Under The Hat: Pharrell’s Secret Philosophy

loaded-pharrell

HE’S not just a pretty (expensive) hat. Pharrell Williams believes he’s tuned into how we’ll be curing diseases in the future. You see, music isn’t a matter of life and death to him – it’s much more important than that. On a flying visit to London the most successful and ubiquitous producer of his generation took the time to explain his philosophy to Loaded. “I believe in the medicinal property of music,” he tells us. “I believe in maximising the therapeutic and holistic properties of music and what it can do for you.”

Replacing medicine with melodies might sound far-fetched, but as well as having three million-selling UK singles in the last year alone, Pharrell is also a scholar of world musical traditions. “The Tibetans have singing bowls that they tune chakras with,” he points out, referring to the Buddhist belief that upturned bells of different pitches can effect the body’s seven energy points. “In the Western world there are certain songs that come on and make people feel better. When people are feeling melancholy and down and they need something to relate to they can play a blues record and it can help purge them and get those feelings out. There are such incredible degrees of music, frequency-wise, that I believe science will prove that we’ll be able to use exact musical notes to cure certain things.”

It isn’t hard to see how Pharrell’s unreserved faith in the power of music has made him the man he is in 2014. He’s on a run of singles which make him the envy of every other songwriter and producer on the planet – and he’s done it a full decade after he last dominated pop music. At 41, Pharrell Williams is having the year of his life.

I FIRST spoke to Pharrell back in April 2013, at the start of his annus mirabilis. I was in California attending Coachella in the company of Daft Punk, who were at the festival to premiere the video for their omnipresent global hit ‘Get Lucky’ on the big screens. In typical Daft Punk fashion the stunt was completely unannounced, so when the video first burst into life showing Pharrell fronting a fantasy band with Nile Rodgers on guitar and the robots on bass and drums, half the festival sprinted across the field thinking they were about to catch an impromptu live set. In truth, Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were down the front of the VIP area, unrecognizable without their helmets, watching amongst the crowd with wide grins splayed across their faces.

The next day, Daft Punk hosted a party at the house they were renting in Palm Springs: Bing Crosby’s former villa, where JFK and Marilyn Monroe are said to have consummated their affair. As the piña coladas flowed, Bangalter explained to me why they’d chosen Pharrell to front the band he described as being their “dream scenario in a dream environment”. “We’re fans of hip-hop and Pharrell as a performer, as a singer, as a rapper and as a human being is someone who we consider to be extremely special,” he said. “It felt like a perfect match for creating this one-time band with Nile and the robots. It was exciting on a musical level and a symbolic level. Most of all, his talent as singer and a performer made him the perfect candidate for us.”

Nile Rodgers, the legendary Chic guitarist and producer of hits for the likes of David Bowie, Madonna and Mick Jagger is arguably the man whose career Pharrell has most modeled his own on. He was similarly full of praise for his new collaborator. “Sometimes you meet a person and you have an idea of who they are but then you meet them and they go beyond it,” Rodgers told me. “I love Pharrell. As a person, as an artist, as a human being, he went way beyond any preconceived notion I had of him, which was already pretty cool! He had done a record that really paid homage to me, with Justin Timberlake. I remember meeting him at the Grammys and he walked up on me and just bowed down and said: “Hey man, I’m sorry but I couldn’t help it.” I said: “Dude, don’t worry! If you don’t think I stole ‘Good Times’ from somebody else you’re crazy!” ‘Good Times’ was not a completely original idea by any stretch of the imagination! When we finally got the chance to work together and we got to talk I thought to myself: “I love this dude!” He’s unbelievably cool.”

Pharrell himself didn’t make it to Daft Punk’s pool party. He was at home in Miami, where his exhausted-sounding manager told me he was producing two different artists simultaneously. When I called him from California he was unusually taciturn. It tells you something about Pharrell’s sweetness of character that despite the fact Bangalter and de Homem-Christo were splashing around in their trunks in front of me, Pharrell was still earnestly referring to them as “the robots”. “I’m very excited for the robots, man,” he said, speaking about the anticipation for their record ‘Random Access Memories’. “They deserve it. Those guys are super-rare. This is all a part of their masterful calculation. I’m thankful to just be a digit in their equation. I’m such a small part. I was just happy to be there and be a part of it. I’m just as much a voyeur of their process as you are.”

