to be seen – to “profile” – not get wild. The VIP section is too dark. Strobe lights flash red and purple ovals on the walls. Men in baggy jeans and Polo shirts talk among themselves. Women stroll around in dangerously high stilettos, mini-dresses and makeup worthy of Vogue magazine.
Why am I here on a Thursday night?
Oh, yeah. Pharrell Williams is making an appearance. The Virginia Beach producer-musician, a fixture in urban pop for nearly 20 years, won’t do much of anything but show up, I’m told. His latest projects include two clothing lines and a liqueur called Qream. He’s working on new music, his management said, divulging no details. Williams was supposed to arrive more than 30 minutes ago, but at events like this, it’s all about the buildup. The DJ isn’t playing much of Williams‘ music. As half of the production duo The Neptunes, Williams mined platinum for Madonna, Kelis and Snoop Dogg. He also fronts the experimental urban-rock band N*E*R*D and launched a solo career in 2003.
Mansion’s marketing director finds me in the VIP room. She shouts into my ear, “Pharrell’s here!” We make our way through the crowd to the boxy stage, which is ringed by bodyguards and photographers. We slide past hangers-on, and I spot the star. At 38, the heavily tattooed Williams could pass for 19. For a guy with two fashion lines, he hasn’t put much thought into his attire: a white T-shirt, jeans hanging just below his waist and a black baseball cap. Williams poses for pictures with fans onstage, throwing up “deuces,” sideward peace signs. Waitresses behind him pour samples of Qream, which Williams passes to the crowd rushing the stage. The marketing director pushes her way to the performer and says something. Williams looks up.
He reaches past two women and extends a small hand to me. His grip is strong. He says something in the marketing director’s ear and turns back to the crowd. She shouts to me, “He said, ‘I’m glad to be back home in Virginia,’!” (He still has a home in Virginia Beach but no longer lives there full time.) The circle encloses Williams. Waitresses sashay through the crowd, holding aloft bottles of vodka topped with sparklers. The place is near capacity. Beats throb and ricochet. Somebody steps on my foot. I make my way to the nearest exit.