Pharrell Williams: Happy

Written by Elaine Sexton

Poet, Critic, Educator

In category: Song of the Day

Published May 17, 2019

This ecstatic song needs no introduction. The text for “Happy” is itself an irrepressible extended metaphor for the title, a song built on similes “like a room without a roof”.  “Happy” sold 6.45 million copies in the U.S., alone, in the year after its release in 2013, at the top of the Billboard’s hot 100 chart, and “covered” by over 1,500 You Tube videos in 2014. The first mime of the song I’d ever heard was a You Tube sent to me from a cousin in Paris, a hilarious version made by the staff of Air France

That year these video celebrations seemed to be everywhere at once, everywhere in the world from New Zealand to Poland to Iran. Sometimes with dire political consequences. 

I’ll close my week as guest blogger with a stunning version of “Happy,” one that Williams performed live with pianist Lang Lang for the 57th Grammy Awards. Suffice it to say, the devastating death of Eric Garner (whose trial is being held now in New York as I write this), had taken place a few months before. Watching this performance alerts us to the privilege happiness is, and how powerful each interpretation of the lyrics to a song can be.  

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Elaine Sexton is a poet, critic, and educator. She is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Prospect/Refuge (Sheep Meadow Press, 2015). Her poems and reviews are widely anthologized and appeared in journals including Art in America, ARTnews, American Poetry Review, O! the Oprah Magazine, and Poetry. She teaches poetry and text and image at numerous colleges, universities, and art and writing centers in the US and abroad, among them Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Arts Workshop International.

NYFOS and Five Boroughs Music Festival recently commissioned a set of poems from Ms. Sexton inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. They have been set to music by a group of women composers and the complete song cycle, titled After Stonewall, will be premiered on June 11 at NYFOS Next: Laura Kaminsky & Friends.


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