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Duke Expert Explains Why 'Happy' Song Makes Us Happy

Music professor Anthony Kelley says the song is made for all age groups

The song "Happy" by Pharrell Williams has inspired a number of viral videos, including one by Congressman John Lewis. A Duke music expert explains why the song, featured on the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack, is so catchy.

Anthony KelleyAssociate Professor of the Practice of Music, Duke University Music Departmentantk@duke.edu

Kelly specializes in music theory and composition and has conducted research on African-American music and music in film.

Quote:"It's a cute song and is ready-made for all ages and demographics. How many other songs bother to do that anymore? It’s refreshing in that it does not have the vulgarity and hyper-sexualized lyrics that marked rap and popular music in recent media."

"During the catchy chorus, it plays strategically on the harmonic contrasts between the notes that might exist in the diatonic Minor and the modally mixed major modes, with it starting in the darkness of minor, and ending on a big F major chord by the end of the word 'Happy' during the chorus."

"Its harmonic brightness, paradoxically, is also what endows Cee-Lo Green's brilliant song, 'F--- You,' with such a compelling ear-worm: His chord progression plays with the brightest mode, the lydian mode, right off the bat."