While sex has long been a common theme in pop culture, Pharrell Williams wants to bring a little more to the table.
“G I R L,” a 10-track –plus one hidden – album, including the Billboard No. 1 single and Oscar-nominated number “Happy,” featured in “Despicable Me 2,” is Pharrell’s sophomore solo release after his debut “In My Mind” in 2006. The album, which features well-known pop singers Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys, is a decent synergetic machine that only stands firmly with all of its parts installed.
Unlike Pharrell’s last album, which he claimed was written out of his ego, “G I R L” seems to be a celebration of women – eminent and stately girls, as the title suggests – purely because of their existence. It uses prompt and flexible rhythms, cinematic music arrangement, repetitive lyrics and falsetto. The whole album is like a mystery novel in which Pharrell plays the detective, searching for clues to describe the girls he encounters.
“Marilyn Monroe,” the first track of the album, begins with a 30-piece orchestra playing a string melody in a classical romantic style, but sharply gains a modern beat. The song sets the stage for the kind of women Pharrell will be singing about in the coming hour.
“Different,” the first word of the album, is the adjective Pharrell uses to describe the girls he envisages – “Not even Marilyn Monroe/ Who Cleopatra pleas/ Not even Joan of Arc” are comparable to these girls. Pharrell’s tone is determined, almost as if he is declaring that this album, not only the girls, is different compared to what he has done.
While sex is still a relevant factor in the modern pop equation, Pharrell’s position in this predator-and-prey formula may have twisted 180 degrees relative to his past productions.
“Hunter,” the third track on the album, is a foot-tapping song with groovy lyrics and rhythms sung in a playful feminine voice – mimicking the voice of the song’s female hunter. It brings to mind the lyrics in 2013′s “Blurred Lines,” Pharrell’s controversial smash hit with Robin Thicke and T.I. The lines “But you’re an animal/ Baby, it’s in your nature/ Just let me liberate you” echo the lyrics in “Hunter” when Pharrell sings, “This an animal singin’ that’ll hunt you down.”
The latter songs in the album are more spontaneous and less flippant. “Lost Queen” is organic in its lyrical and musical style, featuring an unconventional pop rhythm. Pharrell’s admiration for this “lost queen” from another planet is relatively sincere, though still a bit playful.
“Let me serve you, serve you,” Pharrell sings, “Hot sex and gold, shiny things.”
Following an interlude of whipping waves is the embedded track “Freq,” which can easily be confused as an extension of “Lost Queen” because of their similarity in style.
“Know Who You Are,” a duet with Alicia Keys, is a musical dialogue between the singers and the listeners. The song’s simple and honest lyrics capture the essence of a bad day of work in an office full of gossip.
Keys’ soulful voice soothingly sings, “I know who you are, and I know what you’re feeling … I see, the power is in me … Will do, what I need/ ‘Til every woman on the Earth is free.”
By and large, “G I R L” is cohesive with respect to lyrics and theme. The songs in this album are catchy and diverse in style. Certainly, there are a few tracks that stand out from the rest of the songs, but only as a whole does the album create the synergy needed to deliver a message – if there is one. However, Pharrell’s frequent and mantric use of “girl” as a theme or as lyrics and falsetto is absolutely excessive and mundane, if not irritating.
While using gender as a theme for an album is not uncommon, one can easily see Pharrell Williams’ love for women after listening to “G I R L” – and even more so his lust for them. If this album’s purpose is to celebrate women and truly “elevate each other,” as in the lyrics of “Marilyn Monroe,” “G I R L” might just have defeated its own purpose.