On Tuesday (April 29) night, Hot 100 leading man (for 10 straight weeks now) Pharrell Williams packed out New York City’s Webster Hall to headline the Sprint Sound Session, a concert event to launch the mobile service provider’s new HTC M8 phone. Songs that he’s produced either as half of the Neptunes duo like Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” or solo like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” peppered his career-spanning set. Disappointing a few hoping to catch a glimpse of his now famous Vivienne Westwood Buffalo hat, Williams topped off his jeans and white t-shirt by instead wearing a more conventional fedora.
During the early portion of his performance, audience members were outfitted with 500 HTC phones that were synched to flash and change colors to the beat of “Happy” among other cuts, as powered by Sprint’s wireless network. The ambitious technology was assembled proprietarily by @Radical.Media, who produced the concert and live-stream on behalf of Sprint and branding agency FRUKT. The Pharrell show was intended to be the first in a planned series of Sound Sessions events.
Though @Radical is no stranger to live-streamed concerts, from American Express’ ongoing “Unstaged” series to Lady Gaga’s “Artpop” album-release concert last November, the opportunity to incorporate hundreds of phones was a unique one. “We started to think about connected devices and something unexpected you could do with them,” says Brent Eveleth, @Radical’s group creative director. Adds CTO Evan Schechtman, “The idea of consumers being a media producer is no longer a novelty. They should be able to feel like stakeholders in a live experience.”
The Sprint performance also doubled as a preview of Pharrell’s forthcoming headlining tour, official dates of which are expected to be announced later this spring. As he first indicated with his celeb-packed performances at Coachella, Pharrell embraced the full spectrum of his catalog, from his current solo hits to smashes for other artists (Jay Z’s “I Just Wanna Love U,” Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl”) to his N.E.R.D. catalog (“She Wants To Move,” “Lap Dance”) to his recent guest features (Major Lazer’s “Aerosol Can.”)
Though P didn’t welcome any celebrity guests onstage, Webster Hall was packed with bold-faced names from across the industry who came out to fete the reigning Hot 100 king. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, fresh from his own Sprint announcement earlier that day, held court in VIP, where Coke’s music heads Emmanuel Seuge and Joe Belliotti were nearby. Columbia Records chairman Rob Stringer was on-hand to greet his star signing, as was Pharrell’s manager Ron Laffitte. Also in the room: Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino and the company’s head of sponsorships Russell Wallach, making the upper rafters of Webster Hall a veritable who’s who of Billboard’s 2014 Power 100.
On the celeb side of things, actor Adrian Grenier attended, as well as supermodels Chanel Iman and Heidy De La Rosa.