Pharrell Williams’s performance at the Grammys, #BlackLivesMatter and weird signals

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February 11, 2015

This weekend Pharrell Williams performed hit song “Happy” at the Grammys. His performance was accompanied by pianist Lang Lang and composer Hans Zimmer, as well as dancers wearing black hoodies. At some point in the performance, Williams and his dancers made a “hands up” gesture, referring to the “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant used in protests after Michael Brown’s death.

Am I the only one that found a problem with this? Or was just confused?

Apparently I am. So many articles are considering this performance to be a tribute. Even a recent Daily Mail article headlines it as “Pharrell Williams makes Grammy Michael Brown gesture in Happy performance”.

Where can I even begin with this?

Williams has made some off-putting comments in the past about race and state of mind. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last year, he considered himself as part of “the New Black.” What does that even mean?

“The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues,” said Williams in the interview. “The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation; it’s a mentality, and it’s either going to work for you or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re going to be on.”

As a woman of color, I found Williams’s words disturbing. His comments contribute to the myth that we live in a “postracial society,” yet there are multiple deaths of people of color in the United States, including Mike Brown and Eric Garner, that prove that more work needs to be done. The fact that he said that “it’s not about pigmentation” clearly ignores the racism and discrimination — blatant or subtle — that many people of color, particularly Black people, experience on a regular basis.

So what was his intention of his tribute in his performance? Did he have a change of heart after these deaths? I have no idea, but it just did not feel genuine to me as I watched it.

Also, the fact that Williams strangely uses this tribute to his song “Happy” is also pretty interesting. As we all know (or may not know), “Happy” is an incredibly “sunshine and rainbows” type of song. The fact that it’s placed in a performance with the issue of race and police brutality doesn’t make sense to me.

Is he” happy” to live in a “postracial world?” Were the black hoodies referring to Mike Brown or Trayvon Martin? Was he incorporating both of their deaths into the performance? What is going on here?  I was asking so many questions while watching it. It’d probably make sense if Kendrick Lamar used this idea or something like it in a performance of “i (Love Myself)” at the Grammys. But this? It’s just too confusing.

Williams has based his career on being abstract and innovative in his music, from his songs to his production with the Neptunes. But, did he go too far? Maybe, maybe not. All I know is that his intentions were poorly executed because of his past statements and his muddled view of #BlackLivesMatter and its importance to people of color. It all adds up to a puzzled look on my face after watching his performance.


Pharrell Williams’s performance at the Grammys, #BlackLivesMatter and weird signals was published on February 11, 2015 in Opinions

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