Pharrell Williams performs onstage during Soundcheck: A Netflix Film and Series Music Showcase on November 04, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
The 17 Best Solo Pharrell Williams Performances
No, you won’t see any of Pharrell Williams’ work as part of N.E.R.D. or his best solo-produced songs. This is strictly the songs where he was front and center.
Pharrell Williamshasn’t always been on his own. In the late-‘80s, the Virginia Beach native and his high school friend, Chad Hugo, would align as the songwriting and production duo The Neptunes. Through this, the pair found themselves producing for rap and pop stars alike: JAY-Z, Ludacris, N.O.R.E., Diddy, Britney Spears and more. They also explored other musical territory through their progressive hip-hop and punk rock band N.E.R.D., as well as started their own label, Star Trak Entertainment, with early signees Clipse and Kelis. But by the early 2000s, it became clear that Pharrell was also interested in exploring his artistry as a solo artist.
Sure, N.E.R.D. showcased his abilities as a frontman, but the release of songs like “Frontin’” signaled a change. Fast-forward to now, and Pharrell has made a promising solo career for himself. From the rap-centric In My Mind to the inescapable pop hit “Happy,” Skateboard P became a solo star in his own right, further adding to his undeniable talent.
In honor of that, we’ve highlighted the best solo work throughout his career. No, you won’t see any of his work as part of N.E.R.D. on here, nor is this a list of his best solo-produced songs. This is strictly the songs where he was front and center as Pharrell Williams, whether through his own songs or features as the leading vocalist (hence, certain Daft Punk hits and Kaytranada tracks appearing on here). These are the 17 best solo Pharrell Williams performances.
17. “Happy” (2013)
Pharrell’s sophomore studio album Girl possessed the biggest hit of his career yet. First featured on 2013’s Despicable Me 2 soundtrack (which Pharrell co-produced), the gospel-tinged “Happy” burst with jubilation. Inescapable, “Happy” became a viral sensation (primarily thanks to its 24-hour music video, the first of its kind), so much so that the internet’s response to the song even brought the 13-time Grammy-winner to tears in front of Oprah Winfrey. Though released at the tail end of 2013, it was 2014 when the track really took off, helping it become the most successful song of the year.
16. Pharrell Williams & KAYTRANADA — “Midsection” (2019)
A long-overdue collaboration between Pharrell and multi-genre producer KAYTRANADA, “Midsection” marked the final groove on Kaytra’s 2019 album, Bubba. Like Girl, “Midsection” was yet another ode to the female figure, with Pharrell crooning about a woman’s “power” simply from seeing her bare torso. The song, which samples ‘80s Zouk band The Group NSI, would ultimately be a contributing factor to Bubba earning the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album in 2021, making Kaytra the first Black artist to win the award.
15. “Gush” (2014)
Possibly Pharrell’s most salacious track yet, “Gush” saw him revealing his most intimate thoughts. Over a funky synth and bass section (with some surprise violins toward the end) the Virginia Beach native coyly interpolates his appearance on Busta Rhymes’ “Light Ya Ass On Fire,” resulting in a song that gushes — pun absolutely intended — with pure flirtation.
14. Pharrell Williams & Kanye West — “Number One” (2006)
An epic link-up between two of the best hip-hop producers, ever. On “Number One,” a single from Pharrell’s solo debut In My Mind, the artist tapped Kanye West for a melodious anthem dedicated to the lady in his life. With a synth-heavy base, the pair fed off each other, their back-and-forth half sung, half rapped chorus making it an In My Mind classic, as well as a favorite on 106 & Park.
13. Pharrell Williams, Calvin Harris Katy Perry & Big Sean — “Feels” (2017)
The perfect jam for a sweltering pool party. Alongside pop icon Katy Perry and Detroit rhymesayer Big Sean, Pharrell’s falsetto takes center stage on “Feels,” the fourth single from Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Serving post-disco vibes with a bassline and chord progression akin to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Let’s Groove,” Pharrell commands the splashy 2017 track. “So I respect you, wanna take it slow,” he croons, hoping that his interest feels the same electric chemistry as he does. “Feels” feels like an endless summer, and Pharrell’s appearance plays an integral part to that.
12. “Angel” (2006)
The piano-looped “Angel” begins with possibly the greatest simile for a curvaceous figure: “She’s got an ass like a loaf of bread.” Midway through the In My Mind song, Pharrell characterizes a timid teenage boy approaching his love interest’s father for a mall date. The cheeky moment seems to personify young love (although Pharrell was 33 upon the album’s release), with Pharrell sheepishly declaring “I won't touch her, we'll be in your sight,” in the track. Sure, Pharrell. Sure.
