Honestly, I was drawn to Pharrell Williams’s MasterClass because of its title. The power of empathy? Does it get more relevant and enticing than that?
As a writer, I’m dedicated to exploring different ways a person can empathize with others. But I’m also interested in empathy from an academic point of view. As a former Cultural Studies student, I tend to look at certain topics as a philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist.
That said, I wanted to take Pharrell’s class ever since I started taking MasterClasses. I was a bit skeptical, though, and I wasn’t sure if Pharrell was the right expert to speak about this topic.
Nevertheless, I decided to take this class with an open mind.
In this honest review, I’ll tell you if it surprised me in any way and whether I would recommend it to fellow learners.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What is the Pharrell Williams MasterClass?
The course is taught by Pharrell Williams, together with six co-instructors, each of whom has also taught their own MasterClass: Robin Arzón, Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, Robert Reffkin, Gloria Steinem, and Cornel West. Each of these instructors has a different approach when explaining how to lead a life with empathy.
They talk about the evolution of empathy, intellectual diversity, empathy as a democratizing force, the love ethic, and effective ways to empower others.
It’s a rather short and fast-paced course, featuring ten lessons with a duration of 1 hour and 39 minutes in total.
Who is Pharrell Williams?
Pharrell Williams is an American recording artist, songwriter, producer, and author. He is best known for his universal hit songs “Happy” and “Get Lucky,” and he has received many awards and accolades.
In 2020, he launched Black Ambition, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the wealth gap by providing funding and resources to Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.
In his MasterClass, he is joined by:
Who is Pharrell Williams’ MasterClass for?
Pharell Williams’ MasterClass covers a variety of topics related to empathy. Some of the instructors discuss reading as a way of enhancing empathy, some of them dig deeper into the religious point of view, and others approach it with political implications in mind.
That said, this class is suitable for anyone who wants to hear different takes on empathy.
I would say the class is best for learners who have never delved deeper into the subject. If you’re an anthropology or psychology student, you probably won’t learn anything new.
Also, the course is great for those who admire the instructors involved, especially Pharrell Williams. He is sort of a leader of the MasterClass, and to prove his points, he gives many examples from his own life and career.
What does Pharrell Williams’ MasterClass cover?
Empathy is a concept that can be discussed and approached in many ways. In this MasterClass, Pharrell Williams talks about his journey of discovering empathy and “waking up to it,” which allowed him to see the world and make music in a new way.
Some of the ideas and tips Pharrell talked about seemed a bit vague. Nonetheless, he managed to capture the essence of what empathy means to him.
To others, empathy means something else – to Roxane Gay, it’s an essential tool for creating impactful stories. To Gloria Steinem, it’s about exchanging ideas that can change the world.
Each lesson has something else to offer, which makes this course rather versatile and dynamic.
In terms of content, here is what you can expect from the course:
- Lesson 1 is the introductory lesson where Pharell Williams introduces himself and the course.
- Lesson 2 contains Pharrell’s story and his ways of connecting with others through music.
- Lesson 3 features Cornell West’s view on empathy. He talks about the evolution of empathy through religious and cultural traditions.
- Lesson 4 tackles empathy in writing. Writers Roxane Gay and Walter Mosley discuss their work and suggest reading as an effective way of building empathy.
- Lesson 5 includes Pharrell’s tips on how to put yourself in others’ shoes and open up to others’ feelings and experiences.
- Lesson 6 features Gloria Steinem, who discusses empathy as the democratizing force.
- Lesson 7 features Cornell West, who talks about the love ethic and the connection between poverty and empathy.
- Lesson 8 features Pharrell and Robert Reffkin, who explain how they apply empathy to their creative process and leadership.
- Lesson 9 is dedicated to empowering others. Robin Arzón talks about the correlation between athletes and empathy.
- Lesson 10 is the final lesson, where Pharrell shares his parting words and advice.
My favorite lessons from Pharell Williams’ MasterClass
As I mentioned before, this MasterClass is dynamic and versatile, offering a variety of opinions, stories, and tools.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t offer in-depth knowledge or fresh perspectives I haven’t heard before.
I don’t regret taking it, though. I’m interested in the topic, and I wanted to find out what kind of MasterClass this is.
And I did.
Here are some of the lessons I particularly liked.
Waking up to empathy
Perhaps this isn’t a lesson I particularly liked, but to me, it stood out from the crowd.
I had mixed feelings about Pharrell’s discovery of empathy. At first, it seemed to me that he lived in a privileged, self-centered bubble before realizing that “there are more people in this world than just him.”
On the other hand, I appreciate his honesty, and I do agree that it’s sometimes hard to come to certain conclusions and wake up. Empathy became his daily practice, he explained, and that’s certainly praiseworthy.
