According to a recent The Lede article, several Iranian youth were arrested yesterday (May 20) for following the global trend of publishing a homemade cover of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” to YouTube. Beyond the arrest, the seven young people in question were also reportedly “forced to repent on state television.”
The “Happy in Tehran” cover was apparently uploaded as long as a month ago but the Iranian police seem to have become aware of it following its publicity on websites like The Huffington Post and LeMonde. The original video has since been made private but was reportedly viewed more than 165,000 times.
According to The Lede, the “Happy” enthusiasts claimed they weren’t involved in the recording’s being published to YouTube. The same article reports that the Police Chief of Tehran, Iran’s capital city, referenced the cover as “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity” and warned against similar efforts.
Yesterday, Pharrell himself Tweeted about the arrest.
It’s beyond sad these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness http://t.co/XV1VAAJeYI
— Pharrell Williams (@Pharrell) May 21, 2014
In an interview last month with IranWire, one of the video’s dancers described the motivation to cover the song in the first place. “We wanted to tell the world that the Iranian capital is full of lively young people and change the harsh and rough image that the world sees on the news,” she said.
The same dancer also explained maintaining state-enforced dress requirements while shooting scenes in public. “To conform to the Islamic dress code, we covered our hair with wigs,” she said.
The Lede reports that the news comes less than a week after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech urging his country to modernize its stance on Internet use. In a seemingly underhanded response to widespread criticism for their arrest, Rouhani’s Twitter account posted a message earlier today quoting a 2013 speech.
“#Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” 29/6/2013
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) May 21, 2014
While the original video is now private, the “Happy in Tehran” clip has since been republished by another user and is available to stream below.