Pharrell Williams is like a Zen guru for thirteen year olds. He looks into the audience with a deep, brooding passion whilst the weird bunch of keys on his jeans clatters around him. He makes the heart shape with his hands repeatedly and likes to offer little nuggets of wisdom and philosophy to his audience members. The relentless expressions of gratitude are as predictable as you’d expect, but over the course of the concert, the verbal and spiritual connection with his audience changes from affected to genuine.
‘Come Get it Bae’ is the first track to play in the sold-out Forum. His bow at the end is solemn and serious, although the expression does seem somewhat at odds with his reputation as a man famed for his happiness. This is followed by ‘Frontin”, one of Williams’ multiple Jay-Z collaborations. After a few more tracks from the artist’s latest solo album G I R L, released earlier this year, Williams stops and addresses the audience with his first inspirational quote of the night. “I’m so happy to be in a room full of people who love the world, and their lives, and being different, other. We’re gonna go something different tonight. We’re gonna play some songs that I had something to do with, because you made them hits and I was lucky enough to tag along.” This translates into a medley of the best pop tracks of the 00s, songs produced by The Neptunes, of which Williams forms one half. ‘Hot in Herre’, ‘Milkshake’, ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ and ‘Shake Ya Ass’ all feature. Williams’ live contribution to this medley is minimal, and it’s a pattern that gets repeated at intervals. ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and, in the encore, ‘Hollaback Girl’ are played to the common delight of audience members. This is not a solo concert as such, but a playlist of top 40 hits for which Pharrell doesn’t really need to be present at this post production stage. But as someone who is usually at best bored and at worst irritated by the artist’s solo work, I’m glad the chart hits are there.
“What we have to recognise tonight is that in this life, for everything that happens, there are many variables.” Whoopie! More nuggets of Pharrell wisdom! “Many years ago I was involved in something called N*E*R*D.” At this point my ears pricked up. A few minutes later and Williams is performing ‘Lapdance’ with fellow N*E*R*D member Shae Haley. “N*E*R*D for eva!” says Pharrell, with yet another hand heart sign pinned to his chest.
But as cringe worthy as all that stuff is, it seems to come genuinely from the heart. For his encore, Pharrell plays ‘Blurred Lines’ and ‘Get Lucky’ before turning to ‘Lose Yourself To Dance’ and ‘Happy’. These are songs that, over the past year, even if you were a larvae that lived under a rock in the depths of the Amazon, you’d have had difficulty avoiding. These songs are the latest chapter in a career that has lasted over twenty years and made Pharrell one of the most important men in pop and R&B. And for the very first time since its release, I actually enjoy ‘Happy’. “Who here is sick of feeling afraid of what comes to them on their phone and tablet and TV in the news?” he asks. “You’re not going to be afraid anymore… because the best way to kill fear is what?” The audience responds with deafening volume: “BE HAPPY”. Whilst the artist performs an extended version of the track, he invites a little boy from the audience onto the stage. When Pharrell reaches the chorus, the boy starts performing the worm dance move. Canons fire confetti. You’d have to be an icy person not to find this a surprisingly beautiful and moving experience. This artist doesn’t just spurt out a load of bullshit for the sake of it; he seems to believe every word, and really is a joyful, believe-in-yourself kind of guy. Maybe I was emotionally manipulated by the confetti, but whatever. I’m converted. I like Pharrell now, and I came home happy.