Pharrell Williams’ reinvention of his cheery pop hit “Happy” on Sunday’s Grammy Awards telecast was the result of two major forces at work in 2014: race-related clashes across the U.S. and the omnipresence of Williams’ hit song since its release nearly two years ago.
Williams drafted film composer Hans Zimmer to create an ominous orchestral introduction to the song, which played out as a procession of young people came on stage wearing hoodies, their hands in the air, a not-so-subtle allusion to the violent confrontations between law enforcement and young African Americans that have made headlines several times during the past year.
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Veteran Grammy show executive producer Ken Ehrlich said he began talking to Williams last year about the possibility of performing “Happy” on this year’s show but doing it in a new way.
Ehrlich suggested he consider something like the finale of the 1980 film “Fame,” a favorite of Ehrlich’s, that merged rock music with jazz, classical, gospel and dance for an uplifting demonstration of music’s power to unify.
After nominations were announced in December, “I spoke again to Pharrell and he said, ‘I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to get Hans Zimmer to put it together.’ The idea here is that life is not happy for a lot of people. So when he sings this song now, he feels differently about it than he did for the two years he sang it and thought he was bringing joy to people.... Now we’re into social commentary. It’s a pulpit, and I’m so excited about it.
“Is that a little heavy for a TV show?” asked Ehrlich, who also masterminded last year’s performance in which 30 couples, including several same-sex couples, were wed onstage by Queen Latifah. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
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