Most hit songs around this time were written by teams of writers, but this one was entirely composed by Pharrell Williams, who was formerly the N.E.R.D. lead vocalist and Neptunes producer. He wrote and recorded the song for the soundtrack of the 3D computer-animated action comedy film Despicable Me 2
. Williams also penned tunes for the first Despicable Me
flick, including its lead single, "Despicable Me
Finding a way to follow a trend and be unique at the same time seems like an impossible task, but that is exactly what Williams was facing with "Happy." It could have easily drowned in the stream of other songs - like "Treasure
," "Blurred Lines
" and "Get Lucky
" - that blended R&B, Funk and Soul if not for some clever techniques to help it ride the wave to the top of the charts.
For one, it had to be an earworm, and to do that, repetition is key. Aside from repeating the uplifting title 56 times, over 62% of the song is dedicated to its memorable chorus (about 20% more chorus time than most hits of the era). To make room for that monstrous chorus, there is no pre-chorus, solo, instrumental break or outro.
The song's visual is the world's first ever 24-hour Music video. The clip was directed by the creative duo We Are From L.A. and was filmed entirely on Steady Cam, requiring the crew to walk nearly eight miles per day over the course of 11 days. The visual plays on an all-day loop and follows more than 400 different characters enjoying daily bliss. As well as everyday people dancing through the streets of Los Angeles, we see a host of familiar faces having fun, including Despicable Me 2
stars Steve Carell and Miranda Cosgrove and Williams himself, who appears 24 times. Also showcasing their versions of happy are Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt from Odd Future. Kelly Osbourne, Sérgio Mendes, Ana Ortiz, Issa Rae, Bevy Smith, Magic Johnson, Jimmy Kimmel Steve Martin, Janelle Monáe and Jamie Foxx. And naturally the Minions pop up in the day long promo.
If you have a whole day to kill, you can check out the full version of the video on 24hoursofhappy.com
. There is also a more time-friendly version that clocks in at 4 minutes and 7 seconds.
The song plays during a pivotal moment in Despicable Me 2's storyline, and Williams wanted to re-create that feeling with the music video. "Gru, the lead character who's no longer a villain, has fallen in love and feels so much joy he literally dances through the streets," he explained. "That kind of happiness is so infectious; you can't help but smile."
Pharrell found a way to keep this song uplifting and interesting without overwhelming the listener. The momentum, tension and intensity levels (known in the biz as the MTI) are kept in a heightened state to match the feel-good mood of the song, but, of course, there has to be some variation to keep it fresh. This includes the careful implementation of background vocals, claps, conga, bass, electric piano and full drum elements to lift the song to its "happiest" state with a slight pull back on instrumentation on other parts of the song to give the chorus its full intensity.
Pharrell said during a listening party for his G I R L album that for this he attempted to temper his usual fare of "sweat and booty shaking" with a song that would reinforce joy and happiness "relentlessly."
This was the third UK #1 single in 2013 for Pharrell Williams. The Neptunes producer previously topped the charts on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky
" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines
," with writing credits on both. All three songs sold over a million copes and Williams became only the second artist after the Beatles to appear on three UK million-sellers inside 12 months.
The song featured in a Beats by Dre ad featuring people in different elated states. They included Pharrell himself dancing around the street and rapper Pusha T walking through a record store.
Pharrell told NPR that he created "seven to nine different actual full songs of trying to get that scene right" before coming up with "Happy." He explained: "With 'Happy' I went through everything that I thought was possible in my mind based off of what I understood about Gru and what I thought the people needed in terms of what the studio was looking for, and none of it was working."
"It was only until I was tapped out that I had to ask myself the fundamental question: they're asking for a song that's happy," he continued." They're asking for something where Gru is in a good mood, and that's when I realized that everything I needed was right there. I began to ask myself, 'What does feeling like a good mood feel like?' That's where 'Happy' came from, and that's how that happened. And it would have never happened if the studio wouldn't have kept telling me, 'No, it's not good enough. No, it's not good enough.'"
Williams makes sure the song never gets boring by using the "show, don't tell" rule in verse one and verse two. Instead of just telling us how happy he is, he shows he's carefree: "I'm a hot air balloon that could go to space, with the air like I don't care" and how bad news can't bring him down:
Here come bad news talking this and that, yeah,
Well, give me all you got, and don't hold it back, yeah,
Well, I should probably warn you I'll be just fine, yeah,
No offense to you, don't waste your time
This was the fourth #1 on the Hot 100 for Williams, but his first as a lead artist. He'd previously topped the charts as a featured act on Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot
," Ludacris' "Money Maker
" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines
." Williams also produced and co-wrote two other Hot 100 chart-toppers on which he didn't have an artist billing: Nelly's "Hot In Herre
" and Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl
The song was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to the Frozen
number "Let It Go
"Trust me: when they read the results, my face was ... frozen," Pharrell joked to GQ
. "But then I thought about it, and I just decided just to... let it go."
Happy's crossover appeal was demonstrated by it becoming the first song to top six distinct-format Billboard airplay charts. They were: Adult Contemporary, Adult Pop Songs, Adult R&B Songs, Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop, Pop Songs and Rhythmic Songs. Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You
, Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
," "Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know
," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines
" (on which Williams featured) all previously led five different airplay charts.
Williams originally gave this song to Cee Lo Green but the "Forget You
" singer declined to record the tune. Speaking with Howard Stern, Pharrell explained: "The powers that be at the time did not see it fit for him. There was a much bigger agenda for him, he had an album to put out. He wanted to do it but some folks on his team just felt the priority should have been on his album at the time."
This was around the tenth song Pharrell presented to Despicable Me 2's producer Chris Meledandri. "I was at zero," he revealed to W Magazine. "After nine different songs, recorded fully, they were like, 'No, no, no, no.' So I went back and wrote 'Happy.' I didn't have the melody, just the chorus. For 20 minutes after I finished, I was jumping around the room. I told Chris to listen to the song in his car, that if he didn't like 'Happy,' I didn't know what to give him."
The song title tied in nicely with the movie's licensing partner McDonald's, which included as a marketing ploy collectable Minion toys (Despicable Me's little yellow henchmen) in its Happy Meals for children.
The song went to #1 on the singles charts in the Netherlands. Its success was partially as a result of radio station 3FM airplay, as well as it featuring in a Transavia commercial.
"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied this song as "Tacky" on his 2014 album, Mandatory Fun.