When I told him about Nile Rodgers’ tribute to him, Pharrell was effusive in returning the praise “I was pleasantly surprised that Daft Punk got him to work on the album because I had been working on music previously that was imitating him. It was the coolest thing. His playing is exquisite. He’s just a genius.”

With Pharrell and Rodgers together at last, ‘Get Lucky’ was unstoppable. It hit the top ten in over 32 countries, and for a while it seemed impossible to go to a nightclub anywhere on earth without hearing it. I personally saw people getting down to it on dancefloors everywhere from Lilongwe in Malawi to Bogota, Colombia. It picked up Grammys for both Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, and at the ceremony in January this year Pharrell, Rodgers and Daft Punk were joined by Stevie Wonder to perform their hit. In sales terms it shifted 9.3 million copies, making it one of 2013’s biggest singles. But not the biggest. That would be Robin Thicke’s Pharrell-produced ‘Blurred Lines’, which sold 14.8 million copies. Solo hit ‘Happy’ sold another 10 million. By the end of 2013, Pharrell was only really competing against himself. The internet was supposed to have divided us all into specific camps, atomizing popular music and ending the era of this kind of ubiquitous super-hit. To understand how Pharrell bucked that trend, we have to go right back to the beginning.

PHARRELL Williams was born on 5th April 1973 in the east coast city of Virginia Beach, a seven hour drive south of New York City. The eldest of three sons born to Southern handyman Pharaoh Williams and his wife Carolyn, a teacher. “My mum thought her sons could do no wrong. She lived for us,” he told the Evening Standard in 2012. “There was plenty of discipline, but we knew we were loved. My dad is a nice guy, Southern, old-fashioned. He restores cars now. My mum has just gotten her doctorate in education.”

At age 12 Pharrell met his future production partner Chad Hugo at a summer band camp where he was playing keyboards and drums while Hugo played saxophone. The pair soon became just as interested in production as in playing their instruments. “I was a teenager and we were desperately making music, Chad and I,” he remembered later. “We loved taking Depeche Mode and A Tribe Called Quest tracks and recreating them, taking them apart and figuring out how those things worked. It was kind of cool because that’s what we’d do every day after school.”

Outside of music, Pharrell was always the kid with his head in the stars. From a young age he was bewitched by the astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s groundbraking documentary series ‘Cosmos’. “I can only aspire to be someone that people learn as much from as they’ve learned from Carl Sagan,” he would say later. “Carl Sagan is to me what Tribe Called Quest was to us for music.”

Eventually he had Chad formed an R&B band called The Neptunes with Shay Haley, who would stay with them after they became N.E.R.D, and schoolmate Mike Etheridge. It was after a high school talent show performance that the young band came to the attention of the producer Teddy Riley, who Pharrell says “pretty much changed my life.” “His studio was like a five minute from my high school,” he said later. “He sent a scout over and they saw us and the rest was history.”

Riley, a member of R&B group Blackstreet as well as a Grammy-winning producer for the likes of Michael Jackson and Usher, took Pharrell and Chad Hugo under his wing. However, it took a while for the young, excitable Pharrell to get a hang of the discipline of record production. He made a nuisance of himself until one of Riley’s engineers took him to one side for a quiet talking to. “Teddy had layers of people around him in his compound,” remembered Pharrell, speaking to the Canadian interviewer Nardwuar. “Some of the engineers were cool and some were not so nice. They meant business. They didn’t want kids running round the studio getting in the way, and quite honestly that’s probably what we did. My studio etiquette when I first came to the studio was so wrong. Teddy would play a chord and I’d shout: ‘Hey, why don’t you change it to this chord?’ The engineer would just look at me and give me the dirtiest look. I’ll never forget, a guy called Jean Marie gave me the best lesson in the world. He sat me down and said: ‘Look, Teddy’s the boss. When he’s working, you don’t say anything. You’re lucky to be in the room. You sit quiet and you listen to everything that he’s doing. You absorb everything that you can. When you have the opportunity to ask him a question, you ask him a question, but you don’t just jump out. You’ve got to have better studio etiquette than this. I believe in you, and I see what Teddy sees in you and Chad, but you have to calm down.’ Chad was quiet. Chad wouldn’t say anything, but I was like the young, hot-headed, fiery Aries. I’d be going: ‘Change that chord! Change the snare!’ They were like: ‘Pipe down!’”

