Pharrell thinks Kanye West’s surprising presidential bid declaration at last week’s MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) was a smart move. “I think Kanye (right) knows exactly what he’s doing,” the US singer-songwriter-producer told The New Paper over the phone recently from Los Angeles, ahead of his upcoming concert here during the F1 weekend (Sept 18 to 20). “I just love that he took the time to express himself.
“His speech was one of the highlights of this year’s VMAs for me.” West’s announcement had capped off his rambling 10-minute acceptance speech after receiving the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Williams was also at the VMAs, where he performed his new single Freedom outside the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. But does he think West will really run for US President, or was he just joking?
“You’ll have to ask him,” Williams replied. “That’s the genius of Kanye – he knows how to get people talking.”
Williams also features in other artists’ songs, most notably Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. With a youthful look that belies his 42 years, a perennial smile and his penchant for producing upbeat pop ditties, you’d expect Williams to have a playful persona off-stage. After all, he’s cultivated an image of being pop music’s Willy Wonka, dishing out high-quality ear candy with style and a signature flourish. But Williams is a serious artist, and his serious side definitely showed during our 14-minute interview.
“No, Kanye and I don’t really hang out much. We have to work, you know,” he replied when asked if they see each other often. “I’m just grateful for experiences more than anything: every song is an experience in making music for me,” he said vaguely when asked if he has any favourites from his extensive song catalogue. Williams was more forthcoming about his current single Freedom. A revolutionary song with its own manifesto, it boasts a catchy tempo and piano chords in a minor key, and is punctuated by hearty cries of “Freedom!”.
“When I started writing Freedom, I didn’t know what was going to come out,” said Williams. “It’s not necessarily a political song. Freedom can be whatever it means to you. To me, it’s just a fun song, about having the freedom to feel what you feel, or the freedom to dance.” So what does freedom mean to the perpetually busy multi-hyphenate, who is also a judge/coach on US reality TV singing series The Voice?? “That’s a very good question… I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before,” he mused.
“To me, I feel most free when I’m around my family, expressing my gratitude to God and the universe,” said Williams, who is married to model-designer Helen Lasichanh with whom he has a six-year-old son, Rocket. “And also when I’m performing on stage, and the audience is really into it and singing along to all the words. It’s just an incredible feeling.” And it is likely the popular hitmaker will be experiencing that again when he returns to Singapore next week. His first solo gig here was in 2009, when he played at the Esplanade Concert Hall with his band N*E*R*D.
“Singapore was a fun place to play – the energy was crazy, and the people were really warm and great,” he recalled. “I remember visiting the zoo and aquarium there, and the food is always amazing. “I’m also an F1 fan, and I’m looking forward to seeing (British F1 world champion) Lewis (Hamilton) win a title again. He’s a good guy.”