Pharrell is all about the ladies: His most recent album is called G I R L, its songs are almost exclusively about females, and at his American Express “Unstaged” show last night at Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, he made a special point to introduce his “baes” (a.k.a. his backup singers and dancers): “There’s no stars on this stage, everybody up here’s suns,” he said, forgetting that suns technically are stars… but hey, the sentiment was there.
Pharrell is the latest to headline American Express’ “Unstaged” concert series, a project that pairs musicians and directors – including Vampire Weekend and Steve Buscemi and Arcade Fire with Terry Gilliam– for a performance at-home viewers can stream live.
Spike Lee helmed Tuesday’s show, but didn’t take the stage: He was holed away in a cramped trailer outside the Apollo, directing the nine cameras shooting Pharrell’s performance.
Inside the venue, Pharrell kept the energy high, taking the stage in his trademark hat (tonight’s color: emerald green) to kick off the show with “Lose Yourself to Dance,” a Daft Punk song he provided vocals for last year. Most of the songs he performed were originally collaborations with other artists – he only has two solo albums, but has produced or guested on multiple hits, including Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (produced by The Neptunes, the production duo Pharrell is one half of), Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” (written by Pharrell) which he touted as a “girl anthem” after a particularly feminist monologue. “Things are changing for women,” he said, “y’all are standing up.”
Last year’s hit “Blurred Lines” was next, and T.I. slid onstage to deliver his verse. The Atlanta rapper was the second guest of the night – Busta Rhymes beat him to it, appearing for a wonderfully chaotic rendition of “Pass the Courvoisier.”
Though much of the show consisted of Pharrell performing songs in the “Oh, I forgot he did this one!” category (see: Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” and “Beautiful”), his songs from G I R L were highlights in their own right: His baes came out wearing fluffy bathrobes and sunglasses for a disco-fied version of “Hunter,” and a stripped-down performance of album standout “Lost Queen” was dreamily hypnotic.
Not shockingly, Pharrell closed the set with Oscar-nominated “Happy.” Sadly, Amy Adams and Lupita Nyong’o weren’t there to show off their moves, but Williams did get on the audience’s level for the last half of the song – he even paused to let some take selfies with him as he continued to sing. Pharrell: happy superstar and multitasking pro.