Pharrell’s first ever writing credit came in 1992, when he was just 19. He wrote a verse for Riley to perform on Wreckx-N-Effect’s hit ‘Rump Shaker’. “I remember being a kid in high school and I was definitely unfocused,” he said later. “I had another year to go, and when that record came out it was an amazing feeling. I was from Virginia Beach, Virginia, where there wasn’t really a music industry at all.” Later that same year he made his debut vocal appearance on a record, chanting “S-W-V” towards the end of a remix of girl group SWV’s track ‘Right Here’.

Success didn’t come overnight, but Pharrell kept his head down and worked under the tutelage of Riley, bouncing ideas off his partner Hugo. The pair dusted off their old band’s name, The Neptunes, and started using it for their own production work. When Riley’s group Blackstreet released their debut self-titled record in 1994, The Neptunes were credited as co-producers on album track ‘Tonight’s The Night’. Over the next couple of years, the duo produced a handful of other singles as they searched for a sound they could call their own. They found it in 1998, working on a track called ‘Superthug’ for the rapper Noreaga. The single hit number 36 on the Billboard charts, but more importantly for Pharrell and Chad Hugo it introduced the world to ‘The Neptunes sound’. In 1999, a mutual friend introduced the pair to a 20-year-old aspiring singer named Kelis Rogers. They never looked back.

KELIS and Pharrell hit it off immediately. The Neptunes had been invited to produce a track for Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, and they came up with the possibly lunatic idea of pairing the fearsome rapper’s rasp with the debutant singer’s sultry hook. The result was magic. ‘Got Your Money’ sounded like nothing else before or since, and the single announced Kelis as a major new talent.

They followed that up with an album ‘Kaleidoscope’ which included ‘Caught Out There’, featuring Kelis’ unforgettable shouted “I hate you so much right now” refrain. It peaked at number four, giving The Neptunes their first hit here in the UK. Meanwhile, things were getting complicated outside the studio for Pharrell and Kelis, who had become involved. “We never dated,” she clarified in a 2012 interview with Complex magazine. “We have the same relationship now that we did then, with the exception of the sexual part. I used to care too much. I began to feel that all men cheat. [I felt] all cynical and gross.”

The impact Kelis had on Pharrell’s life extended to his wardrobe. In a recent Vogue interview, he credited his interest in fashion to meeting her at this point in his life. “I’d just signed this girl called Kelis, and back then all I wore was Ralph Lauren’s Polo, because that was the thing,” he said. “And Kelis turned to me and said, ‘You’ve got to get out of this box.’ She introduced me to Prada and Gucci. It was thanks to Kelis I discovered a life outside of monograms.”

Follow-up single ‘Good Stuff’ (featuring Pusha T back when he was still calling himself Terrar) further refined their sound. Bigger artists were beginning to seek them out, and by the following year Jay-Z helped The Neptunes score their first US number one single with ‘I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)’. It’s a mark of the respect they were now held in that Hova shouts them out on the track, promising to “Get you bling like the Neptune sound”, yet at the same time Pharrell was still so little known that despite singing the song’s chorus he was uncredited on the album sleeve and doesn’t even appear in the music video.

The time was coming for Pharrell to step out of the shadow of the production desk and into the limelight. 2001 saw the release of N.E.R.D’s debut album ‘In Search Of…’, named by the still space-obsessed Pharrell in honour of a supernatural TV show hosted by Leonard Nimoy. Originally released only in the UK, where Kelis’ Neptunes-produced records had fared better than in the States, the album was by Pharrell’s modern standards only a modest hit. Singles ‘Lapdance’ and ‘Rock Star’ edged into the Top 20, but they did serve to establish Pharrell as a frontman in his own right. Meanwhile their production work was producing bigger and bigger hits. The same month ‘In Search Of…’ hit the shelves, they had their first worldwide number one with Britney Spears’ ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’. Britney had hand-picked The Neptunes to work with after becoming obsessed with their work with Jay-Z.

Despite the phenomenal pace and quality of their output, Pharrell was still finding time to have fun. It was around this time that the lifelong non-smoker had his first serious experience with marijuana, which he had asking a friend to bake into brownies so he could try it without toking. He ate two, got the munchies and then ate four more. That’s when things got really trippy. “It was like straight-up, ‘Big Lebowski’ running from the bowling pins weird shit,” he remembered later. “I went to use the bathroom and passed out on the toilet.”

