Back in the car, he plays G I R L for me. At this moment, nobody knows the record even exists. He’s grinning, skipping through songs on his iPhone. Listening to it is like mainlining a good mood. It’s like a Zen garden of smiles. It has preposterous lyrics about courtship—Taxidermy is on my walls…I’m a hunter!—and guest spots from Daft Punk and Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus. It’s like nothing Pharrell has ever done before, because Pharrell has never before bothered to make an entire album of disco-inflected, ’70s-soul-addled sex songs aimed at the entire global female population, which is his stated aim this time around. It is in fact so likable and persuasive that it has the disorienting effect of making a lot of Pharrell’s back catalog as a producer and artist—a catalog that has given me and probably you an unquantifiable amount of joy—sound, well, a little mean. Or if not mean…cold? Lacking in warmth?
Which is basically what I say, a bit hesitantly, after the SUV deposits us at lunch in Hollywood. Pharrell, you learn pretty quickly, is not much for looking back—he’s an arrow that only points forward. Plus, there is no shortage of evidence of him looking delighted, performing that back catalog, much of it on yachts. So it’s startling when he begins nodding.
G I R L isn’t his first solo record, he reminds me. That came in 2006. The year he made singles for Gwen Stefani, Ludacris, and Beyoncé, among others. He put out his own long-awaited, flamboyantly braggadocious rap record, In My Mind, and—“Crickets,” he says. He got outsold by Destiny’s Child exile LeToya Luckett and a fucking compilation, Now That’s What I Call Music! 22. It was baffling—a guy who could make a hit for an Ikea shelving unit couldn’t make a hit for himself.
Except Pharrell is no longer baffled by it at all. “I wrote those songs out of ego,” he says. “Talking about the money I was making and the by-products of living that lifestyle. What was good about that? What’d you get out of it? There was no purpose. I was so under the wrong impression at that time.”
GQ caught up with Pharrell Williams for an editorial profile days before the Grammys – surely becoming one of the first news outlets to not only know that his new album G I R L existed – but that he had inventive plans for the roll out as well. Touching on his Virginia Beach upbringing to his first solo project that didn’t meet expectations, it’s certainly a timely read given the streaming nature of his new works. While a choice excerpt appears below, head here to read the entire piece.