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A “Happy” Space of Resistance

Link to Pharrell’s “Happy” Music Video:



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.

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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’”. ).

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