Maybe Pharrell should count himself lucky he didn’t take to heavy drug use. In 2002 the Neptunes were on a run of hit singles that remains pretty much unparalleled in modern times – well, at least until Pharrell did it again in 2013. In 2002 the duo were behind the desk for Nelly’s ‘Hot In Herre’, N’Sync’s ‘Girlfriend’, Beyoncé’s ‘Work It Out’, Busta Rhymes’ ‘Pass The Courvoisier, Part II’ and Britney’s ‘Boys’ to name but five. When Justin Timberlake wanted to go solo at the end of the year it was Pharrell he called. The Neptunes produced the bulk of his album ‘Justified’, including a trio of massive singles in ‘Señorita’, ‘Like I Love You’ and ‘Rock Your Body’. The following year, 2003, they were behind Snoop Dogg’s ‘Beautiful’, Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’ and Jay-Z’s ‘Change Clothes’. June also saw Pharrell release his first single as a solo artist with ‘Frontin’’, which featured Jay-Z and hit the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 2004, N.E.R.D. released their second album, ‘Fly or Die’. As if to emphasise the point that everything was going Pharrell’s way, lead single ‘She Wants To Move’ starred Mis-Teeq singer Alesha Dixon who he’d apparently spotted in a magazine photoshoot and ended up dating. In September, Pharrell and Snoop released ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ which remained his biggest hit until 2013 and went on to be named the most popular rap song of the decade by Billboard. He wasn’t just making pop music anymore. By this point, Pharrell was pop music.

STAYING humble is pretty hard after a run like the one Pharrell was on. With the 2005 launch of his clothing line, Billionaire Boys Club, Pharrell was becoming a brand. When news emerged that he would release a debut solo record ‘In My Mind’ at the end of the year, expectations couldn’t have been higher. Alarm bells started to ring when he announced the record would be delayed because it still needed more work, and then disappeared for a full six months. When it was finally released in July 2006, it was met not with a bang but a critical whimper.

Looking back, Pharrell believes the album’s relative failure was due to an uncharacteristic failure to be true to himself. “‘In My Mind’ was just purpose-oriented toward, like, competing and being like my peers—the Jays and the Puffs of the world, who make great music,” he told GQ earlier this year. “But their purposes and their intentions are just completely different than what I have discovered in myself that I wanted to achieve in [second album G I R L].”

“I felt like I had amassed this big body of work, most—not all—but most of which was just about self-aggrandizement, and I wasn’t proud of it,” he added. “So I couldn’t be proud of the money that I had; I couldn’t be proud of all the stuff that I had. I was thankful, but what did it mean? What did I do? And at this point, where I came from, I’m just throwing it in that kid’s face, instead of saying, “Look at all the fish I have, and look how much we’re going to eat.” It should’ve been—at least a part of it—teaching them how to fish.”

After his single with Kanye West, the unfortunately named ‘Number One’ entered the American Billboard charts at a lowly 57, Pharrell began to take his eyes off music for a while. He kept busy, of course. There was still Billionaire Boys Club to run alongside his other clothing line, Ice Cream, and he also designed sunglasses for Louis Vuitton and “bulletproof”-inspired jackets for Moncler. He also invested in an eco-friendly textile company, Bionic Yarn. He started his own YouTube channel called ‘i am OTHER’. In 2007 he dropped a cool $12.525 million on the 9,000 square foot penthouse apartment of Miami’s beachfront Bristol Tower. 40 floors up, the three-level apartment has its own pool – and Pharrell promptly decorated it like a Sixth Form common room, with huge Family Guy paintings and a Ms. Pac Man machine.

Perhaps the biggest change in Pharrell’s life occurred when girlfriend Helen Lasichanh – usually billed as a model/designer but in reality too secretive to be either – gave birth to their son Rocket in 2008. Fatherhood gave the once confirmed bachelor a new perspective on both life and the music he’d been making. “He’s changed my world,” he said, looking back. When one interviewer asked him how he’d changed, Pharrell replied with genuine humility: “My son teaches me. It’s crazy, he teaches me. This is one of those times in your life when you’re like, ‘Think about that one interview when someone asked you a serious question, and it just hit me…’ When you asked me about my son and my answer to you was, ‘He teaches me?’ Like, that was bizarre to me.”

