News / Arts & Entertainment

To Make a Hit, You've Got to Get Personal, says Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams poses during the opening of the exhibition
Pharrell Williams poses during the opening of the exhibition "GIRL" at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris, France, May 26, 2014.
Reuters
Pharrell Williams pauses, takes a breath and considers how the past year has unfolded for the R&B producer and singer: four Grammy Awards and three mega-hit singles including a song that has galvanized countless fans to express how they're “happy.”
 
And the key, says the 41-year-old known simply as Pharrell, in the midst of a career second act, has been tapping into audiences' thirst for sincerity and heartfelt personal stories.
 
“I think we've entered a new singer-songwriter era, regardless of the genre or music,” said Pharrell, who produced and performed on Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines,” the raunchy R&B hit that was last year's top song across the U.S. Billboard music charts.
 
“People want a story. They want a story they can connect to,” he said while promoting a concert this week from New York's Apollo Theater, which was live streamed and directed by Spike Lee as part of American Express' “Unstaged” series.
 
“It's not about what you have or what you don't have, it's more about your journey and your perspective that's important to people,” the musician told Reuters.
 
Pharrell Williams performs his hit song Pharrell Williams performs his hit song "Happy" at the Walmart annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, June 6, 2014.
x
Pharrell Williams performs his hit song
Pharrell Williams performs his hit song "Happy" at the Walmart annual shareholders meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas, June 6, 2014.

Pharrell said he noticed a shift in audiences' tastes over the past year in particular with the runaway success of “Happy,” his up-tempo song from the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack that received little fanfare upon its release but has turned into an international viral hit.
 
Countless videos populate sites like YouTube with people from Portugal and Macau to Abu Dhabi and Iran singing and dancing along to the song with the exuberant chorus that declares, “Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof ... clap along if you know what happiness is to you.”
 
After seeing how far his song traveled, the singer broke down in tears during a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey.
 
“It isn't how great the execution is, it's the level of intention, it's the level of connotation that you put behind it,” Pharrell said.
 
“It's just encouraging to people who have something to say, something to express,” he added.
 
Pharrell has cemented himself as a master collaborator who was behind hits with rappers Snoop Dogg and Jay Z a decade ago, as well as with his own hip-hop band N*E*R*D.
 
This year, he won the Grammy award for best non-classical producer for his work with Thicke and French electronic music duo Daft Punk on their album “Random Access Memories.”
 
The success over the past year has demonstrated to Pharrell that people are searching for personal and emotional links, perhaps as an antidote to reliance on mobile devices in the virtual age, he said.
 
“People want to feel. They're over-inundated with thinking,” the singer said.
 
“We're a different species we were 15 years ago,” he added. “The only thing we have left that reminds us that we are humans that cannot be duplicated is feeling. It's the most important thing ever.”

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”