The moment I heard him croon the chorus to "Beautiful," Pharrell Williams won my respect and, shortly thereafter, my heart. During his 20-year music career, I've loyally followed him through Grammy-winning albums and N*E*R*D, to his half-pipe antics and bizarre hat choices. So when Pharrell announced that his second solo studio album "G I R L," set to be released in the beginning of March, would be focused on "female appreciation," I wanted to be ecstatic. Instead, I'm a little skeptical.
On Feb. 19, Pharrell told BBC Radio 1 that he named the album "G I R L" because, "when you look at it, it looks a little weird. And the reason why it does is because society is a little unbalanced."He went on to explain the positive impact women have had on his career and the need for a deeper appreciation for women in general:
Women have been so good to me over this entire career. Everything I've ever gotten is because they've paid for [it], so they're, like, my bosses -- indirectly and directly -- you guys are like my bosses. So for me, I wanted to analyze that for a second.
I admire women in a lot of ways, but I needed to make sure that everyone knew that yea, O.K. cool on the surface, I do look and I do like them and I appreciate them in my little dirty ways here and there, but at the core... is a deeper appreciation.
Obviously Pharrell isn't the most eloquent of artists, but he's attempting to make a point -- and a good one at that. And while I desperately want to support his message, his word choice -- he refers to vaginas as "silver-lined doors" -- and recent track record, are less than convincing. Let's not forget that this is the same man who showed up in Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" this past summer -- a song and video that had people up in arms about its "rapey" language and explicit objectification of women's bodies.
The same night Pharrell proclaimed that his upcoming album would showcase a deeper appreciation for women, he defended "Blurred Lines," comparing the music video's naked models to nude museum sculptures in an interview with Time Out: "Is it sexist when you walk around in a museum and a lot of the statues have their boobs out?" he asked the Time Out reporter. "The women in that video weren't doing anything sexual: they were only dancing. Just because they had their boobs out, that was 'sexist.'"
Well Pharrell, "Blurred Lines" was most definitely sexist, and the fact that you would equate human female bodies with those of dusty sculptures illustrates you don't fully understand the definition of sexism. I genuinely believe Pharrell wants to support and empower women through his work, but -- like so many of us when doing something for the first time -- he's making a few missteps entering new territory.
There are certain dynamics to which Pharrell is not sensitive because he has never had to be. As a straight, wealthy, man there are simply certain prejudices he will never face. (Of course, as a person of color, there are others he is surely acutely aware of.) Our pop culture icons who, as tastemakers, have the power to release anthems that can either reaffirm stereotypes or provoke new understandings, need to be celebrated when they contribute something positive to the dialogue and challenged when they fail to do so. Pharrell has his heart in the right place, he just needs a little more self-education.
So, please, Pharrell, do your homework. I fully support your genuine pursuit to appreciate women as the wonderful people we are, but read a book, take one women's studies course or even listen to some Beyoncé. If you do, your message will be much louder and much clearer. And please, for everyone's sake, never refer to the vagina as "silver-lined doors" ever, ever again.