When talking about the discovery of empathy, Pharrell gave an example of fish not knowing the water is wet until it comes to the surface. While I’m not sure if that’s the best example, the story does have similarities with David Foster Wallace’s memorable speech, This Is Water…
Empathy as a democratizing force
For Gloria Steinem, empathy is the foundation of creating a change in the world.
In this lesson, she talks about the history of Talking Circles and how they are the maximum expression of empathy.
I took Gloria Steinem’s MasterClass recently, so it was interesting to hear what she has to say about the subject.
This lesson sheds light on the role of empathy in the workplace.
Pharrell talks about his collaboration with other artists, and Robert Reffkin explains how empathy helped him grow his business. In each case, it’s important to be aware of other people’s feelings and experiences, which is something that every person should learn and practice.
How much does the MasterClass cost?
Annual plans are typically available at $120 a year (which makes it $10 per month, billed annually) for the Individual plan, providing access to MasterClass courses on one device, $180 a year for the Duo plan (two devices), and $240 a year for the Family plan (six devices).
A MasterClass subscription gives you unlimited access to a catalog of 180+ classes, so if you want to take multiple classes throughout the year, the subscription is definitely worth it, and there are pleny of interesting courses on related topics to explore.
Also, the platform offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so if you’re not happy with your learning experience, you can request a full refund.
Note that MasterClass is currently running an end-of-year special offer which gives you 40% off your annual membership – as MasterClass rarely gives any discounts to speak of, I would recommend you take advantage of this beore it expires.
What I liked about Pharrell Williams’ MasterClass
Pharrell’s MasterClass is great for those who want to learn more about the singer’s creative process and approach to music. It’s clear that empathy plays an important role in his professional as well as personal life.
Empathy indeed plays a crucial role in our lives. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to see things from another person’s perspective and share other people’s feelings.
That said, I think the best thing about this class is the topic itself. Talking about empathy, learning how to practice it, and recognizing that we can actually become better at it can ultimately help us become better citizens, friends, partners, and inhabitants of this planet.
Therefore, even though it has its flaws, I do think this class is worth taking. Here are the main reasons:
In my opinion, strengthening empathy is a crucial step toward a more peaceful society.
Unfortunately, empathy is something we just briefly hear about in school. And people who are interested in this class are probably already aware of the importance of empathy. Nevertheless, I’m glad this course exists on MasterClass, and I hope this important topic will be further explored.
The class has some really inspiring moments. It certainly gave me a chance to pause for a bit and think about the bigger picture.
I guess that’s the purpose of the course – to inspire change and to help people look at their daily lives from a perspective that entails more empathy.
According to Pharrell, empathy can be practiced. And in the accompanying workbook, there is a section with 33 ways to be more empathetic. This is a nice addition to the course, providing concrete, helpful tips.
Drawbacks of Pharell Williams’ MasterClass
Although I don’t regret taking this course, there are some drawbacks that affected my learning experience.
Lack of theory
When saying that this MasterClass lacks theory, I don’t think there should be long theoretical chapters. MasterClasses tend to offer subjective views anyway. But empathy is such a broad and complex concept, and it would be nice to gain more detailed insights in some parts.
Most chapters feature graphics with stories and facts, like the one in the image below, which is cool. It would be even cooler if instructors delved deeper into what these facts and experiments show.
The lack of theory and structure led to the impression that this course was a mish mash of opinions on empathy. While that works for some topics, I think empathy is too relevant and exciting to approach superficially.
The thing is, people who are drawn to this class are probably already passionate about the topic to a certain degree, and they’re most likely aware of the power of empathy. Therefore, it would be great if the class offered more fresh perspectives and thought-provoking ideas that can actually make you stop and think: wait a minute, I haven’t looked at that in this way before.
Review conclusion: Is Pharrell Williams’ MasterClass worth it?
In the Power of Empathy MasterClass, Pharrell Williams and a group of experts discuss the role of empathy in our society and share their views and personal experiences.
Each of the instructors has a unique story to tell, as each of them has a different background and profession. It was interesting to hear how different people approach this important, universal subject.
And I do think this is an extremely important subject. If we were all more empathetic and knowledgeable of what empathy really means, I believe there would be less trouble in the world.
That said, I also believe this MasterClass could have offered a little bit more depth. Provided tips and advice felt a bit far-fetched and vague, and I wasn’t impressed by some of the instructors. Maybe I didn’t feel as inspired as I had hoped to be.
In my opinion, the message and goal of this MasterClass is great, but its execution is less so. And that’s really a shame.
But I guess it all comes down to personal preferences. This class perhaps wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure many other learners would find it beneficial and enjoyable. If you’re curious and you already have a MasterClass subscription, you can always give it a try.