N.E.R.D. released two more albums, 2008’s ‘Seeing Sounds’ and 2010’s ‘Nothing’ but they were met with little fanfare. Inspired by his young son, Pharrell produced the soundtrack to animated kids romp ‘Despicable Me’, which was at least received better reviews than either N.E.R.D album. After years as an innovator at music’s bleeding edge, Pharrell seemed destined to slide into family-friendly mediocrity.

In 2012, when Miley Cyrus began work on her fourth album, the one that she was hoping would reinvent her and cast off her squeaky-clean Disneyfied, Hannah Montana image for good, she wanted Pharrell to produce. Incredible as it seems now, her management team actually counseled her against it. He hadn’t had a hit in years. As far as they were concerned, he was all washed up.

MILEY got her way, as she usually does. She had seen how Pharrell’s production had helped Justin and Britney cast off their Disney pasts, but perhaps she also sensed that the time was right for a Pharrell renaissance. “Everything he did with, like, Justin and Britney made Pharrell a legend,” Miley would say. “But that wasn’t really his time.”

At the same time he was working with Miley on the album that would become ‘Bangerz’, Pharrell’s name was again beginning to appear in all the right places. 2012’s critical darling Frank Ocean fended off the overbearing approaches of Kanye West, but he was happy to work with the Neptunes man on ‘Channel Orange’ single ‘Sweet Life’. “To me he’s a singer/songwriter,” said Pharrell of the former Odd Future member. “But his album itself is incredible. He’s super talented. To me he’s like the Black James Taylor. He’s lyrical – he’s got a great perspective and super sick melodies. I haven’t seen anybody bob and weave through chords with such catchy melodies in a long time – that’s why I liked working with him.” Meanwhile the year’s breakthrough rap success story was Kendrick Lamar – and sure enough Pharrell was behind the desk for album track ‘good kid’.

It was late 2012 when Daft Punk invited Pharrell to Paris to hear the tracks that Nile Rodgers had already laid down for ‘Random Access Memories’. He’d been fans of, and friends with, “the robots” for 10 years by this point – ever since he first heard ‘One More Time’ while both acts were signed to Virgin Records. “It was just the emotion of that track,” he told me. “It’s great, emotional music.”

He described going into Daft Punk’s Parisian workshop as “magic”. Rather than discussing any of their previous work, he told me that they immediately started playing him Rodgers’ riffs to see what he’d come up with. “They just played me music and asked me to write to it,” he says. “It was an interesting back and forth. It was pretty cool.”

It’s tempting to think that Pharrell had himself in mind when he wrote the now famous opening line “Like the legend of the phoenix / All ends with beginnings”. After his meteoric rise and quiet fall back to earth, Pharrell’s star was very much back in the ascendancy again. Before July 2013, only 135 songs had sold more than a million copies in the entire history of the British charts. That month, Pharrell added two more when ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’ passed the milestone within weeks of each other.

He still wasn’t done. He had written a song called ‘Happy’ for CeeLo Green, but Green’s record label turned it down as the singer was due to release a Christmas album. Pharrell recorded it himself, released it on the soundtrack to ‘Despicable Me 2’, sold yet another million singles in the UK and scored himself an Oscar nomination to boot. “I’m still amazed with what people have done with ‘Happy’,” he said later. “At the end of the day I know that people like what I’m doing. But everything with that song has been done by the fans. When I hear it all the time on the radio and see it on TV it’s changed me because I realise all I can do is release a song and then what happens after that isn’t up to me.”

In a music industry we’re constantly being told is floundering, Forbes estimates that Pharrell earned $22 million between June 2013 and June 2014 and predicts that he’ll increase those earnings next year thanks to a meatier touring schedule. To commercial success add critical acclaim. In January 2014, Pharrell won four Grammys – more than he’d won in his entire career up to that point. This included the coveted Producer of the Year title – a full decade after he first won with The Neptunes. You wouldn’t have wanted to be the guy who had told Miley that Pharrell was a has-been that night.

