'Happy' gets very, very lucky

Posted: March 26, 2014

HOW "HAPPY" can one song be? How big can "Happy" get?

Just on a local scale, Philadelphians by the hundreds have gotten a crazy case of "Happy" feet in recent weeks, documenting their love of the infectious Pharrell Williams tune and video with lip-synching and dancing video variations of their own. And even more, including a potential world-record breaker (more on that below), are now in the offing.

Do a Google/YouTube video search for "Happy." Add "Chester" to find kids doing a Williams-like stroll down the hallways of Chester Community Charter School. Or "Real Philly Phanz" to see fans celebrating their "Happy"-est Phillies moments.

Type in Mom's Organic and discover YouTube-ing store clerks "Happy" to be stacking the shelves of this new market in Bryn Mawr.

And "cheesesteak" for filmmaker Jerry Liu's mash-up of the megahit with that locally shot Geico gecko commercial, dubbed "Happy (Philadelphia Cheesesteak Shuffle)."

This one was filmed largely in South Philly - in front of Geno's and up the street inside Fante's kitchen supply store - with some sidesteps (who knew it was right next door?) to Independence National Historical Park.

Even more delicious is "We Are Happy From Philadelphia." It depicts a staff of custodial workers cheerfully cleaning up the School District of Philadelphia administration building, at 440 N. Broad St.

The workers wiggle mops, dusters and nozzles as if they were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing with top hats and canes. A special tip of the wool cap goes to the video's shining star, Chris Hawkins, the happiest, heftiest bathroom scrubber since Mr. Clean.

"I just wanted to show the people that through the school closings and cutbacks and horrible weather, we were still in a good mood, still positive," shared filmmaker Albert Jones, who put together the clean-up-themed "Happy" video with fellow members of Local 32BJ/1201 of the Service Employees International Union.

"Of course we did it on our own time," he added. "On our work breaks and just after the shifts were over, before they turned out the lights on us."

Pharrell gets lucky

A phenomenon with incredibly long legs, the head-bobbin', hand-clapping, "can't nothing, bring me down" themed "Happy" first appeared mid-2013 on the soundtrack of the animated hit "Despicable Me 2." And was quickly anointed by Rolling Stone magazine as a likely "Song of Summer."

That would be last summer.

But for a while, Williams was competing with himself as part of the singing/production team behind Robin Thicke's huge "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's summer smash, "Get Lucky."

Later making up for lost time, Williams launched his official, celebrity-strewn four-minute video for "Happy" in November. It's since been streamed more than 60 million times.

He would later execute a wacky, world-headline-grabbing, 24-hour-long Internet webcast version of "Happy" that helped pump it to the top of the charts in more than a dozen countries (including three repeat visits to No. 1 in Great Britain) and sparked a global wave of me-too videos.

Like Williams' version, many of these homages often feature singers strolling or skipping toward the camera, with cutaways to picturesque cityscapes where massed dancers (often young, pretty women) high-step it and "clap along if you feel like a room without a roof . . . like happiness is the truth."

And more times than not, the combination of the gleeful music, happy faces and pretty scenery works like a charm. It makes viewers feel really good and rarin' to join the party - be it in Salzburg or Sydney, Beijing or County Cork.

Adding more fuel to the fire, "Happy" was in the running for an Oscar (and should have won), putting Williams onstage to perform it during this month's globally telecast Academy Awards.

Just last week, he threw more logs on the fire by co-sponsoring the International Day of Happiness, a fundraiser for the United Nations Foundation, which collated some of the best of the globally shot "Happy" videos at 24hoursofhappiness. com, where you can still view them.

Breaking records

No surprise, "Happy" has risen or returned to No. 1 on the charts again. In the U.S., the ditty currently tops Billboard's Hot 100, Radio Songs, Digital Songs, Pop and R&B/Hip-Hop charts.

And it may remain there for some time, as yet more video-makers get creative with their own homegrown "Happy" videos.

Less than a week after its launch, the a cappella group Pentatonix's version has scored 3 million hits. And even some of the no-name, but city-celebrating "Happy" videos have scored 500,000 to a million hits.

"We'd love to put our ballyhoo behind a video that showcases Philadelphia well," said Cara Schneider, of Visit Philadelphia (the former Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.).

"We think it's adorable what other cities have done with the song."

Jones, who did that standout school-district video, wants to get "Happy" outdoors "as soon as the weather breaks."

And local political consultant Mannwell Glenn, one of the masterminds behind Philly's February 2012 Guinness World Record-breaking "Soul Train" celebration, hopes to go for a record again - this time with a "Happy" video.

He'll shoot it "by Easter at the latest" at a bunch of city landmarks, such as Penn's Landing, Independence Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Boathouse Row . . . culminating with "the world's biggest line dance."

"The current record is 17,000 participants, held by Atlanta, Ga., but as Philly's considered the home of the line dance, we're sure we can break that," he said. "The city's on board, we're getting all the dance schools engaged, and we're lining up celebrities for special appearances."

Want to get involved? Go to Philadelphia Gets Happy/World Record on Facebook, or call 610-310-2019.

Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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