Pharrell Williams has had one hell of a career.
Fresh off a flight from Europe, P made his way to Town Hall in NYC to have a live-streamed conversation with New York University professor and NPR host Jason King in a room full of NYU students. He was recently named NYU Tisch School of the Arts 2015 Artist-In-Residence, a role that celebrates and honors outstanding individuals in their field.
The point of this conversation was to kick off the celebration of the art school’s 50th anniversary and the plan was to go in-depth with Pharrell’s work. While it’s easy to recognize his career highs and lows (because most of us have lived through them), the live conversation gave his admirers a look at a rarely seen side of Skateboard P. Most of the stories he shared, fans have heard in other interviews. But it was his reactions to the statements that stood out. It also has to do with him in 2015 looking back at his earliest beginnings. A lot happens in 20-something years.
Here are some of the conversation's highlights:
Pharrell suffers from an extreme case of “voicemail syndrome.”
According to Pharrell, “voicemail syndrome” is when you hate listening to yourself on voicemail. The words “voicemail syndrome” were said so matter-of-factly that I could’ve sworn it was an actual syndrome with millions of think pieces written on the subject. It wasn’t. In this case, Pharrell isn’t talking about voicemails, but the shyness he gets from hearing his own musical works in public. During the interview, King tried to play The Neptunes-produced “Superthug” when Pharrell stopped him. “Listening to my own music, it makes me shy.” The crowd gave a collective “awwwww,” but it wasn’t enough for Pharrell to get away without listening to his music on stage, even if he did cover his face the entire time.
Brazil inspired Kelis' “Milkshake.”
Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely places. But being inspired by a country like Brazil sounds completely plausible, especially if it’s to write and produce a single like Kelis’ 2003 single, “Milkshake.” The story goes, Pharrell was in Brazil surrounded by beautiful women and a type of music that he compared to as “booty shakin’ music in Portuguese.” It inspired him to create a certain feeling. The I’m going to dance all night without judgement feeling. Using Middle Eastern sounds, he made a beat that was different enough from what he heard, but familiar enough that Brazilians would still embrace it. Success.
He’s the “Mr. Magoo of Music.”
Mr. Magoo, a cartoon character from the '60s, is an old man that trouble always found because he couldn’t see. Magoo never got hurt and always came out in one piece. Pharrell kept bringing up the “Mr. Magoo Theory,” calling himself the “Mr. Magoo of Music.” Every time he goes out to look for something, it doesn’t work out. When it comes to him, it does. It isn’t always trouble that comes looking for Pharrell, but he’s made the opportunities that come his way work.
“Frontin’” was meant for Prince.
He sent the song over to Prince hoping to get him on the track, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on if you like the outcome) never heard back from the singer, because #Prince. Something was missing with the single, and when Hov got on the track, it all became clear. “It was missing Jay Z.” And all was right in the world. This also turned into a chance for Pharrell to flex his falsettos.
He considers himself a producer, before he considers himself an artist.
It wasn’t until Daft Punk asked him to sing on their Random Access Memories singles in 2012 that Pharrell started to consider himself an artist. This entire time, he’s considered himself lucky enough to be the producer that had the opportunity to sing on his songs. “I’m still considering myself as this producer guy who is getting opportunities,” he revealed.
Skateboard P is on the Hillary train.
At one point in the interview, Pharrell caught himself sounding like a robot aka “like Donald Trump.” P knows that anything he says will be on social media at the blink of an eye, so he quickly clarified that he’s not Trump, but Hillary. “It’s time for a woman,” he said. Earlier this month, Pharrell and Ellen DeGeneres were discussing the upcoming Presidential election on her show when Pharrell said, “It’s time for a woman to be in there.” As a man, his reason for wanting a woman in office makes 100% sense. He went on to say, “Women think about things in a holistic way; it’s not so individual. The thing is, if we had somebody looking after our country that thought about things as a whole, I just feel like it just would be different.”
The secret to success? Have fun and be different.
A student went up to the mic to ask P for advice on making pop music with a commercial mindset. “I would not advise trying to sound like you’re in the Hot 100… Have fun in your difference. Pumice your difference as much as you can to make it shine,” Pharrell said. In other words, have fun with it and be unique. When he was talking about his musical beginnings with Chad Hugo, he made sure to emphasize that they didn’t know what they were doing. “Just have fun. That’s where it usually ends up being cool.”
(Photo: Rob Kim/Getty Images)