A “Happy” Space of Resistance

Link to Pharrell’s “Happy” Music Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM



In the grand scheme of entertainment, music videos are still in its early infancy stages.  Music videos were popularized in the early 1980’s by the television station, MTV.  Despite its novelty, this form of entertainment has impacted our society both culturally and socially quite substantially.  With today’s innovations and technological advancements (i.e., smartphones, tablets, YouTube, Vevo, etc.), viewing and streaming videos, and the like, has become rather accessible and convenient.  Moreover, music videos have become a pervasive form of media, which can be used to promote offensive stereotypes and negative images, or serve the public in a beneficial manner, such as a space of resistance for hegemonic views.

Pharrell Williams, a mainstream, American hip-hop and R&B artist does exactly the latter in his 2013 music video for is hit single, “Happy”.  Pharrell successfully uses his music video for “Happy” as a space of resistance towards hegemonic views of bodies (i.e., body types, forms, abilities, etc.), which are often represented in exclusive ways in mainstream mediaand, especially in music videos of hip-hop and R&B artists.


Throughout the music video, viewers can see that the individuals being portrayed in the production all have different body shapes, sizes, physiques, abilities, and are at different stages in life.  For example, near the beginning of the video, we see a young child dancing, moving onto a larger sized man dancing in the streets, followed by a smaller framed man busting some not-so-smooth moves, and eventually followed by a differently abled woman who is cheerfully singing along in her wheelchair.  Furthermore, all of these different individuals are presented in a positive light and manner; everyone is happily singing, dancing, and goofing around.  None of the characters are presented in ways which represent negative connotations or are being used to evoke empathy from the audience—they are all simply happy with life.

Image    Image

On the other hand, most mainstream artists often produce music videos which replicate the ideals of lean, athletic, able-bodied, conventionally attractive, masculine men, and or, feminine women.  Essentially, all the actors, actresses, dancers, back-up characters, etc., that are used in mainstream music videos are homogenous and fall under those specific criteria (as spoken of in Lecture 10).  For example, Maejor Ali’s music video for his song “Lolly”: every single individual portrayed in the video fit those above criteria.  Or alternatively, Pitbull’s “Timber” music video have actors and actresses who embodies a physical replicate of those criteria and of each other, only with a few minor differences (i.e., hairstyle).  Moreover, a quick search on any mainstream artist, regardless of the music genre, will show music videos that have selected characters that possess the physical characteristics and physiques of the ideal man or woman.  That is, they all fall under this homogenized representation of the human body and form.  Furthermore, when individuals with a different physical ability or trait are presented in mainstream videos, they are often depicted in a negative or disconcerting manner (i.e., they are portrayed as the victim, or the bad guy, etc.).

These shots of beautifying the human form through song and dance is an act for individuals to explore and claim their own bodies and the spaces around them.  The act is both liberating and affirming that it can be presented by everyone.  “Happy” encourages and enables the masses to be connected to this form of art.  The producers have chosen to cast individuals of all sizes, shapes, abilities, gender, race, age, etc., and did not choose to re-affirm the white, attractive, able-bodied, cis-gender male or cis-gender female, like every other mainstream North American media production.

Moreover, individuals are represented from different social classes, backgrounds and up-bringing’s are presented in Pharrell’s video.  For example, viewers can visualize the experiences of individuals who come from different working environments, street scenes, school environments, church, suburbia, neighborhoods and the interior of lavish buildings.  Pharrell presents these settings in a way for viewers to draw similarities and differences relative to the average viewer.  In contrast, the settings typically used for hip-hop and R&B music videos usually take place in a bar, club, extravagant mansion, yacht, or some other form of high-ended environment.  All of these extravagant scenarios and settingsare not particularly relatable for the majority of the videos’ target audience.


Furthermore, money and sex are often used collectively to objectify women, as hip-hop and R&B music videos often display minimally clothed women, with their male counter-part throwing money, or other materialistic goods at them.  Oftentimes, women are simply paraded around as sexually desirable objects, being represented as this one-dimensional cutout character with no real role in the music video.  However, none of this objectification is represented in “Happy”.  In fact, near the end of the video, you clearly see a young woman, who is dressed in baggy, “tom-boy-ish” clothing dancing in front of a truck.


