Confession hour: The first time I heard Pharrell’s “Happy,” I immediately hit skip. In my defense, I was still soundtracking my life with Drake’s Nothing Was The Same and on a side-eye worthy streak of worst behavior. I wasn’t checking for a G-rated ditty that was intentionally designed to attract more eyeballs to a kid’s film called Despicable Me 2 (although I was a fan of the first).
Then this video happened.
The first ever 24-hour music video, that was shot in real time across various parts of the country with a bunch of random people dancing like they caught the Ghost of Happy Happy Joy Joy, was super impressive and something that had never been done before. Exclamation, exclamation, exclamation! I could dig it. It dropped in November when the weather outside was frightful but here was an instant mood-booster crafted by one of music’s most esteemed renaissance men. It wasn’t the N.E.R.D.-y sound I was used to from Pharrell. Gone were the images of Skateboard P in a trucker cap and throwing up Star Trak signs. Lost were the odes to material wealth and wealth of girls and outer spacey beats that were staples on his 2006 album In My Mind. This Pharrell right here was f’real.
A month after the visual dropped, Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled LP hit iTunes and just like the rest of the world, my ears had an unhealthy diet of all things Mrs. Carter well into the new year. But believe that whenever a co-worker needed a midday pick-me-up, Pharrell’s “Happy” was the default remedy.
It’s been a minute since a song has had that much emotional power. Sure, Drake became the emo shepherd for #sadboyz but Pharrell’s aural euphoria is instant gratification. “Happy” is the guilt-free gift that keeps on giving, whenever and wherever you want. Other notable tunes that evoked the same emotion over the past few decades include Michael Jackson’s 1979 toe-tapper “Off The Wall,” Journey’s 1981 anthem-turned-Glee-favorite “Don’t Stop Believin’”, Jamiroquai’s 1996 jingle “Virtual Insanity” or, for the millennials, Robin Thicke’s 2013 “Blurred Lines,” which (surprise!) also features Pharrell.
These days, music is starting to hit that higher note (sans drugs) on purpose. Since Pharrell’s 2014 “Joy To The World” became a contagious hit, the producer extraordinaire has been a magnet for good bounty: Oscar nomination, multiple Grammys, consecutive chart-topping success with “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”, an Adidas deal, new book, new record deal, a solid solo sophomore album called G I R L, a gig as coach on NBC’s The Voice and—most important of all—the attention and appreciation for his artistry that he’s been craving since his first solo album eight years ago.
In a recent appearance on Oprah Prime, Pharrell cried tears of joy when he saw a montage of people around the world, creating their own videos to his “Happy.”
“It’s overwhelming because it’s like I love what I do,” a teary Williams told Ms. Winfrey. “I just appreciate the fact that people have believed in me for so long, that I could make it to this point to feel that.”
Now, other artists are starting to feel that happy is the way to go. Singer Rita Ora, who’s been known more for her catwalk-ready ensembles and relationship status with DJ Calvin Harris, is revitalizing her career with a shot of happy juice in the “Lean On Me”-esque track, “I Will Never Let You Down.” Interestingly enough, she recently went on-record saying that her first attempt at the music biz was just BS, literally.
“I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing on my first album, let’s be honest,” she told Elle UK back in April. “I was a kid having the time of my life. And I made a party album—party and bullshit.”
The 23-year-old songstress says her next record is more about celebrating the place she’s at. “I’m still having a great time, but I’m in a great, loving place. Now I want people to see you can have fun and be in love at the same time.”
Even Ariana Grande is taking this route. After giving us come-hither pop love songs wrapped in bows and sundresses on her debut Yours Truly, she’s now diving into the EDM realm, which isn’t exactly known for an audience of Debbie Downers. For her sophomore effort, the Nickelodeon-bred songstress is about to make music fit for D.D.R. enthusiasts. She tells Billboard that her collabo with electronic dance gawd Zedd is “fantastic and super-experimental for me. I never thought I’d do an EDM song, but that was an eye-opening experience, and now all I want to do is dance.”
And that’s exactly what Pharrell’s “Happy” has pushed folks to do: get out of their seats and shake their worries away, if only temporarily. While making thuggish R&B does wonders for August Alsina and nonsensical trap raps has pushed Young Thug to the forefront of hip-hop’s consciousness, this “Happy” model that Pharrell has put in place could be a trend every up-and-comer could get hip to. A cheerful anthem that transcends race, class, and status is a win-win for both artist and listener.
Of course, the point is not to create contrived joyful noise. Pharrell, who is now a father and happily married man had to experience a string of low lows and dig deep inside his 40-year-old-looking-like-14 self to get to this point of jubilee. It’s about putting Project Smiles on wax and injecting optimism into a world that, as the nightly news can dictate, is pretty fucked up.
On “Happy,” Pharrell sings:
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don’t hold it back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I’ll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don’t waste your time
For those looking to quickly penetrate music’s mainstream in the era of BuzzFeed, time is off the essence. Word to the wise: make like McDonald’s and put a smile on! Sponsors leech onto feel-good tracks that will help consumers associate positive vibes with their products. Viral visuals are the perfect canvases for anti-frown melodies, hence emoji lyric videos. It’s the stuff that got Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation to disc 50 and beyond. Even though music can’t eradicate world hunger and make everyone instant lotto winners, Pharrell is the perfect example that just being happy is priceless. —Adelle Platon (@adelleplaton)