Release Date: Mar 3, 2014
Record label: Columbia
Judging by his solo discography, it’s difficult to see why Pharrell Williams’ second LP might be considered An Event. His 2006 debut, ‘In My Mind’, was patchy at best, and aside from last year’s ‘Happy’, a tie-in with the movie ‘Despicable Me 2’, the records the Virginia Beach native has made under his own name haven’t exactly set the world on fire. But ever since he helped his mentor, Teddy Riley, make the risqué swingbeat anthem ‘Rump Shaker’ in 1992, Pharrell (often alongside Neptunes and N*E*R*D partner Chad Hugo) has been one of pop’s most innovative and successful producers, writers and vocalists.
2013 was the year of Pharrell. Sure, he's been lacing the pop charts for more than a decade, composing beats and singing hooks for everyone from Snoop Dogg and Jay Z to Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. But last year, he finally capped his transition to center-stage stardom with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" – two megasmashes driven to ubiquity by Pharrell's lighthearted cockiness and free-range funkiness.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. 2013 was the year in which Pharrell Williams produced the two biggest pop tracks of the year. Not only were they immensely popular in terms of downloads, they also stormed radio playlists worldwide and effectively propelled Pharrell back into the limelight after a few years in the relative pop wilderness.
At some point between In My Mind and this album, tracking Pharrell's accomplishments became more difficult than ever. His 2013 alone must be considered historic. That February, he accepted a Grammy for his role in Frank Ocean's Channel Orange. March brought the release of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," a Pharrell production that eventually topped the Hot 100.
At a recent playback for his second solo album, G I R L, Pharrell Williams seemed to catch his audience by surprise. There they all were, gathered to hear a record they no doubt imagined might contain more of the carefree Motown melodies of his current hit, Happy. Instead, they were first treated to the singer's take on 21st-century feminism. "Women," Williams told the room of expectant journalists, "are a phenomenal force in my life and in my career" and "the cornerstone of existence".
There was Pharrell Williams—and his hat—at the Oscars this past Sunday. He danced with Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o and made Meryl Streep shake her shoulders. He got Amy Adams to body roll. The performance was the latest in Pharrell’s current wave of transcendent moves: At the Grammys in February, Pharrell basically lived on the stage, accepting awards for Daft Punk and performing with the legendary Stevie Wonder.
Somewhere, there are people who can’t stand Pharrell Williams. Can’t stand the optimism, which can presumably only come when you’re counting Williams’ kind of do-re-mi. Can’t stand that squeaky-clean (but mostly just squeaky) voice. This observer isn’t a bad person; it’s just that he — and that’s the correct pronoun in probably nine of ten cases — doesn’t know how to have fun.
The Neptunes were in the middle of an untouchable seven-year creative peak—beginning with Kelis' 1999 debut Kaleidoscope and tapering off shortly after the Clipse's 2006 comeback Hell Hath No Fury—when Pharrell dropped his debut solo single, "Frontin'", which eventually landed on the Neptunes' showcase LP The Neptunes Present...Clones. A lush, airy slice of R&B, "Frontin'" existed as a pleasurable curio until three years later, when Pharrell released his first full-length, In My Mind. In My Mind was a low-key record that favored cascading piano cadences and psychedelic soul touches as a backdrop for Pharrell's vacuous lyrics, and it sounds a little better in 2014 than its reputation suggests.
As we'd expect from a guy who's crafted so many top-40 hits for other artists, the production on Pharrell Williams's Girl is immaculate. Similarly, pretty much every song has chart-worthy hooks and effortlessly funky rhythms, not to mention the expected revolving door of big-name guests (Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Miley Cyrus). Still, a puzzling underwhelming quality nags at you even as you bob your head to the bouncy sunny-day grooves.
Pharrell Williams doubles-down on fun for his new album. Or, more accurately, he triples-down. The album’s lead single, "Happy," completes a trifecta of ideally breezy songs, following up two, Pharrell-related songs that just happen to have been last year’s biggest hits: "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk and "Blurred Lines," from Robin Thicke. If anything, "Happy" lightens and broadens the appeal by avoiding all sex and controversy, exuding a kind of joy even a 5-year-old can fathom.
In 1980, Motown had Stevie Wonder hasten Hotter Than July into production to reassure the public that the world's most pleasure-inducing pop composer hadn't been lost through the photosynthesis of the indulgent Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. The result was the most elegantly, cleanly entertaining album of his career. Now Pharrell Williams, who just shared a Grammy stage with Wonder, and whose R&B grooves often owe more than just a passing resemblance to the legend, is rather hurriedly unleashing his first album in close to a decade off the heels of a triumvirate of unambiguous pop successes: Daft Punk's “Get Lucky,” Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines,” and his own “Happy.
"Different," intones Pharrell sotto voce at the start of GIRL, rush-released with a fortnight's notice of its existence. Elegant Disney strings swirl around him. The song Marilyn Monroe describes how Williams doesn't fancy the beauty queens of history. Monroe, Cleopatra: they're not doing it for Pharrell, who was R&B's most eligible bachelor until his recent wedding.
Female empowerment: a tricky issue in pop music presently. What with the ‘Blurred Lines’ Crisis of ‘13, Miley Cyrus’s horrific lack of self-awareness in her relentless pursuit of cultural appropriation, and Beyoncé’s determined ferocity contributing to an already frenzied debate about feminism's place in music over the past 12 months or so, it’s just crying out for a notable someone to stop the issue from falling into simple fodder for tiresome YouTube comment sections. Could Pharrell Williams, then, be that noble mainstream spokesman that womankind so desperately requires with his first solo record in eight years? (almost nominating himself for such a role by naming it G I R L).
