Pharrell’s ‘GIRL’ is equal parts charming and creepy

Pharrell Williams has enjoyed a lengthy and lucrative career as a singer-songwriter and producer, also producing pop and hip hop hits like Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” and Justin Timberlake’s Grammy winning “Cry Me a River.” Even though he was featured on Snoop Dogg’s mega-hit “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and has been a heavily influential force in the industry for almost two decades, Pharrell was hardly a household name — until last summer.

After several collaborations between Pharrell Williams and Daft Punk, the preordained song of the summer “Get Lucky” catapulted Williams into the public consciousness. Almost immediately after, public awareness of Pharrell Williams skyrocketed again with Robin Thicke’s catchy and extremely unsettling “Blurred Lines” as well as the infectious toe-tapper “Happy,” which Williams performed at the Academy Awards just one day before the release of his new album, “GIRL.”

While Williams has remained busy, this is only his second studio album; his last, “In My Mind,” was released in 2005. In comparison to his producing work as part of The Neptunes over the last decade, and his string of 2013 hits, “GIRL” falls squarely into the latter camp. His icy, altogether weird approach to a decade of pop hits has been pushed aside in favor of the warm summer vibes that define the collaborations that have skyrocketed the resurgence of his career.

 

 

With the exception of the aforementioned “Happy,” featured as the center track on the album, every track of “GIRL” is about, well … girls. Each track effortlessly flows into the others; the only imaginary tension between them is which track gets to be the next single. Each ditty runs the gamut of themes while maintaining a consistent through-line of tone, from the shamelessly playful R. Kelly-esque sex anthems to the celebration of powerful, influential women in the opening track “Marilyn Monroe.”

This does create a bit of a problem, though. The album touts itself as a celebration of all things feminine, positioned squarely from the straight male gaze. Working with artists like Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus, who have mastered toeing the fine line between female empowerment and eroticism, was obviously a good starting point.

That being said, the specter of the grotesque “Blurred Lines” lingers over the material, only to be jolted back into consciousness by the similarly appalling fourth track on the album, “Gush.” Never mind that the title of the song, which Pharrell seductively whispers ad infinitum in the track, is gross. The song as a whole reeks of misogyny, undoing almost all the good will built up by what is an otherwise positive album.

Grievances aside, Pharrell Williams’ “GIRL” is the first big music smash of 2014, and is likely to be a radio mainstay over the coming year. Frankly, the Pharrell invasion was well earned.

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel