The Odd Couples
When Musical Worlds Collide
Published: Thursday, September 12, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 12, 2013 00:09
Whether in movies, sports, or television, there is something extremely satisfying about a superstar team-up, where two artists at the top of their game play off of each other in offbeat and unexpected ways. Modern music is especially dependent on the art of collaboration, with rappers and pop stars frequently showing up on their colleagues’ albums to drum up buzz and show off their diverse musical talents. This week, The Scene looks at several musical odd couples, artists whose unlikely collaborations cast their work in a decidedly new light—though not always a positive one. From Paul McCartney appearing with the Italian dance-punk group The Bloody Beetroots to the triumphant duo of Kanye West and Justin Vernon, we’ve got it all: the good, bad, and just plain odd of modern musical duos.
Kanye West & Justin Vernon
No one can ever predict Kanye West’s next move—but even so, his decision to bring on Justin Vernon as a collaborator on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was rather surprising. What was Kanye doing with the balladeer from Bon Iver, a band known for weepy, wispy indie folk? But Kanye proved the doubters wrong, using Vernon’s auto-tuned falsetto to open “Monster” with an appropriately creepy vibe and lend an ethereal quality to “Lost in the World.” The unlikely duo came together again for West’s latest album, Yeezus. Vernon’s delicate falsetto voice weirdly compliments West’s minimalist electronic soundscapes and aggressive, often disturbing lyrics on three tracks: “I Am A God,” “I’m In It,” and “Hold My Liquor.” In an interview with Pitchfork, Vernon elaborated on his relationship with Kanye, saying, “I get along with Kanye really well and I think his musical decisions are exquisite. He feels otherworldly—he talks about being a god and shit, and his confidence in himself is inspiring. But at the end of the day, he’s a musician working in the lab. We have fun.” –S.K.
Pink & Nate Ruess
This year’s chart-topping hit “Just Give Me A Reason” is the third single off of Pink’s sixth studio release, The Truth About Love. Though her songs, for the past decade, have been well-received in and of themselves, Pink’s most recent one became her fourth No. 1 single ever, largely in part to her slightly unexpected yet brilliant duet with fun.’s lead singer Nate Ruess. Appealing to fans of Pink and fun. alike, the piano pop-ballad is layered with sincere, vulnerable vocal performances from both artists. The pair worked so well together that they even won the 2013 MTV Video Music Award for Best Collaboration against dynamic acts like Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, Pitbull and Christina Aguilera, Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding, and Robin Thicke, T.I., and Pharrell. Though there is no word concerning a future joint project from Pink and Ruess at the moment, there’s enough promise in the success of “Just Give Me A Reason” for people to keep on hoping. –A.I.
Justin Timberlake & Jay Z
Jay Z and Justin Timberlake are two of the biggest names in music right now, but put these icons together—as friends or even as collaborators—and you’ve got something else entirely, something that’s little short of legendary. Recently, the pair has worked together on a number of varying projects, from record tracks to on-stage performances. Timberlake’s highly successful 2013 release of The 20/20 Experience, for example, led with the suave, retro, R&B single “Suit & Tie,” showcasing the two collaborating with seamless effort—Jay Z’s bold rap cut complements Timberlake’s smooth falsetto perfectly. Part II of Timberlake’s record, set to come out later this month, will feature another cooperative project: the song is titled “Murder.” And lastly, Timberlake lent Jay Z his vocals for the track “Holy Grail,” off of his album Magna Carta… Holy Grail, which came out this past summer. Their relationship, however, extends beyond a couple of in-studio recording sessions—the duo united for a sell out, nationwide tour last season, and they even performed together for the 55th annual Grammys. –A.I.
The Bloody Beetroots & Paul McCartney
In 1964, the world entire seemingly was watching as Paul McCartney, along with the three other Beatles, performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, marking the beginning of the British Invasion and the respective Beatlemania. Nearly 50 years later, McCartney can navigate the musical universe a bit more discretely, picking some interesting, lower key projects. One of the most overlooked tracks of the year is “Out of Sight,” a collaboration between McCartney and The Bloody Beetroots, an Italian electro house and dance-punk duo. The former Beatle sings—and screams—over driving synthesizers and Dubstep drops in a project transcending both generation and genre. Surprisingly, McCartney’s vocals prove far more than serviceable, and often well suited, to the edgy, experimental sound of The Bloody Beetroots. The single adopts a sound in the nature of alternative acts like MGMT and Daft Punk, juxtaposing a youth choir with raging synth textures. The Bloody Beetroots sophomore album Hide is expected for release next week, and McCartney’s latest solo project New is expected Oct. 14—while they might be catering to a very different aesthetic in their solo work, the collaboration of these two artists again proves a fluidity in musical spheres, that projects like Yeezus and Random Access Memories similarly sought to prove this summer. – J.W.
Eddie Murphy & Snoop Lion
So Eddie Murphy and Snoop Lion walk into a recording studio—no, this is not the setup for a joke. The semi-retired actor—notable for his work in a lot of bad films, Dreamgirls, and the however many Shrek movies that have come to pass—joined together with the rapper—formerly known as Snoop Dogg, but now a self-proclaimed reincarnation of Bob Marley—to record the reggae single “Red Light,” the first off an album Murphy expects to release next year. This is not a test. This is not a drill. The premise here is too absurd to make up. But even more extraordinary than the circumstances under which “Red Light” came together is how respectable, and dare I say good, the track turned out to be. Perhaps in 2013 this doesn’t mean all too much, but it’s one of the most compelling works in reggae genre this year. Its timely treatment of issues such as race relations, privacy rights, and economic welfare add poignancy to Murphy’s surprisingly crisp, vibrant vocal performance—the reggae genre seemingly resonates well with the concerns of our time. In addition to Murphy’s surprising work, Snoop Lion shows noticeable growth as an artist on “Red Light,” following the June release of Reincarnated, his narcotics-inspired reggae album. Murphy and Lion have proven themselves another fantastically unlikely and unexpectedly fantastic musical duo. –J.W.