The minions are back; so is Pharrell Williams, and he’s toting a brighter, cheerful outlook in his music for the new animated sequel, “Despicable Me 2.”
One of the most in-demand artists of the era, Williams says working on the upcoming film and its predecessor has challenged him with the task of expressing human demeanor and comedy through song.
This time around, he aimed to emanate happiness; a central sentiment to the film’s storyline and an attitude he believes is necessary to face current cultural paradigms.
“People are so desensitized to tragedies and travesties that [we] needed to go to a lighter place,” the 40-year-old musician tells theGrio. “The Internet has been responsible for so much connectivity between us, as a species. At the same time, with all of the connectivity, there are a lot of great things you see, and there’s a lot of shock. One day, there’s a train off the track. Next week, there’s another train off the track.”
Williams says the writers “ingeniously” predicted the need for a positive outlook when they crafted their follow-up to the original movie, and his vision was to express this overarching theme rather than focus on individual parts in his sound.
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“You’re dealing with seven billion people, so things are bound to go wrong, but what about the happier side?” he asks.
Back to basics for the movie business
“In truth, life ain’t so bad,” says the Grammy Award winner, particularly not when you’re coming off two chart-topping Billboard hits like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Williams also appears to be among the elite board of collaborators on tap for Jay-Z’s upcoming album, revealed during Sunday’s NBA Finals game.
The Neptunes star, deemed by Fast Company as the “ultimate collaborator,” describes the movie business like a return to primary education.
“It’s kind of like being in high school again,” he jokes. “You have electives, different course that are required that you might not be interested in, but they’re making you do it. Like Home Ec. – like what? But then you grow up, and you realize you now know how to make chocolate milk. Those things come in handy.”
Williams says he considers himself a “novice” in the film world, and goes on to mention how his own ideas are often set aside to keep in line with the production team.
“In just the same way that you have requirements in high school, when they give us directives that I would never imagine going, I’m now learning something,” he says.
Pharrell got really, really lucky
Knowledge seems important to Williams, who was born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA, where a lack of industry stimulated his quest for creative inquisition.
While he can now drop names like Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Mariah Carey, Frank Ocean, and Britney Spears among his cohorts, back then it was always a question of what was possible.
“[Virginia Beach] is normalcy,” he says. “It’s kind of like Leave It to Beaver land – it’s very normal. ‘Good morning Dad.’ ‘Good morning son.’ It’s that. Whereas you look at a New York or an L.A., a child is more likely to see a basketball player walking through the mall, or some startup Internet company dude walking out of a restaurant. We didn’t see that in Virginia as much…For us, in the music world, there was virtually nothing until Teddy Riley moved his studio a five-minute walk from my high school. So yes, we were terrorizing them. We were over there all the time, knocking on the door being turned away.”
Williams remembers wondering how he could defy expectations, noting how he was (and still is) inspired by “that which is missing.”
It began as shoes he wanted in a different color; it turned into a fashion and music empire.
“As a kid, I always had a super vivid imagination,” Williams remembers. “You have all those ideas and little dreams built up inside, and when you finally get an opportunity to do it, you burst. Virginia made us all.”
Creating a brand
But Williams hasn’t just made it, he owns it. He’s a four-time Grammy winner, nominated 19 times; his production credits are too numerous to list, or even summarize. He’s a fashion designer for Louis Vuitton as well as his own brand, Billionaire Boys Club, and he’s also designed furniture for the French company Domeau & Pérès.
On top of that, he recently forayed into the realm of new technology by developing a YouTube Channel, i am OTHER, and serving as Creative Director for KarmaloopTV. Further, he’s helping launch a new nightclub in Ibiza this July.
It’s an impressive slate of ventures, not without risk, but Williams says he selects his projects based on gut feeling. He aims to fill a void, and creates what he hopes will catch, linger and move.
“I know that I’m blessed, I know that I’m super fortunate, so what I try to do is repay it with diligence and research, and going super hard,” he says. “Finding things that are sticky, but feeling good. There’s a stickiness that pisses you off, too. Like those songs that are annoying, but you can’t get them out of your head. They’re sticky. So I try not to bore you guys with the wrong kind of glue.”
He adds, “I try to make something that is colorful.“
‘Despicable Me 2’ and dabbling in cartoons
When the opportunity to work on “Despicable Me” and the sequel came along, Williams didn’t pause. From his perspective, animation gigs are hard to come by; thus, immediately they were a go.
Beyond personal accomplishments, the films have also allowed the star producer to embrace the spirit of his youth and childhood passions.
“I was always obsessed with cartoons,” he says. “When my aunt used to watch things, it was always a real serious tug of war. She wanted to watch “General Hospital;” I wanted to watch “Flintstones.” It was a real thing. So now, being a grown up and being able to afford my own television and my own satellite service, Boomerang’s on all the time.”
Despicable Me 2, out in theaters July 3, follows many of the old characters as they are placed amidst an evil party set on turning the world into a batch of unruly monster-like creatures. There’s a little love, a sense of retreat and companionship, and a search for stability throughout the narrative.
Williams’ music adds elements of funk, pop and modern zeal while maintaining the same characteristic style he brought to the original picture. He describes the “continuity” of his melodic narrative as way of “lifting people up emotionally.”
While the results have been well received, Williams doesn’t feel like he’s even close to hitting his mark when it comes to movies. Like his near 20-year track in the record business, a true sharpshooter derives from practice.
“Filmmaking and scoring are really comprehensive jobs that take a lot of years and experience to get to an expertise level,” he admits. “Part of it is just reaching into oblivion for things that don’t exist.”