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Pharrell Williams' Movie, Music, and TV Career, Explained

Go ahead and thank Pharrell for delivering us some of the best songs of the 2000s.

By Elizabeth Logan & Jessica White

Grammy-winning record producer and artist Pharrell Williams has been dominating the industry for decades. 

How to Watch

Watch The Voice on NBC and Peacock. 

Pharrell has had his hand on dozens of legendary albums and iconic songs. Mastering the complete gamut of musical genres, Pharrell has collaborated with several industry legends and has generated an energizing discography jam-packed with infectious hits. Whether he's offering invaluable industry knowledge as a Coach on The Voice or getting crowds "Happy" with his riveting performances, Pharrell remains one of the most prolific producers and entertainers of our time. 

RELATED: The Voice Coaches Through the Years: A Timeline

Read on, below, to learn more about Pharrell's rise to fame and his sprawling music career.

Pharrell Williams' early career: forming the Neptunes

Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes

Born in 1973 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Pharrell first began performing as a member of the drum line in Princess Anne High School's band. While still in high school, Pharrell and Chad Hugo, Shay Haley, and Mike Etheridge formed the R&B pop group, The Neptunes, performing for their school's talent show. After graduating in 1991, Hugo and Pharrell began producing as a duo alongside producer and Blackstreet frontman Teddy Riley. 

Pharrell's first notable production credit came in 1992 after he wrote a verse for Wreckx-n-Effect's "Rump Shaker." From there, The Neptunes began producing several now-notable singles, with Pharrell collecting songwriting credits left and right. By the turn of the century, The Neptunes were producing hits for the rap duo Clipse (comprised of rappers Pusha T and Malice), Dr. Dre (1998's "Zoom"), Mystikal (2000's "Shake Ya -ss"), Jay-Z (2000's "I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)"), Babyface (2001's Face2Face album), and Usher (2002's "U Don't Have to Call"). These mash-ups only scratch the surface of Pharrell's early collaborators.

Pharrell Williams and The Neptunes' early production credits 

Pharrell Williams holds up his large diamond chain

From there, The Neptunes continued to pick up steam and work with an increasing number of music moguls. In 2001, The Neptunes produced Britney Spears' "I'm a Slave 4 U" and "Boys" for her self-titled third album. In 2002, The Neptunes produced the megahit "Hot in Herre" for Nelly. After producing *NSYNC's final single "Girlfriend," the duo generated Justin Timberlake's singles "Like I Love You," "Rock Your Body," and "Señorita." In 2003, Pharrell scored two Grammy awards after The Neptunes won for Producer of the Year and Timberlake's Justified won Best Pop Vocal Album. 

After creating the record label Star Trak with Rob Walker in 2001, The Neptunes began working on a compilation album featuring artists across the label. In 2003, The Neptunes dropped the compilation album, Clones, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. The following year, The Neptunes produced Snoop Dogg's praised hit, "Drop It Like It's Hot," which also featured Pharrell.

The Neptunes' signature staccato pop beats and energizing production defined the early 2000s sonic landscape as Pharrell continued to work with the industry's latest and greatest. A 2003 survey cited by The Age revealed The Neptunes were responsible for producing 43% of the songs rocking U.S. radio waves at the time. In 2022, The Neptunes were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Pharrell Williams and N.E.R.D.'s studio albums

N.E.R.D. pose for a photo together against a brick wall

In a career shift that established himself as a performer as much as a Neptunes producer, Pharrell formed the side project N.E.R.D. (a backronym for "No One Ever Really Dies") in the late 1990s. The group consists of Pharrell, his Neptunes collaborator Hugo, and Shay Haley. Placing Pharrell in front of the mic as a lead vocalist made way for expanded creative expression as the group explored avante-funk rock and bossa nova pop through a grunge-R&B lens. 

N.E.R.D. has released five albums throughout the group's tenure and produced a robust lineup of singles for celebrated artists. In 2002, N.E.R.D. released their first album, In Search of..., and followed that up in 2004 with their sophomore studio album, Fly or Die. In 2008, after a label switch from Virgin to Star Trak, N.E.R.D. released their third album, Seeing Sounds. N.E.R.D.'s fourth studio album, Nothing, was released in 2010.

In 2017, N.E.R.D. released their fifth and most recent album to date, No One Ever Really Dies, inspired by their namesake. The group had fans in a frenzy with the album's lead single, "Lemon," featuring the mythic Rihanna. The album is a testament to Pharrell's infinite phonebook of connections, also featuring collaborations with André 3000, Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A., Future, Wale, and Gucci Mane.

Pharrell Williams' solo albums: In My MindGirl, and Phriends, Vol. 1

Pharrell made his solo studio debut in 2006 with In My Mind. Boasting the catchy tracks "Can I Have It Like That" (featuring Gwen Stefani), "Angel," and "Number One" (featuring Kanye West), the album scored a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.

Girl and Pharrell's Supernova Hit "Happy"

While Pharrell had certainly carved out a legacy within the music industry by the 2010s through his high-demand production, he earned meteoric fame as a solo artist with his 2013 hit "Happy." The song was originally featured on the soundtrack of the Despicable Me sequel, making its way to Pharrell's sophomore studio release, Girls, in 2014 as its lead single. Like its predecessor albums, Girl features a bursting locker room of iconic voices, with features from Timberlake, JoJo, Daft Punk, and fellow Voice alums Alicia Keys and Miley Cyrus

"Happy" was an astronomic success, spending 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and becoming 2014's best-selling song. The music video, featuring Pharrell's mesmerizing falsetto and a neo-soul beat, was a viral obsession after being marketed as "the first 24-hour music video." As of May 2024, the four-minute version of the music video has accumulated over 1 billion views on YouTube. Pharrell's Girl and the explosive hit "Happy" scored an Academy Award nomination and won the megaproducer three 2015 Grammy Awards: Best Music Video ("Happy"), Best Pop Solo Performance ("Happy" Live), and Best Urban Contemporary Album. 

