Oprah’s interview with Pharrell Williams was EVERYTHING! Pure Gold!
Last night, it was Skateboard P’s turn to sit in the hot seat, as he discussed his new album, personal life, and career highlights on Oprah’s Prime, and it was a real eye-opening interview to anyone who ever had questions about the singer, songwriter and producer who spent his childhood in the projects, raised by a mom who was a teacher and dad who was a handyman.
During the sit-down, Pharrell revealed that he was disappointed in his first album because it was “braggadocio” and he felt as though he should be injecting more purpose in his music. The producer, who married his longtime girlfriend last year, also described his wife Helen as his best friend and reveals it took two years to get her because she initially rejected him. There is some serious love in the way he talks about that woman!
Pharrell and Oprah also covered the colorism controversy surrounding Pharrell’s new album cover, as well as women’s rights, and at one point, he grew very emotional during the interview.
Catch some of the highlights below:
On fame and how he was able to become successful
It’s overwhelming in the sense that like, I know that there’s an equation for it. I know it’s not me. I know it’s not my doing, so that’s overwhelming. That’s when it hit me like, okay, if the people don’t vote for the songs or request the songs or share or sing them or have any kind of reaction to them, then they’re just songs. So when that happens for you, you recognize all the different parts of the universe that conspire to get you there. That’s what’s overwhelming but humbling, though, at the same time, because I realize I could be the guy with the demo. For some reason the people hoisted me so high I know what the top of clouds look like.
I think it was my environment. It was my natural propensities. And thirdly and most importantly, the people that I attribute most of my success to are those people who recognize those propensities in me.
On his life being the sum of his experiences
I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t know my wife. I would not be here, Oprah. Life is a lesson and someone just said to me the other day, it’s a series of adjustments. You have to start to recognize the signs. One of my really important colleagues on my team, one of my managers, she suggested I read the book ‘The Alchemist’ and it changed my whole life because I realized all of the people who had conspired to get me to this place. Man, that book is…it will change your life.[…]You have to be unafraid to dream, and you have to be even more brave and gallant about blueprinting what you’ve envisioned. You’ve gotta be brave about that.
My dad’s mom was like, I see you up there, like really, really up there. This was before I was in the music industry, but my grandmother said to me, ‘I see you up there so high and the people they’re gonna look and they’re not gonna know how you got there, but you gon’ be up there. You’re up there in the clouds.’ I caught myself thinking the other day saying, you know, man I know.
On how “Happy” came about
With ‘Happy,’ they wanted to show that the meanest man in the world, someone who is as equally mad as the Grinch, could be the happiest person in the world when it came to love. […] The chords came first because I wrote what feels happy to me and that took me to church. Church is…they want to lift you up. Then the words was just kinda like, ‘Clap along if you feel…’ and I was like, uh oh. I didn’t know it was gonna be anything by the way.
On “Happy” taking awhile to catch on
When the movie came out which did like, a billion dollars, July 4, the song we couldn’t get it on radio because it didn’t sound like doosh, doosh, doosh, glowstick, glowstick, glowstick, trap, trap, trap, trap. It didn’t have any of that in it. So it wasn’t like it was instant to people but me and my wife, when I first made it, we were just driving around looking at each other going, ‘This feels good.’
Zero airplay, nothing. The next thing you know, we put out the video on November 21, all of a sudden, boom. I mean, when I say boom, I mean boom. People are putting up their own videos. It was no longer my song.
[Oprah plays a montage of people’s personal “Happy” videos and Pharrell starts crying]
Why am I crying on Oprah? It’s overwhelming because I love what I do and people can believe in me for so long and I can make it to this point to feel…that. Sorry.
On if he always wanted to be in the spotlight
Maybe a decade before that, but that kept getting rained on. You know those planes like, they put out forest fires. It just kept putting my fire out. So I had accepted that I was going to be a writer and producer and I was happy being the guy standing next to the guy. And you know what? When I was given the opportunity to make a solo album the first time, there was more braggadocio in it than there was purpose in it, and I beat myself up about that. Here you are being given a platform and all you want to do is brag? I wasn’t ready. Jay and Puff were like my peers and I wanted to be like them. I misinterpreted what Jay was doing. I wanted the private jets, the this, the that and talk about that. I injected some purpose. What I didn’t realize was Puff was living his life. He was serving his purpose. And Jay was definitely on his way to the things happening as he says them, he was serving his purpose. But the only thing I was paying attention to was the pixie dust in the magic trick, and not the purpose. It was the aesthetic and not the vertebrae of what he was doing.
[I’m sure] you’ve had people look at you and go, ‘Why you? If I had this, I would be…’ No, you don’t understand what it takes to do this! I do this every day. When the video goes off for you, I’m still somewhere working.
On the success of “Blurred Lines” and what he learned from it
Once again, I give it to the universe because I know I didn’t buy those records. It was the people, man. The people lifted me up. It’s humbling because you know it’s not your doing.
‘Blurred Lines’ taught me something…I didn’t feel [that one coming]. That song taught me a lot. What I learned was not exactly what you would expect. It wasn’t what some of the critics and feminists were saying about it, because I can explain that. Quite the opposite. Most of them got the message that most women are good girls but even good girls have bad thoughts, so there’s a blurred line. All I was saying was, that man is not your maker, meaning he is not the Creator and he is not apart of the evolution. The physical part of where it comes from He cannot give birth. He cannot make an egg. I was saying that man is not your maker, you don’t need no papers. You are not a possession. But what I learned out that song was that I had a much bigger demographic so I instantly knew that I wanted to make the album that always wanted to make which was devotion to a demographic that had been taking care of me and my family for over twenty years, and that was women.
