February 20, 2015
Pharrell begins authorial career with four-book deal
by Josh Cohen
Pharrell Williams has done plenty enough to qualify for jack-of-all-trades status. Pop culture-wise, he’s a modern-day Renaissance man: rapper, producer, TV host, multimedia artist, clothing designer, ostentatious hat stan, ageless wonder. But wait, there’s somehow more! Among other endeavors, he also established From One Hand to AnOTHER, a nonprofit whose mission is to “Change the world one kid at a time by providing them the tools and resources to meet their unique potential.”
So should we really be surprised that, according to the Associated Press (via ABC News) Pharrell is going to write picture books?
Insofar as this came out of nowhere, yes. But Pharrell has a demonstrated ability to do just about anything he damn well pleases, and especially in recent years, Pharrell is for the children.
We’re less than two months into 2015, and he already has four songs in movies targeted at kids: “Shine,” with Gwen Stefani, in Paddington, and three tracks with his band N.E.R.D. in The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. And of course there’s “Happy,” his latest mega-earworm that premiered back in 2013 in Despicable Me 2 and just won him his 10th and 11th career Grammys at the 2015 awards.
“Happy” will be the inspiration for Pharrell’s first book in his deal with Putnam Books for Young Readers, of which there’s a few significant things to unpack. First off, I’d like to formally submit that adaptations of songs into books heretofore shall be known as “reverse Tom Joads.” Second, the “Happy” book, due out September 22nd, will have a first printing of 250,000 copies. Third, Pharrell has already signed with Putnam to pen three more titles after “Happy.”
Yes, 250,000 copies is a stupid big number, one any author would drool over, let alone a neophyte to the publishing game like Pharrell (though he did contribute to a book called “We Are Friends with You,” by the art collaborative FriendsWithYou). At the same time, this next Pharrell jawn, like all his others of late, is destined to blow up huge.
Just consider the source material. “Happy” was Billboard’s number-one single last year, and the official video has just shy of 580 million views on YouTube; tack on the numbers for the Despicable Me 2-themed lyric video, and it tops 650 million; and we’re not even going to get into 24 Hours of Happy, a crazy ambitious thing that really did happen.
This song is enormously popular, and has already demonstrated it has over a year’s worth of staying power. Its poppiness and its message are relentlessly kid-friendly, while both the song and the artist have great appeal with adult listeners, too. That’s the key here: kids make up the readership for children’s literature, but their parents are the target marketing demographic. In book form, “Happy” will represent a proven success from the moment it hits the shelves as well as the children’s book that will best appeal to the people actually buying them. (ed. note: I still have not heard the song “Happy,” but I fully endorse Josh’s “reverse Tom Joad” thing, which is a great idea.)
What’s most interesting here are the other three books Pharrell will eventually churn out. Over the course of his illustrious career, he has really only made one hit that would seem a natural crossover here, and that’s “Happy.”
Remember that the year everyone in the world got that song stuck in its head, Pharrell also sang the hook on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and featured with Robin Thicke and some naked women on “Blurred Lines.”
Needless to say, those tracks are too PG-13 and too X-rated, respectively, for the Putnam Books for Young Readers imprint. It doesn’t look like any of Pharrell’s Spongebob offerings are going to take over the airwaves, plus repackaging one of those would probably lead to some sort of rights headache with Nickelodeon.
Which means that the second through fourth books in this deal are poised to be Pharrell Literary Originals. What those might read like, there’s very little way to say right now. The safe money says that they’ll be majorly successful, too—maybe not six-digit first print successful, but relative to the field; betting against the power of Pharrell’s popularity nowadays is just not wise.
Josh Cohen is a contributing editor for MobyLives.