Monday, February 9, 2015

What Pharrel Williams' Performance Of "Happy" 2015 Grammy Awards REALLY Means

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases a video of Pharrell Williams's performance of his hit song "Happy" at the Grammy Awards 2015 and provides various- sometimes conflicting- comments about what the staging of that performance means.

The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic reasons.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Click for the pancocojams post "Pharrell Williams - "Happy", from Despicable Me 2 (video, lyrics, and comments)"

This post was revised on Feb. 10, 2015.

SHOWCASE VIDEO: Pharrell Williams - Happy (Live GRAMMYs 2015)

PharrellWilliamsVEVO Published on Feb 9, 2015

Excerpt From
Grammys: Pharrell Williams Slips Ferguson Tribute Into "Happy" Performance (Video) by Hilary Lewis
"Think you've heard every rendition of Pharrell Williams' ubiquitous "Happy"?

The mega-producer brought something new to the Grammys stage this year, teaming up with piano superstar Lang Lang and composer Hans Zimmer for a dramatic rendition of the hit song, which won best pop solo performance and best music video...

Williams, wearing what looked like a bellhop's costume, began his performance by speaking the opening lines of the song before a dramatic orchestral opening and a return to the familiar beat and lyrics. People in white gospel-singer-like robes then filled the aisles. Williams was backed by dancers wearing black hooded sweatshirts, some holding yellow tambourines, which the robed audience members also carried. Williams, whose outfit featured shorts instead of pants, just like his Grammys arrival suit, also sported yellow shoes.

Williams also included a subtle tribute to Ferguson shooting victim Michael Brown, as he and his dancers made a "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture during the performance."

Excerpt From The Powerful Statement Almost Everyone Missed from Pharrell's Grammy Performance by Derrick Clifton February 08, 2015
"Happy" became a movement unto itself last year. But during his Grammy moment, Pharrell Williams aligned the song's message with what's undoubtedly the biggest movement of the moment. While audiences at home fixated on his bellhop costume, many missed the artist's powerful message.

During the middle of his performance, Williams and his backup dancers on stage — many outfitted in black hoodies — paused. Instead of singing, they allowed their hands to speak for themselves in a tribute to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that emerged last year to protest the killings of unarmed black Americans.

The significance of the black hoodies and the "hands up" motion cannot be understated. Both images have been unmistakably synonymous with the broader movement against the killings of unarmed black people at the hands of police officers and vigilantes. The hoodies originally emerged as a form of protest following the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the eventual acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman. The "hands up" came immediately following the death of Michael Brown in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer.

Williams chose one of the biggest moments of his career, on what's perhaps music's biggest stage, to make a pointed gesture of solidarity with the broader #BlackLivesMatter efforts. Aligning his iconic song "Happy" with a call to value black lives sends a strong signal that the movement's message has been heard — and isn't going away anytime soon."...

Selected Comments From [video above]
Wetesk53, 2015
1. ..."it was a performance bringing light to the #BlackLivesMatter movement that's been going on for a while now protesting. You can see the Hands Up, Don't Shoot at 2:00. As far as I know, Beyonce brought light to it in her performance and Prince during his speech before presenting the best album award."...

2. Samson Tuiolosega, 2015
"...i can understand what he attempted to do. (Trying to turn Happy into a inspirational piece due to all the hate crimes lately) but his execution wasnt THAT great. I liked Lang Lang, and Hanz Zimmer and the choir did great. But the story was too sudden and brash for people to comprehend that it was to be more than another interpretation of Happy

3. Dawn Slater1, 2015
"I dislike it. Only because I love the original version of the song. The intro was weird in a creepy way. I just don't like this version. But I do respect him for the "hands up"

4. Kendra Ann, 2015
"Oh Gosh. The intro is "creepy" or "haunting" sounding because it represents the dark times that are happening today with the violence. Notice the hoodies (Trayvon Martin) and the "hands up don't shoot" (Mike Brown)? The uniform he has on represents the jobs African Americans got back then. The music sounds "all over the place" for a reason. The message is that even through dark times, you can still find happiness and shed light (see the yellow and white they have on?) By the way, it is Black History Month to those who want to say "why bring up the past". I hope this has made it easier for you to understand."

