L O V E Week: Pharrell’s “G I R L”

Written by Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (@danielmondon)

“What can we do? We’re hopeless romantics.” – “Marilyn Monroe,” 2014.

Pharrell Williams has occupied many musical identities since he ghost-wrote Teddy Riley’s bars on “Rump Shaker” in 1992. They include (but are not limited to) the following: dapper AOR virtuoso, sleazy politician-hater, shirtless heart-throb, eccentric backpacker-turned-rich, living disco glitterball, goody-goody conscience to the amoral and tortured, Hans Zimmer in training, Bmore DJ in training. All these artistic incarnations share something in common: a giddy sense of exploration. They may not all be successful, or even worthwhile, endeavours, but you can rarely ever tell that Williams is half-assing it. Musical ideas are executed to their full potential and their lessons are absorbed into the next persona Williams reveals.

His sophomore solo album G I R L is the next step after a mega-successful 2013, a year where the world caught up with the Seventies-centric songcraft he had been developing since N.E.R.D.’s 2010 album Nothing. It’s succinct at ten songs, a collection of warm tones that should easily appeal to the millions that bumped “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky” out of work radios, car stereos and onto wedding dance-floors. The word “disco” is being used a lot in early reviews, likely referencing the Chic-esque guitar licks and dazzling strings (conducted by Hans Zimmer!) all over the record, but G I R L is as much glitzy soul as it is disco. 2014 Pharrell is a man imbued with modernizing the sounds of the past, a nostalgic space that also makes space for references to Williams’ oeuvre. A member of early N.E.R.D. buddies Spymob plays guitar throughout, the chorus on “Gush”—a Prince tribute of sorts—directly evokes 2003’s “Light Your Ass On Fire” with Busta Rhymes—a Kraftwerk tribute of sorts, the late album highlight “Lost Queen” fades into water SFX and a hidden interlude much like Fly Or Die’s “Wonderful Place” did. These are savvy amalgamations of Williams’ musical touch, never feeling Xeroxed-over these are songs driven by giddy exploration.

And little seems to inspire Williams’ explorer tendencies quite as much as the fairer sex. When he sings about women, he’s starry-eyed, attempting lover boy slackness, finding cosmic parallels or all three at the same time (natch, “Get Lucky”). Women matter to him, and they drive him to being the “hopeless romantic” he refers to on “Marilyn Monroe.” The liner notes to Fly or Die found Williams ecstatically wishing for his “future Girlfriend,” one of his more whimsically dorkier moments. Now married and with a child, he appears reflective and analytical of his romantic past—not the failures, just overall experiences. This narrow optimism sounds hopeful and wonderful and even a little silly. There’s simply no space for bad vibes here. Williams sounds joyful reveling in his hopeless romanticism, having found a space where he’s not second-guessing himself. “You can blame me as to why we haven’t met yet,” he wrote in those liner notes to his “future Girlfriend,” but G I R L sounds like someone shaking off the blame in lieu of simply celebrating the search.


Written by Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy (@danielmondon)

Nothing should be fascinating about Future’s “Move That Dope”: it’s a gathering of the adored but overexposed (and Casino), produced by the adored but overexposed Mike Will Made It and given a boilerplate title. It slithered out with little certainty of its final destination and an abundance of questions in its trail: Will this even end up on Honest? How many incarnations has the album gone through? Does Casino’s throat not hurt from yelling like that all the time? Yet it’s a fascinating song and as a posse cut a bonafide moment of high class thievery on the part of Pharrell.

Future’s professional relationship with Mike Will must give him top dibs, as the Dungeon Fam representative was offered a stunner here: a distorted and desiccated Mob music elastic bass accompanied by that unearthly Mike Will low-end. As always, Future knows how to occupy the track, but it’s rarely evident on his unfiltered verse. He’s nimbly rapping in triplets, hopscotching over each bar, yet there’s no push to experiment with his voice as per usual. The resurgence of the triplet flow in Atlanta rap seems like a particularly post-Future move, so here is the anomaly of the week: Future doing a post-Future style. But on the hook, he’s black magic: Salt N Pepa routines floating from ear to ear, given malicious intent—a sexualized purr turned into a villainous mantra, like a snake possessed to deliver biblical wrath. Meanwhile, Pusha (on otherwise standard huff’n’puff duty) unsteadily cackles creating the audio equivalent of the eyeless My Name is My Name cover.

And still, Pharrell runs off with the entire track. Back in the mid-Noughties, people derided his appearances on Re-Up Gang mixtapes, dismissed the bougie-turnup of In My Mind and thus formed the consensus that Pharrell was a bad rapper. But Pharrell was never a bad rapper! Sure he jarred on the gulliest of Re-Up tracks, but that was more to do with his eccentric delivery and word selection. He was the odd one out amongst those hungry punch-line rappers by dropping impromptu Das EFX tributes and shaking his head ruefully at “carving” a man alive: “That’s fucked up, that shit gets to me.” Elsewhere, he evoked chinchillas in the heat of battle, ostrich trainers, treated life like blue magazines off the top shelf, “Willy Wonka décor” and out-weirded Wayne on a series of unreleased mixtape tracks while shape-shifting into a Native Tongues Juvenile. Like a lot of things Pharrell did in the middle of the previous decade, it was odd and a little ahead of its time. (I guarantee you, if In My Mind never existed and some New Jack rapped “baby born baby dies it’s clear as Peru” we would be losing our minds.)

He gets the third verse on “Move That Dope” and runs through the damn thing shifting gears from clearly enunciated to slurring and from clipped vocals to loosey-goosey elongations. It’s lyrical metamorphosis, the verse equivalent to Pusha and Future’s weirdo horror-house noises on the hook. And he drops a barrage of weirdo wordplay with great élan, amusingly arrogant in rejecting the song’s villainous thread as he damn well pleases: “all these drones!” “gee, nigga,” “Gandalf hat,” “all that war we need to let that go,” “twenty girls doin’ yoga naked” and most appropriately “ol’ Skateboard P / that’s the one you been missin’.”