GRAMMY wins are one thing, but all anyone was really talking about the next morning was Pharrell’s hat. The Vivienne Westwood buffalo hat he wore to the awards, last seen on Sex Pistols impresario Malcom McLaren circa 1982 became a meme overnight and showcased Pharrell’s idiosyncratic knack for using high fashion to make bold statements. His decision to wear it on the red carpet saw an immediate upsurge in interest that for a while knocked out Vivienne Westwood’s website completely. For a few months it became his signature style before, with impeccable timing, he realised the look had been done to death and auctioned the hat off to raise money for the children’s charity he set up with his mother. He denied his intention had ever been to stand out for the sake of it. “I don’t know that the aim should be to stand out,” he said. “I think the aim, well for me specifically, the aim would be to just express myself and be who I am and your clothing should be a byproduct of that.”

Pharrell must have realised that the cultural landscape of 2014 was vastly different to the one he first emerged onto a decade ago. While an awards ceremony hat being immediately transformed into a thousand Twitter memes was one thing, the furore that had grown around the allegedly sexually predatory ‘Blurred Lines’ and it’s accompanying video, starring three topless models Emily Ratajkowski, Jessi M’Bengue and Elle Evans, seemed briefly to threaten his nice guy reputation.

In an interview with Channel 4 News in May 2014, interviewer Krishnan Guru-Murthy seemed to get under his skin with his line of questioning about ‘Blurred Lines’. “Did I touch the women sexually in the video?” he responded rhetorically. “Let me ask you something, in a high fashion magazine when women have their boobs out is there something sexual there too? If you ask the director who created it – who was a woman – she was inspired by high fashion magazines where women do have their boobs out. I love women, I love them inside and out. That song was meant for women to hear and go, ‘You know, I’m a good woman and sometimes I do have bad thoughts.”

Pharrell, who at the end of last year finally married Helen Lasichanh, the mother of his son Rocket, in a ceremony in Miami, denied that his second solo album ‘G I R L’ was in any way a response to charges of chauvinism. “‘G I R L’ is the album that I’ve always dreamt of making and I was set free and reminded by the executives of Columbia when they gave me the opportunity to do the record,” he said. “They kind of just said ‘Go and make the record that you want to make and we’ll support you’. Certain people were offended by ‘Blurred Lines’, well really the video and some of the lyrics. I mean, it says ‘You don’t need no papers,’ meaning there’s no paperwork on your life and that man is not your maker. Anyway, we all come from women and that seemed like the perfect segue and the perfect way to tee up the importance of making ‘G I R L’. So, no, I had my own reasoning. I’ve always wanted to make this record, you know. I didn’t know it would be called ‘G I R L’ but I always wanted to make a record that wasn’t about me, to be honest and that’s why I’m so elated that I was able to pull it off. ‘G I R L’ is something that I needed to say for a long time.”

With ‘G I R L’ proving more successful than his first solo album or his recent N.E.R.D. records – it’s even spawned a Comme des Garçons fragrance he’s “super proud” of – Pharrell now finds himself on his biggest ever solo tour. He recently collaborated with one of his longtime heroes Spike Lee on a live web broadcast of one performance, while this September he’ll bring the tour to the UK for a date in Manchester before finishing off with two shows at London’s O2 Arena in October. For a man who started off seeing himself as a producer rather than a performer, “the man beside the man” as he often puts it, a major tour without even his N.E.R.D. bandmates is a new challenge. “I think it’s a different part of the process,” he said recently. “I think for me most of the magic is the alchemy of it all. You know, being in a studio at the moment when it’s almost done and you feel it, you see what it’s like at the end of the rainbow or whatever.  When you go out to perform it you’re re-living that sort of magical moment that you felt in the studio and you’re kind of forgetting where you are. So although I’m in front of the fans and I get to hug the girls and tell them thank you so much for being so supportive, I’m also partially still back in the studio when it was all happening, in my head.”

LISTENING back to the string of hits from the last two decades that bear Pharrell’s fingerprints – from ODB and Kelis, Jay-Z and Snoop, Justin and Britney through to Daft Punk and Robin Thicke – it becomes difficult to imagine how contemporary pop would sound without him. It certainly becomes easier to see why he believes music can heal the sick. The one thing that runs through all of Pharrell’s music like a red cord is an exuberant, seductive belief that music can make us better, fitter and, in the end, well, happy. We don’t have to look to the future to experience music as medicine – we’re already dosed to the eyeballs on it.

“We know that music on a broader level can help people who would otherwise feel isolated or vulnerable and make them feel better,” says Pharrell, summing up his philosophy. “This is a thing I believe. I’m always walking around saying the same thing over and over again.”

Cover story for Loaded, September 2014.

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