Last year was a sequel of sorts to Pharrell Williams' deluxe coffee table book Places and Spaces I've Been, in that the influential producer-crooner made cameos in a number of 2013's most significant pop cultural moments, as if he were a music industry version of Woody Allen's Zelig.
His catalog has always been a mix of lawless bangers dappled with dirt and stardust (see Neptunes) and sex songs characterized by a put-on sensuality belying a freakier undercurrent (see his daring and underrated 2006 solo album In My Mind, which crossed polite come-ons with unfiltered id).
So it makes sense that perhaps his smoothest year, pop culture-wise, would be a song about exploring (questionably worded) boundaries with your lover on "Blurred Lines" and staying up all night to "Get Lucky."
Over the past year, Pharrell also provided the hook for 2 Chainz's masterful, dealing drugs in the NSA-wiretapping era track, "Feds Watching," and the insane country-club stomp of Miley Cyrus and Nelly's "4x4." (In fact, Miley was originally slated to co-headline the Fontainebleau party with Mr. Williams and Afrojack. But instead, she chose ABC's New Year's Rockin' Eve. Bad move, girl.)
Having Pharrell actually perform instead of being a background fixture or a mere "host" at the 'Bleau's end-of-year party was an inspired move on the hotel's part, since he rarely gets to occupy and command a stage all on his own.
Also, Pharrell's push-pull between refined soulfulness and freaky grit was a great match for a night like New Year's Eve when people are on their worst behavior (shout out to the Fontainebleau's NYE 2013 headliner, Drake) while simultaneously trying to set a clean slate for the coming 365 days.
Somehow, the past week's dark and stormy weather let up, permitting the evening to proceed smoothly. The couches by the pool stayed dry. The Close Encounters of the Third Kind LCD display didn't suffer water damage. And the beautiful people remained beautiful.
Getting to and from the 'Bleau's poolside party area required crossing a number of hallways and staircases, and it was as much a mission as the hotel sequence in Inception. But the payoff was a veritable bazaar of white-tented open bars scattered about the low-cut lawn.
Outside, the ambiance was intermittently punctuated by large gusts of wind that may have emanated from speakers blasting "The Motto" and house remixes of Lana Del Rey songs. And the evening's DJ playlist suggested a wedding as much as a New Year's Eve party, even if the vibe suggested bachelor and bachelorette shenanigans more than holy matrimony.
Of course, the highlight of the night was the headliner.
Given that a Pharrell solo performance is mostly unheard of, as he's usually an excellent team player or curator, we weren't really sure what to expect. But his hit-laden medley reminded us that the last decade and a half's musical landscape has been indelibly shaped by his hands, from Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" to Britney Spears' "Slave 4 U" to the entire Clipse discography.
His eventual performance of "Blurred Lines" with perennial special New Year's guest T.I. (who came out before Future at Cameo last year) was a victory lap, and an inspiring run for anyone making resolutions in 2014.
-- Adam Katzman
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