On Wednesday, Pharrell Williams released the video to his latest single, "Come Get It Bae," which is 3 minutes and 28 seconds of sheer Pharrell-ified glee. It's exactly what we'd expect from the ever-chipper dude who gave us 24 hours of "Happy." It's bouncy; it's joyful; it features a lovely range of women from all racial backgrounds. And not only are these women beautiful-but-also-regular-looking (is there a non-awkward way to say "not models, but still totally pretty"?), they're a lot older than they look.
"Come Get It Bae" may be directed at one "bae" in particular, but really, the video is about a world of cheerful, dancing baes in which every bae rocks a different age, skin color, and hairdo. Why so many different baes? Because Pharrell loves women. Loves, loves, loves women. As he said at the 2014 Brit Awards, "Girls — women, essentially — have been so good to me, and I just want to be gracious back, and make a body of work that's not just — where I'm just looking at everything, but also talking about what's on the inside…. Women are the essential power of life." His album, G I R L, may be named for young women, but he loves 'em at all ages.
How do we know this? Because the first four seconds of "Come Get It Bae" look like this:
What follows is a series of energetic beauties who all appear to be about 28 years old. Psyche! There's nary a Millennial to be found in Pharrell's gaggle of dancing baes. We know this because on Friday, Pharrell released a behind-the-scenes clip in which the dancers reveal their actual ages: 34, 39, 41, 46 ("God. Time flies.").
Hiring a 46-year-old backup dancer is straight-up impressive. You don't need me to point out that we're a culture obsessed with female youth, and it's doubly impressive that Pharrell snagged not just older women, but older dancers (a sub-culture equally, if not moreso, obsessed with being young). Even better: "Come Get It Bae" may open up with an aphorism about age, but age is so not the point of the video. From a cameo by 21-year-old Miley Cyrus to the 46-year-old dancer rocking it out on camera, there's a joyousness to the whole thing that manages to remove questions of objectification and female beauty and female aging from the equation. The dance moves mostly emphasize joy and goofiness and athleticism rather than sensuality. The women are clearly having fun, and that's the point. Clap along now if you feel like a room without a roof, you know?
Still, if you hadn't watched the behind-the-scenes video, you'd probably assume that the video featured only young women. I know I did. The camera keeps its distance, the women are dancing fast, and, well, backup dancers tend to be young. I was shocked to learn their real ages. Is that a good thing?
Let's give this misinterpretation a positive spin: Pharrell intended his video to be misread. He knew viewers would watch the original music video and think, as I did, "Hold on, Pharrell, what are you talking about? These girls are like, 30 years old max." Days after the video dropped, Pharrell released the "behind the scenes" video to prove these naysayers wrong, effectively shaming us for our own youth-obsessed assumptions. Why do I assume that, just because a woman is fit and healthy and good at dancing, she has to be 24 years old? Why can't a 46-year-old woman move just as well?
A more negative read is that Pharrell chose dancers who were technically older than your average backup gal, but that it doesn't really matter, because without seeing the behind-the-scenes video, the viewer probably wouldn't know the dancers' true ages. In short, they look young, so does it really matter that they're older? If we go with this read, the message of the video isn't "beauty has no expiration date." It's "beauty means you can look twenty-ish even when you're 40 — if you work out enough."
Maybe my slight cynicism is rearing its ugly head because there's something sad about the behind-the-scenes video. Almost all of the women who give their age express some sort of regret or embarrassment at being older; even the 34-year-old blonde makes a face after she reveals her age to the camera. It's clear that being in a Pharrell video was an ecstatic, empowering experience for these women, but it's also clear that being 40-something in a world of 20-somethings has still gotten under their skin.
I think the video is great, and funny, and joyful, and a little bit confusing. Are we supposed to feel grateful to Pharrell for hiring 40-something dancers? Are we supposed to feel intimidated, e.g., "I should be able to look like that when I'm 40"? Are we supposed to be happy that these women still have jobs? It starts to get depressing when you try to unpack it, just like the Pantene ads, the Olay ads, and everything else that uses an aphorism about beauty and femininity and then tries to make us feel OK about it all. ("Beauty is important but also not important but you can look pretty at any age but it's not about your looks but don't worry you'll still be appealing when you're 45 ... maybe.")
"Come Get It Bae" is a start, but as long as we're patting ourselves on the back for hiring/watching 46-year-old dancers, we're not entirely convinced that beauty has no expiration date. And that's why we need it superimposed on the screen in big red letters.