More than a few folks cracked wise about Pharrell Williams' outsized, Arby's-esque hat at the 56th Grammy Awards. But given the phenomenally successful year this singer/producer has had—like walking home with four of the night's coveted awards, including Producer of the Year—it's pretty safe to say he feels like he's earned the right to wear any hat he chooses.
Thanks to two high-profile collaborations in 2013—more on that in a minute—Pharrell is rapidly becoming almost as famous himself as the many A-list musicians he's written for, produced and sang with in the last 20 years. (That list reads like a who's who of the pop music world, including Beyoncé, Jay Z, Madonna, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Pitbull, Swedish House Mafia, Nicki Minaj and Cee Lo Green, among many others.)
In the last year, Pharrell's star has soared even higher as he sang on two huge hits: Robin Thicke's controversially "rapey" "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's ode to casual sex "Get Lucky," which for a time were one-two on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart.
In sharp contrast, the song we're reviewing here is as squeaky clean as those last two tunes are sensually sordid. Its one-word title, "Happy," tells us nearly everything we need to know about the sunshiney ditty from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. (It's been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song.)
Pharrell's clear, high tenor is paired with an infectious, Motown-inspired groove as he repeatedly sings the praises of simply being content. "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof/Because I'm happy," he croons in the chorus, "Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth/Because I'm happy/Clap along if you know what happiness is to you/Because I'm happy/Clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do."
Things never get much deeper than that on this carefree ode to feeling good about feeling good. That said, the second verse does gently warn against life's downer moments, suggesting there are times that happiness isn't just a feeling that overflows naturally but something we have to choose: "Here come bad news, talking this and that, yeah/Well, give me all you got, and don't hold back, yeah/Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine, yeah."
After that, the bridge insists, "Bring me down/Can't nothing bring me down," while hinting that the reason Pharrell's so happy is actually a romance: "Your love is too high/To bring me down." Still, you get the feeling listening to this song that being happy is just the best way to go through life—whether you happen to be in love with someone at the moment or not.
The video, in some ways, is as simple as the song. But I say in some ways because there's actually one version of it that's 24 hours long, with the song looping over and over and over. In both that super-extended behemoth and the standard 3:53 one, Pharrell sings and dances through a variety of urban environments. He's joined by a series of anonymous folks doing the same thing, as well as a number of celebrities, including Steve Carell, Magic Johnson, Jimmy Kimmel and Jamie Foxx. (And a minion or two from the movie show up too.) But even in the day-long version, there's not much more to it than that. (Though I'm not actually saying I watched all 1,440 minutes of it.)
All in all, "Happy" is lighthearted musical fun. The only hurt it brings comes by way of association—Pharrell's other musical collaborations. So here's hoping this silly sing-along song won't make young fans too curious about his whole career.