The unstoppable Pharrell Williams | Bleader

The unstoppable Pharrell Williams



Pharrell Williams in the Blurred Lines video
  • Pharrell Williams in the "Blurred Lines" video
Pharrell Williams is having a fantastic year. Right now "Blurred Lines," which he produced for Robin Thicke (who's starting to look and sound increasingly like a more Vegas-y James Murphy), is sitting at the top of the Hot 100. Two spots below it is Daft Punk's song of the year contender "Get Lucky," which he sings lead on. He also produced a new song for this year's Destiny's Child greatest hits collection, Love Songs, and two tracks on Kelly Rowland's Talk a Good Game, which should go down as one of the year's best R&B albums. Plus he's on the new Lonely Island album, and according to Wikipedia he worked on both a new N.O.R.E. record and the soundtrack to Despicable Me 2.

Over the past couple of years Williams has bounced back considerably from a period of relative irrelevancy following the tepid reception to his solo album In My Mind, and quite possibly the widespread realization that people don't really care at all about N*E*R*D records outside of their singles. It's an impressive comeback made all the more so by the fact that he hasn't substantially changed anything about his approach to music since the Neptunes became superstar producers around the turn of the millennium. He's still making beats out of cowbells, flattened drums, and vintage keyboard sounds, still singing almost exclusively in his trademark falsetto, and still sounding overall like a really abstract Marvin Gaye impression.

Pharrell's essentially a one-trick pony, but the key to his success is that it's an extremely good trick. And the pop audience is ravenous for it. The Neptunes dominated the musical zeitgeist during the first half of the aughts in a way that few artists ever have, and after being inescapable for eight years or so Pharrell's trick went out of style for just a couple of years before the pop audience decided to make him inescapable again. That's a remarkably fast turnaround.

And he's probably going to keep hanging around the pop landscape for a long time. The most notable names in the weird, Internet-addicted rap/R&B scene that bridges the mainstream and the underground have taken Pharrell as one of their spiritual-slash-stylistic leader. In the past couple years he's collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, Azalea Banks, Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tyler the Creator. (Obviously he's a big deal with the Odd Future posse.)

These are the artists who are going to be influencing edgy, pop-oriented artists for years down the line, and they'll only serve to amplify Pharrell's own personal influence along the way. I feel like it would be safe to pencil in a Pharrell revival every five or six years for the next several decades.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.