Pharrell carves his own niche in the mainstream pop landscape

By Elena Lopez

Pharrell Williams performs during the 86th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Pharrell Williams performs during the 86th annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Los Angeles. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

For this past year, R&B singer Pharrell was completely inescapable. He popped up on two of the year’s biggest hits with Daft Punk and Robin Thicke. His second solo album, “G I R L,” was released on March 3, and proves that he has found a comfortable niche in mainstream music. A producer for many years as a member of the duo The Neptunes, he has also worked on songs for the likes of Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, Miley Cyrus, Mac Miller, Waka Flocka Flame, Shakira and many others. On “G I R L,” Pharrell returns with his own set of pop hits.

Pharrell’s clear influences throughout the album are the vocal styling’s of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. With his soft falsetto, Pharrell displays an endlessly charming tone on tracks like “Marilyn Monroe” and “Hunter.” On both tracks, his voice and a collection of funky beats transport the listener back to the 1970s. Up-tempo and catchy, the layered beats complement his mature lyrics, showing his growth since his early days.

Flowing almost directly from “Hunter” is “Gush.” More smooth lyrics about women and their beauty put Pharrell’s romantic charm on prime display.

His duets, with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys, are impeccable. On “Brand New” with Timberlake, the pair draws inspiration from older sounds like the Jackson 5, with light guitar riffs that mesh easily with the duo’s soft vocal style. On Pharrell’s track with Alicia Keys, “Know Who You Are,” the lyrics focus on the empowerment of women, including a beautifully sung pledge by Keys to love herself, just as everyone should. There is more of a reggae vibe on this track, highlighted by its muted hand drums, similar to that of the percussion on “Lost Queen.”

“G I R L” does not feature hard-hitting beats. Instead, very light and airy tracks that put a smile on the listeners face are what dominate the album. “Come and Get it Bae,” which features Miley Cyrus, falls into this spectrum with its clapping and electronic beats. Lyrically witty, Pharrell plays with the layered R&B beats and makes the song sound like a sunny day. In this same vein is the hit single from the album, “Happy,” from the equally successful animated film “Despicable Me 2.” A truly uplifting track, it is impossible not to clap and dance to the song’s simple drums and upbeat tempo. Easy to listen to and extremely popular, it demonstrates Pharrell’s hit making ability.

Pharrell’s genius appears yet again on a unique track, “Gust of Wind,” later on in the album. Combining string-driven undertones with guitar highlights that bring to mind his appearances on Daft Punk tracks, Pharrell swoons the listener with lines like “you remind me of the air.” He maintains his theme of the pure, light, honeymoon stage of love that any listener can appreciate. “It Girl” is a fantastic closing track that maintains the album’s omnipresent ‘60s and ‘70s era style while demonstrating his excellent range.

Pharrell’s old school sound rings true throughout “G I R L,” making it an easy album to love. For an artist who previously struggled to receive deserved credit for his solo work, Pharrell has found his own place right in the middle of mainstream pop.

Elena Lopez can be reached at [email protected]