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The story that culminates with the rollout of G I R L begins in 2012, when Columbia brass first heard "Get Lucky"--and then took Pharrell to lunch.
THE G I R L EVERYONE WANTS
How Pharrell and His Hat Came to Rule the World

As the world well knows by now, Pharrell Williams will drop his hotly anticipated solo album G I R L on 3/3, courtesy of Rob Stringer’s Columbia. The superstar’s Oscar-nominated single "Happy" has been exploding at seven radio formats and iTunes; the freshly announced street date will immediately follow his performance of the smash on the Academy Awards.

Though we’d known to expect an album sometime in the first part of the year, the sudden announcement and expertly coordinated campaign "fire drill" have now become a hallmark of Columbia, which has in the recent past created excitement with an out-of-nowhere David Bowie release, Daft Punk’s impeccable viral rollout and, of course, Beyoncé’s masterful December "sneak attack," which yielded a runaway monster.

The Oscar perf will come on the heels of three large international TV looks for Pharrell: his BRIT Awards performance (where Daft Punk won for International Group) and spots on Germany’s Betten Das and France’s Le Grande Journal. Pre-orders began immediately after the BRITs, and G I R L instantly rocketed into the iTunes Top 10 internationally.

With the breakout success first of "Get Lucky," followed by "Blurred Lines," his mega-hit collaboration with Robin Thicke, and then "Happy," which first appeared on the soundtrack to animated flick Despicable Me 2—not to mention his ubiquitous presence at the Grammys (both with the French robots and as Producer of the Year winner)—the table was set for Pharrell’s solo album to be massive.

But the label faces an interesting paradox: Although few if any performers have been more dominant across the pop-cultural zeitgeist, and Pharrell’s brand recognition is sky-high, there is no real benchmark for the album. Unlike Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Rihanna and the landscape’s other giants, Pharrell is, despite his history, putting out his first album since becoming a solo superstar.

Not that there’s much cause for concern. The aforementioned fire drill, which had label staffers once again assembling in the wee hours on the eve of release as they had with the Beyoncé project, unleashed a raft of PR materials, album art, a compelling, wordless teaser video and Web ads and viral content that blanketed YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other highly trafficked online real estate.

The iTunes page for the album identifies only one song, "Happy"; the other nine tracks are numbered but not titled, at Pharrell’s insistence—partly to keep the focus on the monster single, which is exploding at Pop, Hot AC, Rhythm, Urban, Urban AC and other formats, and partly to maintain some good-old-fashioned mystique. Nonetheless, Columbia believes the set, which reportedly takes its stylistic cues from the peak recordings of Michael Jackson and Prince, is packed with hits.

Stay tuned for details on a physical release, which will go wide rather than through any exclusive retailer.

The story that culminates with the rollout of G I R L begins in 2012, when Columbia brass first heard "Get Lucky." The song’s potential was obvious; Stringer and President Ashley Newton (who’d worked with Pharrell at Virgin during the artist/producer’s days with genre-stretching duo N.E.R.D.) arranged a lunch with Pharrell, manager Ron Laffitte and Caron Veazey, GM of the burgeoning star’s i am Other Entertainment.

They hadn’t yet heard the complete Daft Punk album or "Blurred Lines," but Stringer and Newton were ready to pitch Pharrell on the idea of solo pop stardom. The muti-faceted artist seized on the idea; by the time his deal with Columbia was complete in January of 2013, he’d completed a number of demos as well as "Happy."

Interestingly, when the latter song came out with Despicable Me 2, it didn’t have a significant impact. It was only after Pharrell released his own video (set up to be viewable for 24 straight hours), that it became a hit—first internationally and then in the U.S.

By Grammy time, the album was essentially done and "Happy" was becoming huge, and more social-media chatter was devoted to the signature hat he wore on the broadcast than to several of the other big winners. When Columbia looked at demand in the marketplace (which had been accelerating since "Blurred Lines"), coupled with the huge impending TV exposure starting with the BRITS and culminating with the big daddy of entertainment broadcasts, the Oscars, releasing G I R L on 3/3 became the obvious decision.

Pharrell’s visibility will continue throughout the year with a Coachella set, shows with Bruno Mars and big European appearances, Red Bull and other tie-ins. We can’t say exactly what else you should expect—except more surprises.

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