Women’s Rights and Race
On women’s rights and why he dedicated his new album G I R L to women
You realize how sad it is that there is a perception that has catered to every day called a male-dominated world. A man can’t make an egg. A man can’t give birth. If women wanted to, if they wanted to shut this country down, all they had to do was not go to work and not come home. The economy, done. Left up to men, we fight we war over nations. I’m not attacking men, I’m a man. But all I’m saying is, if women got tired of the way that we are handling ourselves as a species, all y’all gotta do is hold hands and not make any more babies, and we’re done. That’s my thing. Equality. We need it.
On his G I R L cover
Instantly, because I’m an Aries, I got heated. Unfortunately the girl closest to me. The one who’s closest to my face, is a girl that I used to date and she is African-American. [I didn’t think of her being light-skinned.] I’m a weirdo man. If you look at the first N.E.R.D. album, Shay’s on the cover playing Playstation. I wasn’t even on it. I just do things left of center, so those that know me would understand that. I just thought to myself, is this the time that we’re going to be divisive. Because at the time with this album cover, ‘Happy’ was like, rising. I was becoming the first African-American in a full year to hit number one. Is this the time that we’re going to pick to be divisive?
So then, I went on to explain that she is African-American and I used to date her and it must suck to be a black girl of that color because you’re being questioned if you’re black enough. Her dad is black, her mom is white. Here’s my thing. Why are we having this conversation. There was a girl named Lauren Rogers that Instagrammed a picture of her in her robe [to mimick the G I R L cover] — like put your robe on, the new definition of sexy is putting your robe on — so she puts it on there and the meanest comments come on there. I was like, see, this is what I didn’t want to happen because you make an issue about first I didn’t have no black girls on there. Then, it instantly turned into they’re not dark enough. So when a brown-skinned girl were to go and try and put on her robe, she gets attacked. So, right now, I’d like to take this time to do something wonderful for Lauren. All the positive people go out and follow her at TheLaurenRogers. Love you. Kisses boo.
On “the new black”
The new black doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The new black dreams and realizes that it’s not a pigmentation, it’s a mentality. It’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you and you’ve got to pick which side you’re gonna be on. You choose to be on. The name of my album is not called race, it’s called G I R L. It’s for the female species. That’s number one. Number two, my mama is black. My mom is a huge part of my business. My wife is black. There are certain people who allow the delusion in the mirror, in their own mirrors, to become issues. You should not find confidence outside of your mirror. Why are you sharing your delusion? Whatever that space is between you and your mirror, what does that have to do with me? This is my work. I recognize that there are issues. We get judged on our skin. I just stated that there hadn’t been an African-American like…so we look at things like that. I don’t allow that to run my life. I don’t live my life trying to be black. What I do is, I nurture my curiosity and use it. I’m proud to be what I am. So my thing is, the new black is a mentality. You don’t do things because you’re black. You do things because you’re genuinely interested in something. Is there a lot of black in equality? Absolutely! But I’m the main one waving the flag. What do you mean? Don’t find your confidence in a cover. Find your confidence in the mirror.
On his wife Helen
[She’s my] best friend. Period.[…]She just reminded me so much of myself. Different. Marches to the beat of her own drum, but it was different from the girls who were completely made up and she just stood out. I was like, who and what is that? I just knew. [You wanted to make a baby with her.] Well, not then. *laughs* I knew at some point something was going to happen. I was just so enamored by her. I just wanted to read that book. I didn’t care what was in it. We love music. We’re both huge Tribe Called Quest fans so that just cemented that. Every girl that I had a serious relationship with had to love Tribe, and if they didn’t, it just didn’t work.
[Helen] didn’t answer half of my text messages. I was like, oh yeah? Because I had that kind of money and I had that kind of reach, I thought I was entitled. I had to learn, no, she has a boyfriend and she’s not interested. [So you started off as friends first.] For sure. For like, two and a half years. And I hurt her a lot in the beginning when she was free and available. I had given her all this attention but I still wasn’t ready to let go. I looked at my life and I was like man, I can keep doing this for another ten years, but is that what I want to do? And so, I made a decision. And then we made a decision. We started dating and [now we’re married.]
On deal breakers in relationships
Trust is always a huge thing for me. And honesty. Although those things were huge things for me, I didn’t know how to do that in the very beginning so I broke a lot of hearts. There’s not college course on how to be in the music industry. [Did you lose your mind a little bit?] Yeah. One hundred percent. It was like, you mean anything? Any of these women? But this is what I was saying to myself. Her too? I was different. I was more like, don’t laugh…the secretaries. That was my thing. The secretaries and the older women. They taught me everything. That’s where I spent most of my time. So yeah I did have younger girlfriends sometimes, but when I cheated it was with the older women.
On how they came up with the name Rocket
Because in the same way that the Indians name their children behind a force or an animal or an element, we named him after a man-made machine that was meant to go up. Meant to ascend. Metaphorically, it was because of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Rocket Love,’ Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man,’ and Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rocket.’ All of my favorites. His middle name is Air after Roy Ayers.
Peep the interview: