Written by Jessica Schiffer
Pharrell Williams is really trying to recover from the misogyny accusations that were spurred by “Blurred Lines” with a loud and proud sense of supposed feminism. Nowhere is this more obvious than on his newest album, appropriately titled G I R L.
Pharrell could be called a musical wunderkind but when held up to his beats, his lyrics trend towards the stale and outdated. If you read some of his latest songs, you’ll be forgiven for wondering if they’re just the misplaced product of songwriters from a previous era. Women here still appear to be fetishized a bit too much, lacking strong voices and fully fleshed personalities. They exist to be conquered. Sure, soft-conquered, with a gentle kiss when compared to “Blurred Lines,” but conquered nonetheless.
I first listened to the album on a run — my favorite mode of album introduction. So, I waited patiently to be empowered, in a way similar to how I felt when I first sprinted to BEYONCÉ. But unfortunately, that moment never came, and by the time the album ended I had determined that a lot of what it shilled was decidedly counter-feminist.
I believe that his heart is in the right place, but like a lot of people, he just doesn’t seem to realize how deep-seated a gender stereotype is. In the opening song, “Marilyn Monroe,” Pharrell prides himself on appreciating an elusive “different girl.” That’s all he offers — leaving me to wonder whether he’s aware of what he wants.
Then there’s “Gush” which is dirty.
Singing about sex isn’t necessarily bad. Something I loved about BEYONCÉ was the performer’s willingness to sing about raunchy sex — it inflected a fresh point: that women love it, too, but “Gush” isn’t like that. It divorces a woman’s nether regions from her person and hones in on Pharell’s pride.
In what? Making, uh, “the pussy just gush.”
Well, I’ll be damned.
Frankly, all of the songs, even the admittedly catchy “It Girl,” are flawed along these close-but-no-cigar lines. One of the last tracks on the album, a sonically beautiful piece due largely to the vocals of Alicia Keys, comes closest to functioning as a female-centric anthem, as Keys sings, “No more acquiesce, standin up, with no stress / Will do, what I need, ‘til every woman on this earth is free.”
But Pharrell is still the leader there as he guides her in a way that presumes she’s not capable of the chronicled assertiveness without his blessing. And then in “Come Get It Bae,” he goes so far as to equate his masculinity with a woman’s “home,” singing, “Cause everything you need, you will only find in me.”
The big picture illustrated by the album is women as seen and comforted by Pharrell — adored, and distant creatures who are searching for a voice that, in the mean time, continues to be overshadowed by the misguided attention of the male gaze.