Pharrell Williams has had a stellar career in music and has been a mainstay as a producer since the turn of the millennium. The producer who rose to fame as part of The Neptunes alongside Chad Hugo is also a rapper, songwriter, and entrepreneur who has helped many artists get onto the charts.
Following his success in the 2000s as a hip-hop beatmaker and emcee, as he entered a new era and decade, Williams decided to reinvent himself and refresh his sound. In the early 2010s, Pharrell began to produce more radio-friendly funk and pop music. However, one of his tracks was rejected by the team of an artist he approached to vocal it.
In 2013, it was announced that Brazilian musician Heitor Pereira and Pharrell Williams would be the executive producers of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack. The body of work featured three original songs from Williams, one of which was ‘Happy’.
When Williams first wrote and produced the single, the artist he wanted to sing it was the iconic Atlanta vocalist CeeLo Green. Most known for his hits ‘Crazy’ and ‘F*ck You,’ CeeLo Green (real name Thomas Callaway-Burton) has a highly distinct voice, but in an interview with Howard Stern, Pharrell unveiled complications got in the way of him being on the final version of ‘Happy.’
According to Williams, “the powers that be,” most notably the Goodie Mob team, chose not to allow Williams to release Green’s version of ‘Happy.’ Although he never put it out, the Virginia beatmaker told Stern that Green “sounded amazing” on the record.
Cautiously detailing how the recording unfolded, Williams explained, “He [CeeLo] did it. He did do it. But the…how do I say this diplomatically? The powers that be at the time did not see it fit for him. And there was a much bigger agenda for him.”
He continued, “He had bigger fish to fry. He had an album to put out. He wanted to do it, but I think some folks on his team just felt that the priority should have been on his album at the time. And so they elected not to do that song but with another one instead. He was one of the most gracious people about it.”
Although ‘Happy’ debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, topped the charts worldwide and received multi-platinum certifications, Green was never bitter about it. In fact, he was jovial. Detailing the vocalist’s response, Williams told Stern, “When it came out, he congratulated me. When we got nominated, he congratulated me. He’s a super standup guy. He sounded amazing on it. I mean, he burns my version.”
You can hear CeeLo Green speaking about ‘Happy’ below.