11. Pharrell Williams & Daft Punk — “Lose Yourself to Dance” (2013)
Pharrell and Daft Punk burned up the dance floor on their second collaboration. A follow-up to “Get Lucky,” which also featured disco pioneer Nile Rodgers, “Lose Yourself to Dance” sees Pharrell and Daft Punk getting lost in nightclub euphoria. Pharrell’s signature airy vocals carry the Random Access Memories track, while Daft Punk show off their vocoder chops.
10. “You Can Do It Too” (2006)
It was the song that would unintentionally birth Tyler, the Creator’s idea for Odd Future. From In My Mind, the autobiographical “You Can Do It Too” finds Pharrell passing the torch to his most dedicated fans while pondering his origins. English jazz-pop vocalist Jamie Cullum appears at the end with a sweeping “Don't be afraid to look up in the sky” outro.
9. “Marilyn Monroe” (2014)
Pharrell’s Girl was arguably an orchestral album. Throughout the 11-track LP, heartfelt strings appear, beginning with Virginia-born violinist Ann Marie Calhoun on Pharrell’s affectionate “Marilyn Monroe.” Pharrell asks for a “different girl” unlike the pin-up beauty of Marilyn Monroe, which he received one year prior to the album’s release, having married model and designer Helen Lasichanh.
8. “Young Girl / I Really Like You” (2006)
Even Pharrell got his heart broken by a young girl once or twice. On the In My Mind track, which featured a Kingdom Come-era JAY-Z, Pharrell laments being a little too sprung despite mutual attraction. The artist further explores his amorous feelings on the merger track “I Really Like You.”
7. “Hunter” (2014)
Even romance brings out Pharrell’s animalistic side. On Girl’s “Hunter,” Pharrell’s vocals fluctuate while he tries not to seem like too much of a stalker over the track’s syncopated production. “Just because it's the middle of night / That don't mean I won't hunt you down,” he wails on the chorus. Let the chase ensue.
6. Pharrell Williams & Snoop Dogg — “That Girl” (2006)
It’s always a good time when Pharrell and Snoop Dogg link up. Two years after their “Drop It Like It’s Hot” breakout, the VA to the LBC pair reconnected for “That Girl,” the fourth and final single from In My Mind. Pharrell and Snoop trade sentimental verses about their respective love interests (a throughline in a majority of Pharrell’s solo discography), while Charlie Wilson blesses the song’s final chorus in a way that only he can.
5. Pharrell Williams & Miley Cyrus — “Come Get It Bae” (2014)
Miley Cyrus did Pharrell a solid after he contributed production to 2013’s Bangerz. On the sugary “Come Get It Bae,” repetitive handclaps and a bright guitar line take over. Pharrell and Miley – featuring backing vocals from pop singer-songwriter Tori Kelly – compare their sexual appetites to a motorcycle. With Miley no longer in her Hannah Montana phase, the unlikely duo worked.
4. Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk & Nile Rodgers — “Get Lucky” (2013)
The first of many collaborations between Pharrell, Daft Punk, and Nile Rodgers. The ensemble proved their individual legacies on “Get Lucky,” the first single from Daft Punk’s final album Random Access Memories. “We've come too far / To give up who we are / So let's raise the bar / And our cups to the stars,” Pharrell sings, seemingly toasting his collaborators on their respective achievements, while creating a defining and timeless hook in the process. The single shot up the Billboard Hot 100 and won Record of the Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2014 Grammy Awards, helping cement it as one of the biggest hits of Pharell’s career.
3. Pharrell & Gwen Stefani — “Can I Have It Like That” (2005)
On the first track and first single from In My Mind, Pharrell revisited his favorite “Hollaback Girl” Gwen Stefani for the braggadocious “Can I Have It Like That.” A dynamic bass line and drums coat the song, as Pharrell cleverly references New Edition’s 1984 hit “Cool It Now” and Transformers while offering the most flagrant boasts he’s ever committed to tape. Pharrell’s entrance into solo stardom, the song was less of an introduction and more of a reminder of Skateboard P’s rap prowess.
2. Pharrell Williams & Daft Punk — “Gust of Wind” (2014)
The third Pharrell and Daft Punk collaboration was both passionate and near-spiritual. Appearing on Girl, Pharrell’s signature four-count start opens “Gust of Wind,” the artist’s four-minute praise to the object of his affections. Lines like “music and colors can make one hover” acknowledge Pharrell’s synesthesia, and Daft Punk keeps the multi-hyphenate creative lifted with a digitized refrain.
1. Pharrell Williams & JAY-Z — “Frontin’” (2003)
The debut single that started it all. Pharrell eyed a solo career on 2003 compilation The Neptunes Present… Clones, with “Frontin’” being his entrance into musical independence. Despite JAY-Z assisting for a quick verse on his then under-the-radar relationship with Beyoncé, it’s The Neptunes’ euphoric production that transcends the song. Pharrell would later admit on Drink Champs that “Frontin’” was his best Prince impression but the feeling stuck, culminating in a song that remains one of his best over a decade later.