AUG 28, 2017
We need more love," Pharrell Williams says to me, sitting in a hotel suite in downtown New York City. "We need love, man." And he's right. For many of us, there's never been a time where it was more clear that we need more love in this world. It's from that root need that he launched his latest campaign with Adidas named, in writing at least, Quiet Please. (with the intentional strikethrough). You can call it "Don't Be Quiet Please."
The campaign kicks off with a new collaborative line of sneakers, apparel (including polos and cable knit sweaters), and accessories (like towels and visors), and plays off the tradition of starting a tennis match with the umpire demanding "Quiet Please". But Pharrell doesn't want you to be quiet. After all, we need change. And change isn't quiet, change is noisy.
Pharrell was in New York City to launch the campaign through an all day roll-out that included events with Adidas tennis athletes Garbiñe Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Sascha Zverev, Dominic Thiem, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Frederick Johnson Community Court in Harlem where they put on a tennis clinic for local kids. Pharrell and Adidas used the opportunity to announce a donation to the NYC Parks Department to restore local tennis courts, and a partnership with Horizons and Court16 establishing a tennis scholarship for underprivileged kids. But it's Pharrell, so you know it goes deeper than volleys and lobs.
"To be able to work with these players, to work with an incredible brand that speaks for the people like Adidas, and to be able to tap into this sport that just so happens to use the word 'love' in its scoring system is an opportunity that I just personally could not pass up," Pharrell explains. It's the scoring that inspired him, the easy utterance of the word "love" in every game. There's a power in speaking the word and he wanted to harness that.
"I'm a purveyor of hidden messages. I think that those are the monuments and those are the statements that last the longest," he says. "I think when you have an opportunity to hide a message in something that is aesthetically interesting or jolting then it stands to have longer signage."
He points directly to some of the most heinous acts of the last five years as being on his mind while he conceived this new campaign. "Think about the attacks on transgender people, or the attacks on African Americans, or the unarmed motorists, or the attacks on South Americans here, and the attempted normalization of these notions," he says. "We need love, but before you can get to love you need empathy."
As Pharrell sees it, the way forward to send out these messages isn't by browbeating people with them. Instead, he says, the next generation wants to discover the messages for itself. People shouldn't be prescribed a better world, they must find themselves making it happen. That's why he chose tennis for the repeated message of love: It's written in the bones of the sport, but it's not a demand. "They don't like to be preached to," he says. "When they look a little deeper they get the message. And that's what we're all about."
But some of us are ready to bring that better world into existence, even if that means being preached to. And for those of us who are ready, Pharrell is ready to tell us how to do it. "Inside, thats where it all starts," he says. "It's like a beehive or an ant farm. It doesn't work if each individual doesn't make the decision to be a part of something bigger than themselves. It doesn't work. So you have to start here. And why should we fear? We've survived plagues. We've been on the moon since the early 1960s, we've had a probe to Mars in the late '60s. What can't we do? We can do it. We can do it, and we're going to be fine.
"It's just a tough road," he continues. "But each one of us has to look in the mirror and we have to take advantage of these incredible opportunities and the hanging fruit that we have around us. We just have to do it. And make it fun. And make it undeniable. Whatever it is… That's what I have to do when I make music. That's what I have to do when we're making clothes. That's what I have to do on every level. It has to be undeniable."
If your message is ready to go, you can be a part of the Quiet Please campaign yourself. On August 28, Adidas is placing umpire chairs all over New York City to allow anyone with a message to take over for the umpire who would normally say "quiet please" and replace it with their noisy message of love and hope. Ten umpire chairs will be stationed all over the city from The Apollo Theater, to The New York Public Library, to the intersection of Christopher Street and Gay Street, to Atlantic Terminal.
If you can't make it to New York, you can bring your message to your own community, whether it's online on social media, to your office with your peers, or just to your family and friends. Because, like Pharrell said, change starts with the individual and grows from there. The only way to stop the message of love is to be quiet.
So don't be quiet. Please.