While Pharrell shows no signs of slowing down within his immeasurable production career, fans are waiting on his third studio album, Phriends, Vol. 1. In 2023, Pharrell released the single "Airplane Tickets" featuring Rauw Alejandro and Swae Lee.  

RELATED: Kodi Lee's Cover of "Happy" by Pharrell Williams Will Put a Smile on Your Face

Pharrell Williams many industry collaborators

Gwen Stefani and Pharrell attend KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2014

Pharrell has been the curator of several number-one hits since his rise to fame in the late 1990s. He has songs with Gwen Stefani, Daft Punk, Kendrick Lamar, Miley Cyrus, Jay Z, Shakira, Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliot, and Ariana Grande, among others. 

Pharrell, the film composer

Pharrell and a minion arrive at the premiere of Universal Pictures' "Despicable Me 2"

Pharrell has appeared as the voice of himself in several noteworthy films and series. Pharrell made special appearances in SNL alum Lonely Island's 2016 film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Black Is King (2020), North Hollywood (2020), and A Man Named Scott (2021). As for animated projects, he appeared as himself in an episode of The Simpsons ("Walking Big & Tall") and was the narrator in the 2018 adaptation of The Grinch. In 2021, he provided the voice for Alfonso in Sing 2

Pharrell's preternatural talent has also lent beautifully to several film scores, most famously the Despicable Me franchise's original trilogy. In 2016, Pharrell served as both a producer and composer for the Oscar-nominated biopic Hidden Figures. The score also earned Pharrell two nominations at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

Pharrell, the fashion designer and business mogul

Pharrell has proven through his diverse production portfolio that he is a man of big ideas, which has extended to a lively career in fashion, art, and other ventures. In 2005, Pharrell helped create the streetwear brand Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream footwear. In 2008, Pharrell worked with French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton to design a line of eyewear and jewelry. In 2009, Pharrell debuted a collaborative sculpture with Takashi Murakami at Art Basel, a piece that spoke to the concept of value.

Pharrell has created exclusive lines for an esteemed roster of fashion companies, including but not limited to Adidas, Chanel, Moncler, Uniqlo, and Louis Vuitton. Pharrell has also expanded his creative reach to skincare, launching Humanrace in 2017. In 2023, Pharrell was announced as the men's creative director for Louis Vuitton, with his first collection debuting at Paris Men's Fashion Week in June 2023.

"I am glad to welcome Pharrell back home after our collaborations in 2004 and 2008 for Louis Vuitton, as our new Men's Creative Director," Louis Vuitton chairman Pietro Beccari said in a statement. "His creative vision beyond fashion will undoubtedly lead Louis Vuitton towards a new and very exciting chapter."

Pharrell as a Coach on The Voice

Swayer Fredericks and Pharrell pose for a photo together on The Voice stage

With oodles of industry knowledge within his repertoire, it was no surprise when Pharrell made his way to The Voice. Pharrell made his Voice debut as a Battle Advisor for Team Usher in Season 4, settling into his own red chair in Season 7.

He ultimately served an astounding Voice run for four consecutive seasons, winning in Season 8 with his Team Pharrell singer-songwriter, Sawyer Fredericks. 

RELATED: Listen to The Voice Winners' Original Songs

Pharrell Williams' new movie: Piece by Piece

When Pharrell decided he wanted to tell his life story in a movie, he reached out to Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville with a unique idea: use Legos. Taking the surreal approach allowed the duo to open up creatively in how they shared the musician's background and music, combining real interviews with Lego-fied version of collaborators like Snoop Dogg and Gwen Stefani with dream-like visuals. Of course a Pharrell Williams movie will look like nothing else out there.

“We wanted it to be a medium for anyone that just wanted to hear a good, aspirational, inspiring story told vividly, in a way that felt like it could apply to them personally,” Pharrell told Variety. “That they’d realize that at seven years old or 77 years old, they could wake up tomorrow and go tell their story, piece by piece.” The article also noted that the Pharrell Lego will wear many outfits throughout the lego movie, hopefully including the iconic Pharrell Williams hat.

The new Lego movie Piece by Piece hits theaters October 11.

Pharrell Williams' synesthesia

Visuals and music have always gone hand-in-hand for Pharrell, who explains in the Piece by Piece trailer that from a young age, he saw colors when he listened to music. It seems that the artist has synesthesia, a benign condition more common among artists that causes the senses to overlap. Some people can "see" taste or have specific colors associated with specific words or numbers.

Williams has spoken about his synesthesia before, emphasizing that many people have some version of it, and explaining how it manifests for him. “People with synesthesia, we don't really notice until someone brings it up and then someone else says, 'Well, no, I don't see colors when I hear music,' and that's when you realize something's different," he told NPR in 2013. "It's the only way that I can identify what something sounds like. I know when something is in key because it either matches the same color or it doesn't. Or it feels different and it doesn't feel right.

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