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"Happy" was the most successful song of 2014, with 13.9 million units (sales plus equivalent streams) worldwide.
Williams provided vocals for French duo Daft Punk's 2013 album Random Access Memories, on the songs "Lose Yourself to Dance" and "Get Lucky". After returning from the recording sessions in Paris, he attended a meeting with record label managers who said that the results were "spectacular" and that "Get Lucky" would be Daft Punk's next single. They also made Williams an offer to record his own album, to which he agreed quickly, "overwhelmed that someone wanted to know what's in my heart."
On December 17, 2013, it was announced that Williams had signed to Columbia Records and would release his second studio album in 2014. In a December 2013 press release, Rob Stringer, Chairman of Columbia Records, said "When we excitedly partnered with Pharrell in January of this year, we felt it was his time again. Since then, 'Blurred Lines' and 'Get Lucky' have defined pop music in 2013, and now we are preparing to launch Pharrell as a global solo superstar in 2014. 'Happy' is just the beginning."
"Happy" was written and produced by Williams, with backing vocals by Rhea Dummett, Trevon Henderson, Ashley L. Lee, Shamika Hightower, Jasmine Murray and Terrence Rolle. The track was digitally edited and arranged by Andrew Coleman and Mike Larson, who also recorded it with assistance from Matthew Desrameaux at Circle House Studios in Miami, Florida. The song was later mixed by Leslie Brathwaite at Music Box Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.
"Happy" is a mid-tempo soul and neo soul song. According to music journalist Paul Tingen, "Happy" is "a mid-tempo ... song in a faux-Motown style, with an arrangement that is, by modern standards, very sparse: programmed drums, one bass and one keyboard part, and handclaps both programmed and played, all topped off by Williams's lead vocals and a whole posse of backing vocals".Jody Rosen viewed the song as a "standout" with a "sprightly neosoulfunkgroove".
Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone gave it 3.5 stars and deemed it "an instant contender for 2013's Song of the Summer". In a 4/5 review, Renowned for Sound's Huw Woodward said, "Happy is a rather... well... happy affair with a cheerful beat and exuberant vocal that would indicate that the former N.E.R.D singer is finding a lot of lighthearted fun to be had in both music and life. 'Because I'm happy, clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth' sings Williams as the jaunty rhythm gets your head nodding." Holly Williams of Contactmusic.com gave it four stars, praising it for being "unbelievably catchy" and "the kind of song that makes you want to dance and sing along".
The song was nominated for Best Original Song at the 86th Academy Awards on March 2, 2014, but lost to "Let It Go" from Frozen. When GQ magazine asked Williams "how badly" he wanted the Oscar, he responded: "When they read the results, my face was...frozen. But then I thought about it, and I just decided just to... let it go."
"I like that song 'Happy'..." remarked Phil Collins. "It's a great groove and he's a very smart guy."
In October 2013, a month prior to its release, "Happy" catapulted to No. 1 on the Dutch Top 40 chart in the Netherlands, partially as a result of radio station 3FM airplay and subsequent online downloads, as well as featuring in a Transavia commercial. It was released worldwide on November 21, 2013. 2014, after 35 weeks in the charts and then still in the top 15, "Happy" became the most successful song in the Dutch Top 40 of all time.
In the United Kingdom, "Happy" debuted at No. 71 on the UK Singles Chart on December 1, 2013. It then spent four weeks climbing before finally reaching No. 1 on December 29. It became Williams' third No. 1 song in Britain, counting "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines", where he appeared as a featured artist. It has since spent four non-consecutive weeks at No. 1, reaching the peak on three separate occasions. In doing so, Williams became only the third artist ever to achieve this, and the first since Guy Mitchell in 1957 with "Singing the Blues". Following the single's third week at No. 1, it spent five weeks in the top three before returning to the summit, boosted by his performance at the 2014 Brit Awards. In the same week that "Happy" returned to No. 1 for the third time, it sold its millionth copy in the UK, Williams' third in under a year, having previously done so with Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" in June 2013, and Thicke's "Blurred Lines" in July 2013. This made Williams only the second artist in UK chart history (the first being The Beatles) to have three singles sell 1 million copies in under a year, as well as only the third artist ever to have three million-sellers, along with The Beatles (who have six) and Rihanna (who has four).