Ultimately, Pharrell successfully used his “Happy” music video as a space of resistance by being able to re-affirm and help make marginalized bodies of different shapes, sizes, abilities, forms, ages, etc., visible under the mainstream radar, while presenting these bodies in an optimistic, lively and positive perspective.  As well, “Happy” is a nice contrast to the typical mainstream music videos we are bombarded with, where artists often present and enforce particular hegemonic representations of individuals and views of race, gender, bodies, etc.  Overall, this music video is a nice step forward towards creating a better and more realistic representation of the human body in our ever prevalent and influential mainstream media.

(However, with this all in mind, it is important to mention that this is just one of the many music videos by Pharrell—some of his other videos do play into, and promote these hegemonic views of gender, race, and body, i.e his music video for his song “Frontin’”.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srOfv5r7LGU ).


6 thoughts on “A “Happy” Space of Resistance

  1. I thought this was an excellent topic! This song is “trending” so much right now and it has struck large popularity worldwide. Not only is it catchy to sing and dance too (which I know because I watch/listen to my roommate dance and sing to it ALL DAY LONG) but it also promotes a nice message. The song overall is quite uplifting and after reading your analysis of the music video it sounds as though the music video matches the tone of the song. This message is quite nice because it reminds us that although we are different on the surface we all think and feel the same things. Pop-culture often causes us to put up walls based on physical qualities that make us believe we are different beyond repair. Yes, it is true that we come in all different colours, shapes, and sizes but that is a unique quality of life that should be celebrated. Furthermore, when it comes down to it we all fit together to create humanity and regardless of pop-culture’s walls of difference, we are biologically the same.

  2. I recently have become quite obsessed with Pharrell, so I am extremely glad you discussed his new song “Happy.” It is interesting because this song doesn’t seem like an obvious choice as resistance but you made some really good points! Although Pharrell is not singing about acceptance of different body types, etc. by using a variety of people with obvious differences he is demonstrating acceptance. Also I really like his line – “clap along if you know what happiness is to you.” The fact that he acknowledges that what makes one person happy might not make the other person happy, demonstrates again his acceptance of difference. In many music videos the idea of money, and women are the only thing that seem to make people happy, which is not the case. Although I haven’t heard all of Pharrell’s songs, I know his new album is entitled “GIRL” and that he wrote it to gain awareness about the inequalities between men and women. I’m not sure if his album actually demonstrates that, but I really like what he had to say http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FHcm2GHW6w

    • Yep, exactly. It’s nice that they’ve got a variety of individuals incorporated into the video, even if the the lyrics aren’t necessarily related to being diverse, or whatever. The song is just a general up-beat jam with happy lyrics, which should incorporate everyone and anyone who knows happiness–which “Happy” does. (However, many producers will often just portray the typical “norm” of people in their videos, thus feeding into these hegemonic views of “your typical individuals”.)

  3. I am extremely pleased with the popularity of this song, upon hearing it it just puts me in a good mood. after watching the music video I was extremely content with the expression of diversity physically, racially and culturally. although it is true Pharrell has taken part in some racy videos and songs like Robin Thickes “blurred lines” his attempt at stepping away from the classic pop culture was a bold statement and it worked out. It definitely appeals to a different crowd because it gives off such positive emotions. The messages being conveyed through the lyrics and the video are a step in the right direction for where the hegemonic views of pop culture should be going. I really enjoyed reading this post!

  4. I really LOVE this song, so much so that I am listening to it right now! As littlebunny10 stated, there is a nice message promoted throughout the song. Though we look different and act different, it is true that we think and feel most of the same things. I loved reading your post, it put me in a good mood. Pharrell tries to sing about acceptance of happiness in this particular song and in general, many of his songs are about acceptance and raise awareness to many societal problems that occur.

  5. I love this song too! I think part of it’s great success comes from the fact that it really spreads the message that happiness is for everyone. Everyone experiences it and it is an emotion that can unite us as humans. The lyrics really speak to being your own person, loving yourself and enjoying life. I recently saw an interview Oprah had with Pharrell to show his reaction to the enormous “fan-vid” responses this song got worldwide. It made me especially happy to see resistance work through music that people outside of North America could also partake in without making anyone feel excluded. http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/pharrell-williams-cries-happy-tears-with-oprah-winfrey-video-2014154

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