Pharrell Williams’ G I R L

Via The Hollywood Reporter

GIRL album cover, shot by Cass Bird

Alicia Keys & Pharrell perform, image via BET

GIRL album back cover, shot by Cass Bird

Via Day to Day News

Shot by Terry Richardson
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by Contributing Writer
April 2, 2014
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His attempted take on feminism still feels a bit…blurred.

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Pharrell could be called a musical wunderkind but when held up to his beats, his lyrics trend towards the stale and outdated.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.

REPLIES
  • Ana Cabral Martins

    I agree! It’s kinda sad in a missed-opportunity kinda way. This coming from the dude that was heard (in Beyoncé mini-documentary on her last album) that the songs on BEYONCÉ would set women free from their jails.

  • Ellie Lambert

    I love this! I refused to listen to Blurred Lines because of my principles (despite it being really hard to stay still whilst others danced to it), and I will definitely not be listening to Pharrell Williams’ new album now. It’s a shame that Beyonce’s new album is being hailed as different and empowering, because that’s what all music should be doing now.
    I mean, it’s 2014!

    ellierosewrites.blogspot.co.uk

  • http://alessiadicapua.blogspot.co.uk/ Alessia Di Capua

    Interesting post! I found a few of the songs quite catchy but agree that it was a missed opportunity. I did find it a great album to run to though!

    Alessia | alessiadicapua.blogspot.co.uk

  • Olivia Miller

    What a disappointment, I wanted the album to be great! This article, however, was no disappointment. Your writing is always a joy to read! Witty, sharp, and articulate. Keep em comin’!

  • AmberVEvans

    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. http://qr.net/rXXg

  • Elisa Taviti

    He is fab!!

    xoxo, Elisa
    My Fantabulous World

  • http://www.stacyco.blogspot.com/ Stacy

    Interesting opnion

    Stacy from http://www.stacyco.blogspot.com

  • Aubrey Green

    I really don’t like that hat.

  • Fabiola

    Great article! Probably won’t be buying his album!

    http://www.onegirlsempire.com

  • lavieenliz

    i love him! cant wait to see him at coachella

    doing a giveaway on my blog!

    http://hashtagliz.com/2014/04/01/knotee-giveaway/

  • http://www.heyprettything.com/ Carolyn

    ironic that a self-declared feminist album is titled “GIRL”, technically signifying a young, unmatured woman. semantics, I suppose!

    http://heyprettything.com

  • http://BikePretty.com/ Bike Pretty

    Oh gosh, I am so relieved to read this. I find Pharrell’s brand of Pheminism to be just as superphicial. Dude is not examining his unconscious gender biases. Putting women on a pedestal is not the same as fighting for gender equality.

    Like, check your privilege, man!

    • Maia

      Pheminism for the win.

  • rolinstoner

    Some of your assertions are slightly flawed.

  • sarah

    haha oh no you don’t. I’ve seen Kanye’s praises sung on this site, the creepiest most sexist whatever ever. this is kind of hypocritical. and frankly i love that hat.

  • Francisc

    This post is great!

    http://fashion-soup.com/

  • euk

    Thank you for the important message.
    And, always for go for Beyonce. Always.

    E
    + http://www.whatisemilywearing.blogspot.ca

  • http://mayashawcollection.tumblr.com/ Maya

    If us feminist continue to cry wolf every time someone does something remotely offensive ( I didn’t feel any type of reaction to the album but, to each their own) no one will stand with us on issues that are actually prominent in society. When Pharrell starts singing about how women don’t deserve equal pay, then rally us together.

    • sarah

      i second that.

    • marie a

      It is the small things that make up ‘culture’ (including songs by pop artists) that shape the way society treats women – the big issues like non-equal pay. No one is sitting up fighting for or protesting that women get paid less than men here, but it happens all the same. It is because of the way women are represented much more subtley, and this article is just another way to make people aware of it.

  • sarah-ah

    the more i read this article, the more i find not to like about it. i really have no appetite for beyonce and i just don’t know how she can be held up as any sort of ideal, musically or in respect to feminism, a joke surely. i don’t remember PW standing on any platform pronouncing his dedication to feminism, nor do i understand why he should. lyrically you may not find it acceptable, but musically he is so obviously a genius. and when it comes to making an example of honest self expression, he frankly displays quite a lot, let alone in his dress sense – and he seems like a (relatively) respectable dude. I love some of his lyrics. all-in-all i feel like this piece is a misguided gap filler.

    • JSchiff

      Hi Sarah! He actually has addressed his goal of wanting to make up for the Blurred Lines controversy, and overtly stated that this album is an homage to women [see google for numerous interviews--especially the GQ one]. Everyone has a different definition of feminism, but I believe it should empower women–and on many levels this album [which was supposed to celebrate women] does not. In many ways it celebrates what Pharrell DOES to women.

      However, I don’t by any means think Pharrell is some sort of misogynistic jerk with zero talent, I think he just represents how much work there is left to do on widespread notions of femininity. And talented–well, his ouevre is amazing.

      • sarah-ah

        yep, i hear ya, but saying you’re going to address something doesn’t commit you to being something you’re not. he actually said he would ‘(show) a deeper appreciation’…maybe he’s having the last laugh here, because i for one do not interpret that as anything other than potential idolisation, which is not the foundation of feminism.
        Does beyonce have to lose sleep over her ‘drunk in love’ lyrics? Because a remarkably similar story in the Huff post, admonishes her for her promoting, or at least being ignorant of, domestic violence against women. And then of course the author of said lyrics should also come under intense scrutiny, especially now as the father of a young daughter.
        Im not anti feminist, but I think you need to pick your battles, and maybe P is not one of them.

  • http://www.frogandtower.com Frog and Tower

    As frustrating as it may be, that we are in 2014 and still
    talking about the feminine perception in media and society, Pharrell should get
    some kudos for trying.

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