"Happy" is a midtempo soul song on which Williams' falsetto voice has been compared to Curtis Mayfield by critics. The song has been highly successful, peaking at number one in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and 19 other countries. It has sold over 6.4 million copies in the United States and over 1.62 million copies in the United Kingdom, and has reached number one in the latter on a record three separate occasions. As of July 2014, the song has sold 12 million copies world wide, becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song but lost to "Let It Go" from Frozen.
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 Rhiea 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.
According to music journalist Paul Tingen, "Happy" is "a mid-tempo soul 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".
The song received critical acclaim from music critics. Months prior to its release, 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. Afterwards, when GQ magazine asked Williams "how badly" did he want 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."
In October 2013, a month prior to its release, "Happy" catapulted to number-one 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. As of April 10, 2014, after 35 weeks in charts and still in the top 15, "Happy" is the most successful song in the Dutch Top 40 of all time.
"Happy" reached the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending March 8, 2014, giving Williams his fourth Hot 100 number-one single, but the first as lead artist. It took twelve years and a week (as the issue date is March 8, 2014) to have his first Hot 100 topper as a lead artist. The song remained at number one 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, John Legend's "All Of Me" pushed "Happy" down to the number 2 spot after having remained at number 1 for 10 consecutive weeks. "Happy" became the 28th song in the history of the chart to reach this milestone. It spent a total of twenty-two weeks in the top-ten, 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. The song has sold over 6.4 million copies in the US as of December 2014.
On the New Zealand Singles Chart, "Happy" debuted at number eleven on December 23, 2013. The next week it moved to number two. Then on January 6, 2014, "Happy" began a 12 week consecutive reign in the number one position, right up until March 24, 2014. It then dropped to number two for one week, then spent a further three weeks at number one, bringing the total number of weeks at number one to fifteen, breaking the 36-year long record for most weeks spent at number one, previously held by Boney M.'s "Rivers of Babylon". Happy has spent 47 weeks in New Zealand's top 40, and has been certified 5x Platinum.
The song also topped the charts of 22 other countries, including Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. It has spent twelve weeks (including seven consecutive) at number one in Ireland, making it the third song in less than a year to spend more than seven weeks at number one, after Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Avicii's "Wake Me Up!".
In the United Kingdom, "Happy" debuted outside the Top 75 of the UK Singles Chart on December 1, 2013. It then spent several weeks climbing before finally charting at number one on December 29, 2013, becoming the final song to reach number one in that year. It became Williams' third number one single in this country, counting "Get Lucky" and "Blurred Lines", where he appeared as a featured artist. It has since spent four non-consecutive weeks at number one, 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 did so in 1957 with "Singing the Blues". Following the single's third week at number one, 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 number one 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). As of September 2014, "Happy" has sold over 1.6 million copies and been streamed over 25 million times in the UK, becoming the first song released in the 2010s to go 3x Platinum.
To coincide with the single release, the website 24hoursofhappy.com was launched, featuring a visual presentation of "Happy", advertised as being "the world's first 24-hour music video." The video was shot by steadicam operator Jon Beattie, and its creative director was Yoann Lemoine. 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, more than 1,500 videos had been created. Inspired by this global phenomenon, a French couple launched a website wearehappyfrom.com to showcase the re-makes.
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. Later the Iranian president, criticized the arrest saying in his tweet - "#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 19 September 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.
In February 2014, the song was licensed by Fiat for use in the spot worldwide. The song is used in the commercial titled “Mirage” playing in the background which features Sean "Diddy" Combs. The song appeared in a Beats by Dr. Dre commercial in 2014.