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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Nnekai
|| 0:00:00
...  
🔇
X
August 26, 2015 2:42 PM
Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.

Nigerian singer, songwriter Nneka sits down with Border Crossings host Larry London to perform songs from her latest CD, "My Fairy Tales" and to talk about her inspirations and influences.