This week’s post was intended to be a super simple and quick. I heard a story on the radio a few weeks ago about Pharrell Williams that was entertaining, quirky and of course, environmentally related, so I had decided to write a few short paragraphs about it — and him — and be done with it. But, as it turns out, you can’t just write a paragraph or two about Pharrell. He demands a little bit more of air space than that and quite a lot more of mine — and your — attention.
I like to think that I kind-of know Pharrell because, when living in Seoul a former classmate of my middle child moved to LA and has, so I’ve been told, ended up being good friends with one of Pharrell’s children. So of course I know Pharrell (six degrees of separation). Except I don’t really know him at all. But, thanks to the Internet, I can read about him and he is, like, super cool. Super, super cool actually, and I’d like to have him over for dinner. I may even love him like I love Finland. No, I take that back. I love nothing else like the way I love Finland but Pharrell comes close.
What I did not realise when I decided to dedicate this week’s newsletter to Pharrell was that my knowledge of Pharrell and what he does for environmental causes was extremely limited. I knew him really only for that thing that I heard on the radio (that I will write about in a second), and, of course, for his super hit “Happy”. This meant, until the weekend, you were going to read two paragraphs about a dude who wrote the song “Happy” and buried a record made of clay (more on that later).
It is true that you could write a lot about Pharrell’s mega hit, “Happy.” For starters, the Wikipedia entry for Happy describes the song as “midtempo soul and neo-soul”. We could analyse that for a while except that I don’t know what either of those terms mean. (I played violin at grade school and it was definitely not midtempo soul.) We could talk about how, in 2014, “Happy” was the most world’s most successful song, selling 13.9 million worldwide. Or what about the fact that the music video won a Grammy for Best Music Video and that the video (and song) spawned a zillion spin offs from all across the world? (Go to http://www.wearehappyfrom.com/to watch 1950 videos from 153 countries, (the baseball player from Taipei is my personal favourite)). We should also talk about how “Happy”, and Pharrell, was robbed of the Academy Award for Best Original Song, losing to Let It Go from Frozen. Legend has it that Pharrell responded to this injustice by saying this:
“When they read the results, my face was…frozen. But then I thought about it, and I just decided just to… let it go.”
I had planned on linking the lyrics of “Happy” to Pharrell’s awareness raising actions on climate change which, it might seem crazy what I’m ‘bout to say, but relates to Pharrell’s recording of a song on a record made of clay that is stored in a vault somewhere in coastal France and which will self-destruct should it become submerged in water. Pharrell’s action is all to do with raise awareness of climate change. Here comes bad news, talking this and that- the world will only be able to hear Pharrell’s song, which is not to be released until 2117–100 years from now, (he buried it in November 2017 after a party in Shanghai), if sea levels do not rise. Which means we have to take action on climate change in order to prevent changes in sea levels. If we don’t, then the song, and quite a lot more, will be lost forever. Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.
That could have been the end of the story — a dude who wrote the “Happy” song and who decides to use his fame and good fortune to makes stand about the environment by burying a record. We could have moved on. Except we can’t because, as awesome as these things are, (which they are), there is so much more to Pharrell. So much more that I am convinced that Pharrell doesn’t sleep. In fact, his over-achieving has sent me into some sort of spiral of despair over exactly what it is that I am doing (or not doing) with my life, and the fact that I do — sometimes — sleep, because Pharrell is taking this saving the world thing to a whole new level. Pharrell does a lot it and it is all good. Really, really good! Here is a snippet of his activities:
In 2007 he supported Live Earth, a rockstar event (like Live Aid) to increase awareness of environmental issues, by collaborating with Madonna on the song “Hey You” — 25 cents for each of the first one million downloads was donated to the Alliance for Climate Protection in support of Live Earth and he performed on at the Brazilian leg of the Live Earth tour;
He is the creative director of Bionic Yarn, a company that uses recycled plastic from the ocean to create reliable and stylish clothing. Bionic Yarn has, so far, transformed an estimated 7 million plastic bottles into fashionable clothing items;
He has a creative relationship with Adidas where I think he designs, or at least promotes, some super environmentally friendly products (including Solar Pack, possibly the best-looking sneakers ever);
He is co-owner and Head of Imagination of G-Star Raw and in 2015 released Raw for the Oceans, a denim line madeusing Bionic Yarn, and he continues to drive G-Star Raw to improve its already impressive sustainability credentials (check out the world’s most sustainable jeans — made by G-Star);
He, along with nine other investors, own Collaborative Fund, described as the leading source of seed capital for creative entrepreneurs who are changing the world (the fund invests in businesses encourage collaborative consumption in five areas — cities, money, consumer, kids and health);
His Los Angeles home is sustainably built with locally sourced materials (part of it is solar powered); and
He does all of this while also being super successful at his day job: he hails from N.E.R.D (Rockstar is the classic track) and is a multi-award winner producer of his own songs and songs of others, including Brittany Spears (who I also love).
I found out about Pharrell’s actions because I heard the burying of the clay record story on the radio and it coincidentally, made me happy, (which, obviously was a link too good to pass up for my newsletter). I wasn’t expecting to find out as much information as I did on all the things that Pharrell is doing to raise awareness to the issues our world is facing. That was an unexpected bonus. The one thing, though, that I could not find any information on from my Internet research is whether Pharrell himself happy given all the things he knows that needs to be done to protect our world? Can he really be as happy as he seems?
In 2015, Pharrell spoke to students at the UN on the third official United Nations International Day of Happiness (the day is fairly new on the calendar of international days, designated as a day in 2012 and first celebrated on March 20, 2013). In a short speech he linked happiness (“Happiness is your birthright”) to climate action. In other articles I have read about him this week, it seems that he is calling not for impossible action but for action that each of can all make and do in our own lives, wanting us to:
“be aware of how you can contribute. That’s how we’ll realistically get it done.”
I like this approach. Some sense of agency (power) over an issue as big like climate change (no matter how small your action may be — it adds up), coupled with hope — that things can change (for the better) — which there is, if you do as Pharrell does and look to our kids who are already acting in a myriad of ways that will save the planet — make me happy. So, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I’m going to assume Pharrell is too, although I would be very grateful if the six degrees of separation phenomenon kicks in here that my friend who knows the friend whose child is friends with Pharrell’s child passes the question on to Pharrell. Yay.