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Creative genius Pharell is still a big kid at heart

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 Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams

Happy: Pharrell and his very tall wife Helen

Happy: Pharrell and his very tall wife Helen

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Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams gazes at me with an uncomfortable, steely ire before glancing at two publicists perched behind him. He seems to be seeking supportive reassurance of what, judging by this reaction, must be the most heinous of enquiries.

I'm briefly dazzled by the glint from a monstrous seventeen carat yellow diamond wrapped round his right ring finger.

"Drink water," comes the laborious response, soaked in indifference at such galling triviality.

"I don't know, I don't know what else to say," he glibly proffers, squinting those beautiful eyes before shrugging and quietly trailing off.

A silent knell of toxic awkwardness devours the room. The other bodies titter nervously.

Happy persistently replays in my mind. The irony.

"Anything else", I ask with a stuttered chuckle. "That's it?"

"Drink water," Williams repeats, deadpanned. "Exfoliate. I don't know..."

The stare makes one final hit before moving onto a diminutive Dutch journalist sitting beside me.

A group of nine writers, representing nine different European territories, we sit in a cluttered half circle around the influential superstar in a typically vaulting, mezzanined suite in the opulent Corinthia Hotel.

Par for the course, the instruction from the label representatives, sentry-like in their observation, has been to keep the chat locked on music and the new album.

The others dutifully comply and broker drawn out, indulgent ripostes from the Get Lucky and Blurred Lines hitmaker.

I decide to inject a little personal intimacy, and hopefully, some massaging humour by asking Williams (40), about his astonishing, meme-worthy lack of physical ageing and tips he could graciously bestow.

Who wouldn't want to wax lyrical on their internet-sweeping youthful exterior, even for a smirk?

The obscenely oversized, hot pink Mountie hat teetering on his crown can't be solely responsible for delivering all the laughs.

I should have known better having previously probed whether he felt a crime would be committed if U2's Ordinary Love (for Mandela: Walk to Freedom) triumph's as Best Original Song at Sunday's Academy Awards over Williams' wholly (and commercially) superior ditty, Happy (for Despicable Me 2).

While Pharrell had initially said, "I can't believe I get to share the slot with U2. Like it's Bono. It's Bono and Edge and all the guys, I'm honoured to be in a category with those guys," this harmless, and frankly, complimentary follow-up question is greeted with a beauteous glower, a torturous break of silence and an intentioned transference of attention to said Dutch journalist to my left.

Doesn't even warrant a rejoinder. It's embarrassing for all involved.

Given his humble, cute narration of new album, G I R L, track by track the previous evening in front of a roomful of industry movers and flunkies, I suspected a more mellow, jokey personality.

Maybe he's just better in bigger crowds?

His first solo effort in eight years after debut In My Mind, it's title is spelled in caps and executed with double spacing for a natural profound translation.

"I chose G I R L, because women have been so good to me over this entire career and they've done so much for my family," the Neptunes producer and N.E.R.D frontman explained at the playback at Sony's Kensington HQ.

"Everything I've ever gotten is because they've paid for [it], so they're, like, my bosses. I wanted to analyse that for a second.

"And we need them. Every living breathing human being on this planet regardless to your sexual orientation benefits from two things from a woman: the agreement to enter the act and the agreement to have you. So they have the power."

And the skewed punctuation? "When you look at it, it looks a little weird. And the reason why it does is because society is a little unbalanced."

G I R L is spectacularly fantastic, for the record. A contender for album of the year (and we're barely hit March), I actually had goosebumps on first listen.

Opening track Marilyn Monroe is an ode to the flaxen icon as well as Cleopatra, Joan of Arc and his desired 'different girl', is all expensive and sweepingly cinematic, with a chest-thumping beat and signature falsettos.

It's followed by Brand New, an intoxicating mélange of beatboxing, horns and funk guitar underpinning the blended silk of William's magnetic tones with Justin Timberlake's autographed trills. It's like a hark back to the glory days of Justified.

And comes his own personal favourite, Gust of Wind, an evolved graduation of 70s-tinged pop which features the Robots of Daft Punk and conjures palpitated feelings of adrenalin and said mentioned, tingled bumps.

He likes it so much, he plays it twice. Everyone sways, no one complains.

Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys populate a starry, expected line up of contributors (though Robin Thicke seems oddly absent, suggestive of his puffed-out, divisive growl – an ill-fit for the album's tone).

2006's In My Mind featured the likes of Gwen Stefani, Kanye West and Snoop, while a extensive discography is littered with his own supporting artist credits for Mystikal (Shake Yo Ass), Britney Spears (Boys) and Jay-Z (Change Clothes, Excuse Me Miss). Pharrell is universally comfortable in company.

Back in the awkward confines of the Corinthia suite however, he's at pains to convey that G I R L is far from a lazy 'come together'.

"I only have two duets. I have Daft Punk doing background and Miley doing background, I don't have any features.

"Just two duets [Timberlake and Keys]. It's the most annoying thing in the world when you see 69 'features' on a track. Especially when you consider the fact that that's an old record industry trick for rap albums."

It's strangely hypnotic listening to him describe the genesis of G I R L. Apparently he's the makings of a feminist, despite the repeated presence of lyrics like 'see that ass on fire' throughout one track.

"Women are responsible for so much. When it finally dawns on society, and even some of the woman themselves who are conditioned to think it's a male dominated world, it's not a male dominated world and actually women make men.

"It's an illusion and it happens to be one that everybody's under which makes it a delusion. But a lot of people are waking up because there's a shift.

"I see that shift coming and just want to be a part of it."

So is Williams an unlikely feminist now? Perhaps a result of his marriage last year to mother of six-year-old Rocket, Helen Lasichanh, last October. "Some of the girls around me joke and call me that, sometimes. Do I share a lot of their views? Sure. Stereotypical definition of one? Of course not."

There's genuine sincerity in his speech. When asked if he feels pressured to maintain fashionable clout with mainstream popularity, he answers, "Edginess is the way one sees things.

"But popular, I've nothing to do with. Popular is talking about audiences and I have no influence on that except the song.

"You could probably name ten great songs that you love that nobody has ever heard of, right? Has nothing to do with artists, it's just that the universe didn't respond in that way."

Throughout the 36 minute dialog (initially flagged as an hour but cut short without explanation), Pharrell repeats a cooling mantra: G I R L is not a solo record.

"If anything it's more a tribute and ode. I guess it's a solo album because it's me but I don't look at it as one because I'm not singing about me which has made this process so much easier. It's about G I R L.

"I recognise that early on, aside from just getting bored of talking about yourself all the time, I can be a lot more explicative when talking about people that intrigue me or situations or moments that had a particular effect on me. I can be much more articulate and descriptive about those things versus me.

"Sitting there bragging about what I'm driving, what I'm flying, where I live, who I'm dating; I don't want to be that guy. The media's totally populated with people like that."

A largely stifled, terse encounter, it's left a sour after taste for a new album that thrives on creativity, celebration and light.

Perhaps Pharrell realises this when he offers a softly-spoken disclaimer, citing jetlag, fatigue and nerves for a shaky, detached presence.

He skulks out of the suite, even smaller in stature than expected, with a glut of pearls and diamonds jangling loudly round his neck.

I'm reminded of a prior admission that makes me smile.

"Don't get me wrong. I still love my breakfast cereal and still watch Spongebob all the time and Cartoon Network. I'm still a big kid. [I'm] not getting all serious."

  • G I R L is available to buy and download today

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