Pharrell tried the solo gambit first with In My Mind and promptly fell to earth, even with a few successful singles attached to it. G I R L reeks of an attempt to ride the wave of good will he has built up as the producer behind “Blurred Lines” and his turn on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. That turn is included here, and it is one of the bright spots on an otherwise by-the-numbers disc.
There’s something about being a collaborator that tends to bring out the best in Pharrell Williams. His vocals in Daft Punk’s 2013 megahit Get Lucky were not only effortlessly cool, they multiplied the song’s joyousness tenfold. Also, a year ago he produced the memorable ode to sexual pursuit Blurred Lines, reinvigorating Robin Thicke’s career and enraging the nation’s feminists in the process.
When I was YouTubein’ different record-cleaning techniques the other day, I came across this wood glue technique for removing contaminating particles from the groove. It’s actually a fairly innocuous process, and it turns out that when you peel off the glue, it retains its shape as an imprint of the LP — neat! But of course, keeping the glue copy would be stupid since it’d make an inversion of the grooves, not an identical pressing, right? Well, with his second solo album, G I R L, Pharrell Williams proves that you can indeed make replicas of your favorite records with these flaccid wood glue leftovers; all it requires is a couple Billboard #1 pastiches and something like Play-Doh to re-invert the grooves of the wood glue imprint. But “Happy,” the album’s (nauseatingly successful) lead single, is a perfect example of what is lost in this replication process: boldness, personality, dynamic, cultural relevancy, etc.
The commercial resurrection of Pharrell Williams after a career lull has been swift and spectacular. His involvement in three number one hits last year (Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke and his own dose of musical Prozac, “Happy”) has put him onto the very top perch of pop. While progressive R&B artists such as Frank Ocean and Janelle Monáe have taken their cue from Pharrell and kept on innovating, Pharrell’s career upward trajectory has coincided with him producing the least challenging work of his career.
These days, Virginia Beach producer and vocalist Pharrell can do no wrong. Whether it’s producing Marvin Gaye-inspired pop hits, crooning over cheesy French disco or wearing a hat that looks like it was tailored for Smokey the Bear, the seemingly ageless falsetto manages to always come off cool. As a result, he’s become a go-to tastemaker for fashion, music, art and—perhaps most of all—being different.
Pharrell Williams never disappeared after his remarkable early-’00s run with The Neptunes. He continued working at a hummingbird’s pace, collaborating with big stars, lesser stars, up-and-comers, and non-starters—any and everyone, really—on dozens of projects a year. Still, it seemed that his best days were behind him, if only because how could they not be? No artist could sustain that level of success forever; even Motown stopped making hits eventually, and its machine was much bigger than a lone producer with a fairly limited skill set.
Pharrell Williams is on a serious hot streak. The singer-songwriter/producer/rapper/hat enthusiast recently nabbed four Grammys, including two for his collaboration with Daft Punk on the inescapable dance pop anthem “Get Lucky” and one for producer of the year. He was also integral to the success of 2013’s other ubiquitous anthem, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Add to the pot his Academy Award nomination for current single and No.
As per its title, Pharrell Williams' first album in eight years is singularly focused on girls. No women or ladies appear through the 10 songs that make up the album, let alone any other men. (There is one queen, but she's from outer space.) Best known these days for his falsetto voice heard on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," singer-producer Pharrell doubles down on his pursuit of mainstream superstardom on "Girl," but in the process reveals his weaknesses as well.
“Just because it’s the middle of the night, that don’t mean I won’t hunt you down,” goes an actual line off the new Pharrell album. With Pharrell’s complicity in the insatiable vortex of awfulness that was the “Blurred Lines” controversy, you’d think that such a vile rehash of predatory, misogynistic rhetoric would at least warrant a thinkpiece or two. But, despite a tremor concerning Pharrell’s supposed fetishization of black women on G I R L, the feminist backlash to the album has been comparatively quiet.
Considering his recent ubiquity, it’s shocking to think how close Pharrell Williams came to pop irrelevancy. By the end of the aughts, the Neptunes had lost their hitmaking sheen and Pharrell was reduced to releasing N.E.R.D.’s diminishing returns, scoring Disney films and launching a “content-driven property” (remember that?). By the end of 2012, a few credits with Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean aside, Pharrell looked to be headed to the Island of Misfit Producers.
opinion bySAMUEL TOLZMANN Back when Pharrell Williams’s main job was the Neptunes, he helped peddle an uncompromisingly strange, cold brand of minimalism that went on to significantly define a generation of pop music. After his work took a nosedive in the mid-‘00s with terrible work both solo and with N*E*R*D*, Pharrell resurfaced last year with a commercial home run – “Happy,” “Get Lucky,” “Blurred Lines” – that had about as much in common with the Neptunes’ iconic work on records like Clipse’s Hell Hath No Furyas with black metal. Like his collaborators Daft Punk, instead of aggressively chasing a new musical future as he once had, Pharrell’s 2013 hits were comfortable, sepia-hued exercises in the pop forms of yesteryear, and his new album G I R L is stuck rigidly in the same camp.