The storied producer and longtime animation junkie will perform the nominated 'Despicable Me 2' hit on the Oscars March 2.
BEVERLY HILLS — For seven months, Pharrell has been goading pop fans to "clap along if you feel like a room without a roof."
Happy finally has blasted through the roof, selling 1.3 million downloads, rising to No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100 and drawing more than 67 million views to its music video (another 7.4 million to the 24-hour version).
The playful hit, one of five tracks Williams composed for the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack that he co-produced, is nominated for an Oscar in the original song category alongside Ordinary Love from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Let It Go from Frozen and The Moon Song from Her.
"That's great company," says the soft-spoken Pharrell, who will perform Happy on the Academy Awards telecast March 2 before an estimated 40 million U.S. viewers.
Unaccustomed to such an intense spotlight, the longtime producer is unruffled.
"I'd be nervous if I were singing a braggadocious song," he says. "It's interesting to convey a message that people can use. It's bigger than a music thing. It's humbling, not scary."
Pharrell Wiliams has had a huge year with hits like 'Blurred Lines' and 'Get Lucky.' He's also nominated for an Oscar for his 'Happy' song from the movie 'Despicable Me 2.' VPC
Happy has a strong shot at the gold, says Billboard senior correspondent Phil Gallo.
"Happy is obviously a huge hit," Gallo says. U2's Mandela theme "hits the right tone. It's a prestige song by a prestige act in a prestige film. Let It Go is a cultural phenomenon. The Spike Jonze song (Moon) has a touching innocence and is used in a cool way, but I don't know that it has the same kind of broad connection.
"The beauty of Happy is that it's so closely associated with Pharrell. It has transcended the film audience to connect with people on a musical level. That can only be good."
The song, while reflecting Pharrell's buoyant personality, isn't strictly autobiographical, he says, stressing that his focus was to serve a pivotal scene featuring reformed villain Gru.
"I'm not like running around grinning every five seconds," Pharrell says. "But I have an appreciative nature. I usually go to sleep smiling."
Pharrell's deep hip-hop bonds didn't preclude a plunge into the cartoon realm, a direction he says was personal and not prompted by son Rocket, 5.
"I've always been a child, a big little boy," says Pharrell, 40. "Animation has been a staple in my life. Tom and Jerry raised me. I was drawn to Looney Tunes, Disney, Pixar. Working with (Despicable producer) Illumination was a dream come true."
Pharrell didn't ace the Happy assignment right off the bat. Eight attempts were rejected.
"I kept trying to nail the scene and they would send me back to the drawing board over and over," he says. "That's why I thank them. They pushed me until I had no more ideas. That's when I realized the answer was lying in the question. How do you make a song about being happy? There it was."