5. Ayden Casey, 2016
"He had his backup dancers wear hoods like Trayvon Martin, the back up dancers and Pharell Williams raised their hands as in "Hands Up Don't Shoot" Mike Brown at 2:04, and the Gospel singers symbolize the black churches that marchers met at and leaders spoke, and he sang happy meaning that although all of these things happened, the black community still was happy.
I wonder if this is a facetious comment. Read my comment below which presents the opposite opinion about the meaning of Pharrell's 2015 Grammy Awards performance of "Happy".

For what it's worth, I agree with the interpretations given as #1, #3, and #4 below, and disagree with the interpretation given as #2.
1. From [video account deleted]
Earth Spirit1, 2015
"He has a bell boy outfit on.a Stereotypical depiction where they want oppress people to remain. Don't feel don't think, don't react continue in the madness and be happy!"

2. From
Queenceba29, 2015
"The bellhop uniform represents his servitude to God. You see at the end when he speaks to God and is like " I am your servant"..'s all symbolism. That's amazing. It really is."

3. From Pharrell Williams' performance was about much more than being happy.
Gerri Seay
"Black Hoodies, Hands up don't Shoot and his bellman servant uniform... Metaphors all. Deep really. Almost Dunbar's "We wear the Mask" deep. We "happy" though!"
4. Gerri Seay
"... The jobs our talented fore parents had to take so their children could be "happy." And he's from VA [Virginia], so he Knows"
Gerri Seay's comments above refer to the way that Black people had (have) to pretend to be happy and content in order to survive in a racist society. Here's late 19th century, early 20th century African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar's composition "We Wear The Mask"
"We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Editor's comment
Pharrell Williams' staging of his song "Happy" at the 2015 Grammy Awards show elevated that composition from just a lighthearted feel-good "Don't worry. Be happy"* song to one that sends a serious message. In my opinion, one of those messages is that people can't really be happy as long as police violence and other injustices occur.

Williams added a serious element to this performance of "Happy" in the beginning of this performance by changing his song into a spoken word piece. His words were echoed in other languages. The inclusion of those different languages and featuring a Chinese pianist may have been meant to convey the point that this message isn't just about or for Black Americans.

The inclusion of a few chords from Marvin Gaye's "Save The Children" song** also raised the level of this song from a puff piece to something much more serious.

The inclusion of the "Hands Up Don't Shoot" gesture -a reference to Michael Brown, Jr, the Black teen that was killed in Ferguson, Missouri by a White police officer)- and the cast wearing hoodies- a reference to Trayvon Martin- promoted the "Black Lives Matter" movement and sent the message that people might smile outwardly, but they won't really be happy until injustices such as police violence are eradicated.

Pharrell's folding his hand in prayer and saying " you can see Lord, I'm at your service...." reinforced the serious intent of this rendition of "Happy" and may even be considered an apology for his previous statements about Michael Brown Jr.

In a November 2014 article in Ebony Magazine, Pharrell said that Michael Brown, Jr looked "very bully-ish" in a video of him pushing a storeowner, and then later asking for trouble when he didn't listen to a police officer demanding that he get out of the street. Those comments were part of a November 2014 Ebony Magazine interview:
..."Ebony: Did you see the video allegedly showing Michael Brown stealing from a convenience store minutes before his death? What do you think?

PW: It looked very bully-ish; that in itself I had a problem with. Not with the kid, but with whatever happened in his life for him to arrive at a place where that behavior is OK. Why aren’t we talking about that?...

I believe that Ferguson officer should be punished and serve time. He used excessive force on a human being who was merely a child. He was a baby, man. The boy was walking in the middle of the street when the police supposedly told him to ‘get the f–k on the sidewalk.’ If you don’t listen to that, after just having pushed a storeowner, you’re asking for trouble. But you’re not asking to be killed. Some of these youth feel hunted and preyed upon, and that’s why that officer needs to be punished."
- The Grammys Have An Awkward Brush With Social Justice, Arturo, February 9, 2015 

*"Don't Worry. Be Happy" is a referent to Bobby McFerrin's widely known song which was released in 1988. Click for a video of that song.

**Here's an excerpt of the lyrics to Marvin Gaye's "Save The Children":
"I just want to ask a question:
Who really cares, to save a world in despair?
Who really cares?
Flowers won't grow (flowers won't grow, no)
Bells won't be ringing (the bells won't be ringing)
Who really cares? (Who really cares?)
Who's willing to try? (Who is willing to try?)
To save the world, (to save the world)
That's destined to die (that is destined to die)"...
Click for a pancocojams post about Marvin Gaye's "Save The Children" and other songs from his 1971 "What's Going On" album.

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