Why Pharrell Williams released a song you’ll never hear

The striking visuals for the project

One hundred years ago, our world was radically different. Europe was engulfed in the first Great War, American women were fighting for suffrage and it would be 10 more years until the advent of television. A century before that, King George III sat on the British throne, Mississippi had just become a young nation’s 20th state and the telephone was some 60 years away 
from invention.

Today, amid rising carbon emissions and global temperatures, fracking and overfishing, to name just a few environmental crises, one question begs to be asked: what will the earth be like in 100 years? Will humanity have ruined it with overconsumption and greed? That’s the question that cognac house Louis XIII asked singer Pharrell Williams to consider for his latest song, 100 Years – inspired by the length of time it takes to create the brand’s sought-after spirit. That’s right; the Louis XIII we drink today is the product of 1,200 eaux-de-vie (the colourless base spirits) blended in 1917. 100 Years is the second project of its type for the “King of Cognac”, which also collaborated with actor John Malkovich on 2015’s 100 Years: The Movie You’ll Never See.

The artist at work in his studio

Williams debuted the never-to-be-heard-in-this-lifetime-again single on November 13, 2017 in Shanghai. The exclusive track, recorded on an LP made from the chalky soil of Cognac, premiered to a room of 100 celebrities, socialites and foreign journalists, who were required to lock away their phones and all recording devices for the event.

It was a moving experience for many, including Hong Kong socialite Elly Lam. “It really struck a chord in me, and I’m glad they’re bringing awareness to climate change and saving our planet,” she says, describing the track as catchy, touching and a bit aggressive. “There are two parts to it – a nursery rhyme, like a song for a child, and then the beat drops.”

Today, the disc is kept in the underground cellars of Louis XIII, in a time-locked safe programmed to open in 2117. That is, #IfWeCare. The safe can withstand fire, trauma and explosions, but not water; it has been specifically designed to destruct when submerged. Should the earth’s sea levels continue to rise as a direct result of climate change and melting polar ice caps, the song will be lost forever.

The thought-provoking song makes us all stop and wonder about the future of our planet

Williams has been a leader in environmental awareness for years. He became a co-owner of sustainable fashion line G-Star Raw in 2016, encouraged world leaders to create more green jobs at 2015’s COP21 climate-change summit and worked with former American vice-president Al Gore to plan Live Earth 2015. “We only have one planet,” explained Williams at a press conference the morning of the premiere. “It’s our one and only home.”

Known as much for his perennial optimism as he is for his deceptively boyish looks, Williams’ latest track reveals a new dimension to the singer – an angry one. Speaking candidly, he describes it as sarcastic and direct. Unlike the traditional, forgettable call-to-action songs, 100 Years is intended to resonate across centuries. “I thought, let me just troll all the pseudo-scientists that don’t care about the ecosystem. There are a lot of great, fine scientists, but we just happen to have some that agree with our current administration in the States, and I don’t get that.”

Williams is thoughtful and erudite, reserving ample time and consideration for each question. It’s evident that this isn’t a publicity stunt; it’s a collaboration that resonates with him as a person. Though he’s quick to point out he’s not an environmentalist – in the traditional sense of the word, at least.

Behind the scenes of "100 Years"

“I’m not a tree-hugger,” he says. “I never really liked trail mix. I mean, I like sunflower seeds, but I really don’t f*** with raisins like that. I’m not that guy. But what I am is a guy who is grateful for my relationship with God and my family, and therefore, a relationship with my living space. So I try to respect it as much as I can.” The necessary change, in his eyes, will not come from the inspired few, but from the enlightened masses.

“Not everybody is going to be a diehard, but if we remain vigilant and self-aware, the little bit that each one of us puts out could amount to a lot of change and a lot of evolution,” says Williams. In short, pay attention to what you do and how it affects the ecosystem – be thoughtful of your choices, and the rationale behind them. “We are drunk off of aesthetics right now as a species, but what we need to do is focus on the symbolism and significance. What does it mean for you to drive this car?” he asks, hypothetically. “Is it what it costs, what’s inside the Robb Report, or is it cutting the ecosystem a break?”

Though most people alive will never hear the exact message of 
100 Years, its intent is clear: to wake up the world – and especially its political leaders – to the fact that our actions today will shape the reality of tomorrow.

This feature originally appeared in the January 2018 print issue of #legend

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