In recent years there has been a huge surge in the number of big-name musical collaborations being produced. It seems every successful star wants to jump on the bandwagon and get involved in the trend, arguably started by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé when they released the iconic single ‘Telephone’ back in 2009.
Perhaps the most iconic aspect of this trend is the extent to which the artists who are collaborating differ in their typical genre of music. For example, 2014 saw the likes of Paul McCartney and Kanye West work together on ‘Only One’; it’s hard to find two artists who are more different in style than these two, yet the song was a perfect combination of both their strengths. Other iconic collaborations have been David Guetta and Kelly Rowland on ‘When Loves Takes Over’ (takes you right back to those Year 7 disco’s, doesn’t it?), Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s ‘Crazy in Love’ (I mean, they are Hollywood’s power couple, so it did make sense for them to release a killer romantic anthem) and, more recently Lil Nas X’s work with Billy Ray Cyrus on the current chart topping hit, ‘Old Town Road’ (literally impossible to not flock to the dancefloor when this tune is blared from the speakers).
However, recently the “big-name collaboration” has received even more attention due to the release of Ed Sheeran’s hotly anticipated fourth studio album, No. 6 Collaborations Project. This album see’s Sheeran work with some of the hottest names in music including Stormzy, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper and Bruno Mars, arguably offering a little something for everyone. This album release has, therefore, opened up a huge debate in the music industry about the existence of these collabs. Some argue that it represents the next big shift in the music industry, as it starts to modernise itself and allow one artist to appeal to a larger variety of interests. On the other hand, it can be argued that it’s all gone a bit too far, and the announcement of each new big name collab gets less exciting every time (despite Idris Elba getting involved with ‘Boasty’, that was exciting, and as Maura from Love Island would say, just the news of this gave me the “flutters”).
Of course, other artists have also had a crack at working together, with McFly and Busted taking it a step further by combining their bands, minus heartthrob Charlie Simpson, to form the super group, McBusted. Both a risky and iconic move from these guys, that paid off as this led to a sell-out tour with them performing their brand new songs that they created together. It was like all our childhood dreams came true, as the band created what can only be described as MAGIC. Are you listening, McBusted? The fans want more.
Whilst Sheeran is not the first artist to head down this new route within the industry (for example, Mark Ronson has recently collaborated with the likes of both Miley Cyrus and Camila Cabello), his drastic take on the concept of big name collaborations has fuelled the argument that it’s not exciting to hear of artists working together anymore. The fans want what the fans want, and it seems this would actually be for artists to head back to what made them famous in the first place: their authentic style that filled a gap in the industry. And as the amount of collaborations increases, as does the ludicrous combinations of artists (side note: killer collab from the Biebs and Ludacris with the former’s debut single, am I right, ‘Baby’?). Before you know it, Adele will be releasing a club anthem with a little help from Sigma, and quite frankly I’m not sure that’s something I really want to hear. Adele is only to be listened to if you need a good, old, ugly cry.
This brings us back to Ed Sheeran’s recent work, calling into question whether he went too far by releasing an entire album of collaborations. Whilst on first reflection many thought this album was a very smart move, by combining the vocals of some of the best artists across the world, others dove deeper into the actual content. It’s not wrong to say some of the collaborations are great listens, however on the backdrop of being the main work of Ed Sheeran, fans were left feeling like the best of his work is, perhaps, behind him. When Sheeran first rose to prominence, his body of work included exquisite and stunning vocal work. His hit albums ‘+’ and x presented to us a mix of slow and groovy songs. There was something for everyone. And whilst divide still gave us some sick pieces of music, we started to see a move away from his iconic style of music, with some criticising him for following the crowd and venturing into more generic music, rather than sticking to what he did brilliantly.
An article discussing big name collaboration could not go without the mention of the new concept of popular artists combing their style of famously iconic hits from artists who are, unfortunately, no longer with us today. Ronson has taken on Amy Winehouse’s famous ‘Valerie’, Aloe Blacc has had a crack at Aviici’s work with the hit ‘SOS’ and Kygo has even had a stab at Whitney Houston’s iconic work with the current hot single, ‘Higher Love’. This revival of older sounds is both an interesting and powerful contribution to the music industry. However, it is not without debate, with a strong argument being that these iconic artist’s legacies should be left to exist peacefully.
Whether you think that this shift in the music industry is a good thing, or a damaging move, it is worth having a listen to some of the great collabs mentioned, if not for any reason but the pure nostalgia you will feel when you hear those earlier partnerships. Some of the music is pure gold, whilst other collabs have fell so flat that the artists themselves have seemed to drop off of the face of the earth (where are you, Sean Kingston?!?). Yes, Sheeran may have taken this too far, but that is so up to whatever you like to listen to. Hip hop fans are likely to be adding Sheeran to their favourite artists in this area after the release of his latest album, whilst us old romantics may wish he returned to his roots. Nevertheless, it is probably true to say that the excitement that big name collabs used to bring us is dwindling even further every time a new one gets announced, and that is a real, real shame.