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The Nominees: Beck | Beyoncé | Pharrell Williams | Ed Sheeran | Sam Smith
After owning 2013 by guesting on two of the year's biggest singles, Pharrell Williams kept the good times rolling in 2014. Announced in December '13 and released less than three months later, while Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" were still stuck in everyone's heads, G I R L was bound to blow up. For starters, it's a slick and sexy mash-up of pop, R&B, funk, and disco, and when Justin Timberlake shows up on "Brand New," even he struggles to match Pharrell's assured cool. G I R L is the best flat-out party record on the list of nominees for Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammys. Another reason the album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and topped the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart: "Happy," the monster single that first surfaced on 2013's Despicable Me 2 soundtrack and further primed the public for more Pharrell. It's an irresistible track that earned him an Oscar nomination and shot to No. 1 on the Hot 100, establishing this longtime producer and frequent collaborator as a solo superstar in his own right. Although Pharrell didn't win the Academy Award, he performed "Happy" at the ceremony, which just so happened to take place the day before G I R L dropped.
Billboard 200 peak
Fun Fact: G I R L's smash single "Happy" finished 2014 as the No. 1 song on Billboard's year-end Hot 100 chart.
G I R L was also a smart record to release in a year dominated by female artists. As Pharrell told reporters, the album was his attempt to set the record straight about his feelings toward women -- something that was necessary after allegations of sexism dogged "Blurred Lines." The Guardian dubbed the disc an "almost-concept album celebrating women," and that description seems about right in light of tunes like "Know Who You Are," featuring Alicia Keys. "I want every woman to make a pledge with me," Ms. Keys declares on that one, later adding, "I will do, what I need, 'til every woman on the earth is free." If that sounds a bit heavy, G I R L is anything but. Standout "Hunter" plays like a Bee Gees jam for the hip-hop age, while on the complete other end of the spectrum, "Lost Queen" is a minimalist, almost tribal-sounding R&B tune reminiscent of Pharrell's production work with the Neptunes. In addition to writing and producing these 10 tracks, Pharrell played piano, synths, drums, percussion, and who knows what else. That he probably did it all while wearing that big old park-ranger hat is all the more impressive.
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