"Happy" was the best-selling single of UK in 2014 with 1.5 million copies sold for the year, and became the most downloaded song of all time in the UK by September 2014, with over 1.62 million sold. It had also been streamed over 25 million times and was the first song released in the 2010s to go 3× Platinum. With the inclusion of streaming, "Happy" has achieved combined sales of over 2 million. Additionally, "Happy" and Idina Menzel's "Let It Go" became the first singles ever to spend an entire calendar year on the official UK top 75 chart. On June 12, it was announced that "Happy" had overtaken "Evergreen" by Will Young as the UK's best-selling single of the 21st century with sales of 1.81 million. "Happy" spent 92 weeks in the UK top 100. On April 22, 2016, "Happy" went 4× Platinum. As of September 2017[update], the song has sold 1,922,000 copies, which gives a total of 2,630,000 combined units when 70 million streams are included.
On the New Zealand Singles Chart, "Happy" debuted at No. 11 on December 23, 2013. The next week it moved to No. 2. Then on January 6, 2014, "Happy" began a 12-week consecutive reign in the No. 1 position, right up until March 24, 2014. It then dropped to No. 2 for one week, then spent a further three weeks at No. 1, bringing the total number of weeks at No. 1 to fifteen, breaking the 36-year-long record for most weeks spent at No. 1, previously held by Boney M.'s "Rivers of Babylon". As of February 22, 2015[update], "Happy" had spent 62 straight weeks in the New Zealand Top 40 since its debut, before finally dropping out of the chart the following week. The song has been certified 6× Platinum in New Zealand.
"Happy" reached the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending March 8, 2014, giving Williams his fourth No. 1 single on the chart, but his first as lead artist. It took twelve years and a week (as the issue date is March 8, 2014) to achieve his first Hot 100 No. 1 hit as a lead artist. The song remained at No. 1 the following week, and also topped the Hot 100 Airplay chart. The song also holds the record for the second-highest audience peak for a week on the Hot 100 Airplay, with 225.9 million impressions while Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines", a song in which Pharrell was featured as well as produced and co-wrote, holds the all-time record. The song remained at the No. 1 position longer than any other song in the calendar year. The single passed its 4 million sales mark in April 2014, the first song of 2014 to do so.
On the week of May 17, 2014, after spending ten weeks at the summit, "Happy" was finally knocked off of number one by John Legend's "All of Me" down to the No. 2 spot. "Happy" became the 28th song in the history of the chart to reach this milestone. It spent a total of 22 weeks in the top 10, entering on the week-ending February 15, 2014 and departing on July 19, 2014. The song sold 5,633,000 copies in the US in the first six months of 2014, the most ever of any song in the first six months of any calendar year. It was also the best-selling song of 2014 in the US with 6.45 million copies sold for the year, and has sold over 6.9 million total copies in the US as of April 2015[update].
The song also topped the charts of 22 other countries, including Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Spain. It has spent twelve weeks (including seven consecutive) at No. 1 in Ireland, making it the third song in less than a year to spend more than seven weeks at No. 1, after Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Avicii's "Wake Me Up!". In France, "Happy" spent 22 weeks at No. 1, the longest reign at the top of the Syndicat National de l'Edition Phonographique, beating Lou Begas "Mambo No. 5", which spent 20 weeks at No. 1 in 1999.
To coincide with the single release, the website 24hoursofhappy.com was launched, featuring a visual presentation of "Happy", which was advertised as being "the world's first 24-hour music video." The video was shot by steadicam operator Jon Beattie, its creative director was Yoann Lemoine and its director the French directing team We Are from LA. It consists of the four-minute song repeated multiple times, with various people dancing around Los Angeles and miming along. The website allows users to navigate to various points in the 24-hour timeframe, including all 360 four-minute segments.
The original video spawned many cover videos on YouTube in which people from different cities throughout the world dance to the song. Those videos are usually called "Pharrell Williams - Happy - We Are from [name of the city]". As of May 2014[update], more than 1,500 videos have been created. Inspired by this global phenomenon, a French couple launched a website wearehappyfrom.com to showcase the remakes.
In May 2014, a group of Iranian fans who created a tribute to "Happy" were arrested. According to a police chief, the song represented vulgarity and also hurt public chastity. Williams responded to the arrest in a tweet stating "It's beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness." Soon after Iran's President Hassan Rouhani criticized the arrest when he tweeted "#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviours caused by joy." The dancers, along with the director, were later released. It was reported on September 19, 2014 that seven of the individuals in the Iranian video had been handed suspended punishments of 91 lashes each along with jail sentences by Iranian courts. The result of the suspended sentence is that if another crime is committed in the next three years, then the punishments will be carried out.
^"Media Forest - Weekly Charts. Media Forest. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2018. Note: Romanian and international positions are rendered together by the number of plays before resulting an overall chart.
^"Media Forest - Weekly Charts. Media Forest. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 3 July 2018. Note: Select 'Songs - TV'. Romanian and international positions are rendered together by the number of plays before resulting an overall chart.