Long before Pharrell's hat become the only thing people seemed to care about, his music was center stage — and the focus is right back there as the R&B renaissance man preps the release of his first solo album in eight years.
G I R L, which drops March 3, follows up 2006's In My Mind and sees Pharrell collaborating with Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, JoJo and even Hans Zimmer, the Oscar-winning composer. Zimmer was reportedly charged with the record's string arrangements — which, judging from the album trailer, are plentiful.
The only single that's been released from the album so far has been the Oscar-nominated, bright-as-sunshine track "Happy," which originally appeared on the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. However, a cadre of music journalists for the European media had the opportunity to get a first listen to the album on Feb. 20 and the accolades have already begun rolling in. (It's hardly surprising considering Pharrell's musical track record — both on his own songs and on collaborations with other artists.)
What is unexpected, however, is a word these early reviewers are already batting around to describe the new record: feminist. After all, this is the same Pharrell who not only sang on Robin Thicke's smash hit "Blurred Lines," but also produced and co-wrote the track. Listeners dubbed the song and its accompanying music video as misogynistic for its lyrics (sample: "You the hottest bitch in this place" and "I know you want it"), not to mention its presentation of topless models dancing in front of the fully dressed singers. It was even labeled the "most controversial song of the decade."
But according to early reviews, G I R L is Pharrell's attempt to set the record straight on what his views on the opposite sex actually are. NME reports that while discussing the new album's theme, Pharrell admitted that he needed to clarify himself in the wake of the "Blurred Lines" controversy, because with the song's "questionable lyrics, and the nature of the aesthetic of the video, it's easy to get confused about that."
"There's an imbalance in society, in my opinion," he told the journalists, "and it's going to change. A world where 75 percent of it is run by women — that's a different world. That's gonna happen, and I want to be on the right side of it when it does." The Line of Best Fit also notes that during his introduction to the album, Pharrell "certainly comes across as having more of a grasp than some give him credit on ideas of consent and what he calls a 'spectrum of appreciation' when it comes to celebrating humanity."
With tracks like "Marilyn Monroe," which reportedly touches on society's beauty standards, and "Hunter," which Pharrell says is told from a woman's perspective, many of the early listeners seem to think the album actually delivers on the singer's promise. The Guardian even calls G I R L "an audacious, almost-concept album celebrating women and aiming to highlight society’s gender imbalance."
Will the new album atone for the offense caused by "Blurred Lines"? Maybe not entirely. But honestly, it's heartening to know that he's making the effort at all.