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By Carrie Battan. The ageless pop prophet talks about why he originally didn’t want to make his surprise new solo album G I R L, his take on the alleged sexism of “Blurred Lines“, the prospect of a new Clipse album, and what makes him unhappy. Pharrell Williams occupies the sideline of culture so compellingly that it often becomes its own unique stage. Since his 40th birthday last year—more than a decade removed from his heyday with Neptunes partner Chad Hugo—he’s effectively pushed the most ubiquitous pockets of popular music toward a groove-fueled, nearly-adult-contemporary space.
And though his evolving personal tastes have caused seismic changes to what we hear on the radio every day, he’s maintained an uncanny ease through the years (along with a science-stumping agelessness). Whether he’s vamping with Stevie Wonder and Daft Punk at the Grammys or slowly cruising down last year’s VMA red carpet on a BMX bike wearing cut-off jean shorts and a stoned-looking smile, Pharrell’s existence seems to boil down to two words: no sweat.
Given his malleability and impact as a behind-the-scenes star, it came as a bit of a surprise when he recently announced a plan to turn the spotlight directly on himself with a new solo project, his first since 2006’s lackluster In My Mind. G I R L—an appropriate complement to the debonair nostalgia of Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience—sounds like a direct spawn of last year’s expensive disco-soul pop takeover, filled with grand orchestral flourishes, impossibly catchy funk licks, and his trademark falsetto.
It also includes his first-ever solo Hot 100-topping hit, the Despicable Me 2 track “Happy“, which he’ll perform for an audience of millions during this weekend’s Oscar Awards. The song is an apropos breakthrough that highlights Pharrell’s good nature, zen philosophizing, and ceaseless uplift, all of which carried through during our phone conversation earlier this week.
Pitchfork: You’ve such an impact as a collaborative force, particularly in the last year. Why a solo album now?
Pharrell Williams: If I was left to my own devices, I would not have elected to do it. But the people from Columbia Records were so nice and gracious—and this was before “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” had come out, but they’d heard “Get Lucky”. They just said, “Look, we know that you said you wouldn’t do another solo album [ever again], but we know that you are going to change your mind, and we want to be the ones to change your mind.” They offered me a deal on the spot. I was so blown away and overwhelmed with shock and a wave of elation that I said yes. Is it flawless? No. But even the people who find flaws will feel my intention. I’m so proud of this work. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Pitchfork: The record feels like a natural extension of “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines”. Did you want to capitalize on the popularity of that sound?
PW: I wanted to make something that felt good. “Happy” feels good. But the songs don’t sound alike. They just have the feel-good aspect in common; that’s the most important part. The album is for everybody, for human beings, from the vantage point of what I like. It’s about groove first. Its hands are open.
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