Pharrell Williams turned 41 this weekend, and he celebrated by taking his giant Vivienne Westwood hat over to Studio 8-H and making his first appearance on Saturday Night Live in nearly a decade. For his first act, he continued the good work of spreading joy throughout the world by performing his ebullient Despicable Me 2 chart-topper “Happy,” backed by a dancing wall of some dozen young kids with amazing moves.
It’s hard to top that kind of energy, but Pharrell managed to come close for his second number, “Marilyn Monroe,” the first track and second single from his new solo album, Girl. Backed by an all-female string orchestra conducted by his Amazing Spider-Man 2 collaborator, Hans Zimmer, Pharrell worked the old-school dance track to the hilt.
Zimmer’s appearance on the sidelines of SNL might come as a surprise, but he and Pharrell had been friends for years before joining forces on the Spider-Man soundtrack. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Pharrell talked about the influence that Zimmer has had on his own artistic output. “He’s a big brother. There’s actually an educational side to our friendship,” he said of the Academy Award- and Grammy-winning film composer. “Before, I was basically getting my jollies from aesthetic, shallow pleasures because it was all surface. When I understood the importance of purpose and the gravitas in intention, that’s when my music started to become as close to magic as it could be. When you dig into his scores, they’re magical.”
Pharrell and his hat also appeared in one sketch with host Anna Kendrick, playing himself auditioning a pair of backup singers doing an unsettling interpretation of “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent.