Pharrell’s ‘G I R L’ Cover Controversy: There IS a Black Girl, Happy?


I really tried my best to be a silent (and slightly avoidant) observer of the colorism/intra-racism debates on Twitter on Wednesday, sparked by Pharrell Williams ‘ album cover for his forthcoming project, G I R L .

The cover displays himself with three models: a red-headed, fair-skinned woman and two racially ambiguous women, one of which is actually black.

For Pharrell, I imagine he thought the art direction worked well with his iamOTHER branding, which celebrates diversity and “otherness.”

Pharrell Williams 'G I R L' Album Cover

Pharrell Williams ‘G I R L’ Album Cover

Yesterday’s discussions actually turned disrespectful very quickly, exposing a lot of toxic ideologies on color held by blacks in America.

Since it was impossible to mute everyone, I did take in commentary from all sides and understood the valid reasons for discontent.

Black women, especially women of darker hues, are tired of being excluded in most instances where beauty or talent is celebrated, and then mostly only seeing themselves overexposed when there’s a need to showcase hyper-sexuality.

An observation of media around the world will tell you that dark women just aren’t beautiful. Dark women are heavily discriminated against on Latin American television networks such as Telemundo and are nearly absent from advertisements in India and Kenya, where skin bleaching is encouraged .

Major media outlets tell dark women they aren’t marketable or desirable, and when black men follow-suit with constant elevation of lighter skinned women over dark, it’s hurtful.

Sadly, Pharrell got caught in the cross-fire of a raging battle that seemingly has no end, and even the validation that a black woman is included in his cover art won’t help. She’s not “black enough.”

Also disappointing, is that the melee overshadowed his single “Happy” becoming a #1 hit — his first, especially after people expressed frustration over singles by Black artists not reaching #1 on Billboard at all last year.

Accused of self-hatred, Pharrell addressed the controversy on Power 105.1′s The Breakfast Club this morning. Read some excerpts and listen to the full interview below.

“What really disappointed me is they jumped the gun, because the one I’m standing closest to is black. She’s a black girl from Wisconsin that I used to date over ten years ago. Maybe twelve years ago. That just must suck man for people to look at something and to assume they know what’s going on. If they just bothered to listen to my album, they would know that my album was an ode to women, period. And the one thing that’s I’m trying to kill…well I can’t kill anything…but the one thing I was trying to aid in changing the crazy statuesque standard of you gotta be white, waif, and thin for you to be beautiful.

Man, it must suck to be that black woman that’s on my cover right now because she’s black.[…]When they find out that she is black, then what? Then we’re arguing amongst ourselves within color. Then the argument’s going to be she’s not brown enough. Then my question to you is, are y’all asking me do I have an Indian person on the cover? Why aren’t you asking about a Pakistani person? A Middle Eastern person on the cover. I just…man. What are we talking about? We’re making huge strides here. Let’s unify, dude. ‘Cause honestly, if you know anything about me, if you’ve seen any of my videos, you seen any of the girls I’ve ever dated, you know I like ‘em all.. You would know that.”

On his next record “Marilyn Monroe”:

“My next record is called “Marilyn Monroe” and the chorus is, “Not even Marilyn Monroe who Cleopatra pleased, Not even Joan of Arc, That don’t mean nothin’ to me, I just want a different girl.” So that means no matter what color you are, what size you are what you’re into, your sexual orientation, I respect you as a woman because I know without you, none of us would be here. But unfortunately, they looked at the cover [and] they didn’t see what they felt like…I don’t know what the definition is. That she’s a light-skinned black woman. So is our president not black? Is Lenny Kravitz not black? What are we talking about? Is Lisa Bonét in or out?”

On understanding the Black struggle:

“I’m not mad because I understand. I understand that plight. My dad is a dark-skinned man. I understand that all day long. Have I lived it specifically? Yeah, I’m a black man. They just reported I was the first Black person to go number one on pop radio since Rihanna, but then you’re gonna shoot at me. What do you mean? I’m gonna turn 41 in April. Of course I’m doing this for us. What are you talking about?”

My mom is a black woman who is a huge part of my business. My business is run by another black woman and I’m married to a black woman. What are you talking about?”

On if he’ll use a darker-skinned woman in a future video to appease the public

I refuse. My whole album is about women, period. There’s such a bigger statement that I’m making in the album that relates to all women and that’s how I think we bring everyone together is when we respect the female species across the board. I’m not telling you my album don’t have no slick, perverse things. That’s what I do sometimes. I like curves I like eyes. Beauty, body, all that stuff. But there are some real, true, keystone points about how I feel about women as it pertains to humanity, the social imbalance, how they don’t get paid as much as men do[…]or how these legislatures are trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their body. Meanwhile, these same people are beneficiaries to a woman. Not a man, but a woman agreeing to have them, but you’re going to tell them when they can and can’t do it. It just bothers me because they’re missing the point.