Pharrell on Evolving Masculinity, "Blurred Lines," and "Spiritual Warfare" – GQ

Welcome to GQ's New Masculinity issue, an exploration of the ways that traditional notions of masculinity are being challenged, overturned, and evolved. Read more about the issue from GQ editor-in-chief Will Welch here.

The instant I join Pharrell Williams and his wife, Helen, in the lobby of the Hotel Georges V in Paris, my day becomes suddenly frictionless. The hotel door whooshes open. We step out and into an idling black Mercedes Sprinter van. It glides off. We slide out at the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts, pausing briefly at the top of the museum stairs for Pharrell to bow to a young girl, maybe four or five years old.

Pharrell Williams covers the November issue of GQ. Click here to subscribe to GQ.

Inside the museum they are waiting for us. Pharrell has come to Paris to launch an anime-inspired collaborative installation with Mr., a Japanese artist associated with Takashi Murakami's Kaikai Kiki Co. The museum people greet us at the door; the exhibition space has been cleared so we can hang out and talk.

After a while we drift over to Market, a Jean-Georges restaurant. They are waiting for us. Delicious, healthful food arrives at the table. Pharrell and Helen close their eyes in prayer. We eat and talk and slip out. If a bill comes, I do not see it.

At Chanel they are waiting for us. In 2015, Pharrell starred in a campaign for the vaunted French fashion housenever mind that it isn't in the menswear business. Earlier this year, at the behest of the late Karl Lagerfeld, he became the first celebrity (of any gender) to collaborate on a capsule collection with the maison. It's called Chanel Pharrell. A fitting is going on in the atelier. We all wave hellos; Pharrell bows. We float up the mirrored staircase to Coco Chanel's apartment. A staff historian is waiting for us. She regales me with stories of Coco and her fabulous hideout. The metalwork of her decadent smoky-and-rose-quartz chandelier has the maison's famous double C's worked into it. When we have heard enough history, our guide evaporates so we can keep talking. There's a lot to discuss.

Pharrell has been an agent of change his whole career. When he broke into the public consciousness, about 20 years ago, as a producer and then as the frontman of N.E.R.D., he looked different from everyone else in hip-hop, wearing slimmer jeans, more fitted skate tees, and mesh trucker hats. That might not sound earth-shattering now, but a whole generation of young African American misfits will tell you that Pharrell Williams was the first time they saw themselves in pop culture. A weirdo called Skateboard P who stood confidently apart from rap's monolithic archetype. A nerd who made being different feel cool.

As he created hit after hit, Pharrell's wardrobe continued to morph. He special-ordered a custom-made Herms Birkin bag in inky purple crocodile and, in 2007, began wearing it everywhere. He started wearing Chanel clothes and jewelry, as well as designs by cultish Cline creative director Phoebe Philo.

Pharrell's wardrobe inspired subtle shifts in the culture around himand reflected shifts going on inside him too. This deep connection between his evolving fashion sensibility and his evolving sense of selfand the never-ending stream of miraculous pop music he created all the whilehas made him an icon to those of us here at GQ who believe style is about more than just clothes.

Pharrell, now 46 years old, has a brain that seems to run algorithms that project and simulate the future. He talks easily about masculinity, working through thorny ideas about the patriarchy, about the politics of gender and sexual identity in 2019 and beyond, about past missteps and his personal evolution. (As you'll see, I don't have to bring up the Blurred Lines controversy from 2013the one where the lyrics of the song he cowrote and produced for Robin Thicke were deemed rapeybecause he does.) He speaks with energy, range, and humility. Occasionally he slows down to choose his words carefully, but there is never a shadow of hesitation or fear. He thinks about this stuff constantly. He has a lot to say.


Pharrell on Evolving Masculinity, "Blurred Lines," and "Spiritual Warfare" - GQ

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