The Happy Hitmaker
Philip Ellison 24 June, 2015 at 12:06
In a session entitled ‘Creating Constellations: Unleashing Creativity Through Collaboration’, Pharrell Williams talked music, movies, and aligning the stars with Ryan Seacrest.
Distinctive taste in headwear aside, Pharrell’s contributions to pop culture go far beyond his own work fronting The Neptunes and N.E.R.D. He’s also produced smash tracks for Snoop, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kanye, Madonna, Britney, Shakira and Miley. Not forgetting his most infamous partnership; Robin Thicke’s sleazy listening mainstay ‘Blurred Lines’.
When choosing people to work with, Pharrell isn’t necessarily interested in how famous they are, or what genre they come from; it’s all about the energy, he says. Veering into hippy territory for a moment, he explains; “It’s the energy they give off, that they don’t even realize they’re giving off, not what they say, but what the room feels like when they’re in there — that’s usually what writes the song.”
Even after years of proving himself in the music business, Pharrell finds that pitching new ideas still scares execs. Convincing management, labels and radio stations to get on board can be tricky, but integral. “Don’t wait for the stars to be aligned,” he says before the panel. “Reach up and rearrange them in the way you want. Create your own constellation.”
Then there are his other universally successful endeavours; scoring Hollywood movies, coaching talented young hopefuls on The Voice, working with brands like Adidas, and running his educational foundation.
So how does a renaissance man or woman keep their busy schedule from devolving into chaos? “Being able to multitask is a blessing,” he says. “Each respective project has its own identity.” He likens his career to a house with many rooms, each of which contains a different sideline. But he’s under no illusion as to where each of his many careers began; “music is the skeleton key that’s opened every door for me.”
Credit where it’s due is definitely a recurring theme; Pharrell says he remains grounded because everybody around him floats, and repeatedly refers to himself as “blessed” to have found artists who want to work with him. And when conversation inevitably comes around to the earworm that cemented his place in music history, ‘Happy’, he is keen to stress that he didn’t write it in a flash of inspiration; he was contracted to write it as part of the soundtrack for Despicable Me 2 and struggled with countless early versions before hitting gold. “The success of that song was not blueprinted or engineered by me,” he says. “Millions of people decided they liked it enough to share, purchase or stream it.”
Technology Is A Blessing, Not A Curse
Plenty has been said about the negative side effects of the plugged-in digital generation, but Pharrell reckons we should embrace the technology at our disposal. As he puts it, neither Marilyn Monroe nor Martin Luther King had the means that we do to reach people.
Constant, transparent communication works in everybody’s favour, he believes. “Artists are getting their just due in the world,” he says, perhaps obliquely referring to Taylor Swift’s recent tirade against Apple’s treatment of musicians. “They’re speaking up and speaking out across all mediums – it’s not about who’s right, but what’s right.”