Thursday, 16 February 2012

IMKoS ft. Jo?

Admit it... Kimbra's the best thing about 'Somebody That I Used to Know!'

A Feature for the Featured Artists
by Jo Michelmore

I love the concept of the featured artist. It’s especially great when two artists you love get together and make beautiful, beautiful sounds. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, actually sometimes it’s obvious someone is on someone else’s label and they both need and/or want publicity. That sucks. (Are you listening to me marketers, record company execs? If the song sucks, don’t bother, it does no one any favours.) I couldn’t write forever, so these are just a couple of my favourite songs that are nothing without the featured artist.

Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys:
Empire State Of Mind (2009)

This is such a great song. So catchy. I saw Jay-Z live in 2010 and he was really entertaining, like an entertainer should be, not just a hip hop artist. Surprising, considering he was in a giant stadium, during daylight, supporting a mega stadium band, U2. Dues given, Jay –Z did a reasonable job. He played this song and it was one of the biggest crowd pleasers, for the crowd that was bothering to watch (that’s a problem being a support act, but that’s a whole other story). The best part of this song live? The bit the audience sung along with and danced to while negotiating the tiny stairs with hot dogs and trays of beverages on the way to their seats to wait for who they actually came to see; “These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you, Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York….” That’s the Alicia Keys part. That’s not Jay-Z singing that. You know what his part is? He does all the rap bits, the sometimes annoying and sometimes incomprehensible bits with sometimes slightly offensive lyrics. The bits you wish would hurry up so you could get to your sing along bit again. Yep. Think about it. Which bit is stuck in your head? Jay-Z’s first line? “I’ma up at Brooklyn, now I’m down in Tribeca….” Nope, its Alicia’s bit, isn’t it? ““New York, New York, New York….” Alicia, thanks for making an incredibly average song so darn catchy.

Eve featuring Gwen Stefani:
Let Me Blow Ya Mind (2001)

Where did Eve go anyway? This song was from 2001? 2001 was a lifetime ago! Eve was great, she had a couple of catchy tunes, won a couple of Grammys (among other things) and she was kinda cute, except for those ridiculous tattoos. Oh well, we all make decisions we regret later, like that one night in……anyway, so, Eve. Apparently she’s finally releasing a new album soon, after some troubles with her record company it will supposedly be heard mid-2012. In the meantime, she’s done some ‘featuring’ herself more recently in other people’s tracks, including Guy Sebastian’s ‘Who’s That Girl’, but let’s not hold that against her. In ‘Let Me Blow Ya Mind’ she left the featuring up to Gwen Stefani. (What’s Gwen been doing lately, besides having interestingly named children? That’s a whole other story, I suppose.) The clip for this track follows a standard format; rapper and ‘featuring friend’ at a party, trouble ensues and there’s even a ‘feature’ in the clip, Dr Dre who rescues them from trouble. The song follows the same standard format, rapper raps about how great they are, chorus is catchy, everyone loves it. Yep. Gwen provides the catchy part. There it is: “I’m gonna take my time…”, there it is again, the bit you remember, by ‘featuring artist’ Gwen; “Now let me blow ya mind…”

Eminem featuring Dido:
Stan (2000)

Eminem is an interesting character. Sometimes I think he had so much potential, some of his catalogue was so great. Sometimes I don’t think so. Like the Eminem comedy song, sometimes I find the comedy song to be the most offensive form of music, just sometimes. Eminem - part comedy, part not. I think. I don’t know. ‘Stan’ is the Eminem I like. I’d even say I loved this song, at one stage. Everyone knows it, the story of Stan, the crazed fan, whose life ends tragically, (oops, sorry, haven’t heard it? Just ruined the ending for you didn’t I? Oh well, where have you been hiding the past 12 years? Listen to this, it’s great!) Through his great storytelling, Eminem manages to make the listener kind of like Stan, then feel some empathy, then kind of hate him in the end but somehow still feel sorry for him again. It takes you on a journey and it’s easy to get caught up in the wave of Stan and his obsession. The reason I Ioved this so much? It’s because we didn’t have to put up with Eminem’s whiny voice blabbing on all the time. We hear the sweet sounds of Dido in between (what’s Dido been doing lately….? Hmmm, another story.) ; “Tears gone cold I’m wondering why, I got out of bed at all….”. Dido’s Thank You was a sweet song, but sandwiching it in between Eminem’s ramblings made it so much more beautiful. You know, like sweet and salty? You wouldn’t think it would work but it’s just delicious. The bit caught in your head? Yep; “It’s not so bad, it’s not so bad…” I don’t know what career moves you made to disappear Dido, but this Stan sample/feature was a good career move. Maybe you should have made more of these types of career decisions.

Kanye West featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi:
All of the Lights (2011)

Oh Kanye, you’re like Eminem aren’t you, or not? I mean, not everything you do is fine but when you get it right you get it so damn right and this one got you a Grammy this year, congratulations. Shame you needed a couple of others to make it amazing, but credit where credit is due, you wrote a quarter of this song and regardless of which quarter it is, it’s still a great track. The song starts so beautifully, rich with strings and in the clip, the black and white image of a beautiful little girl wandering the snow covered streets of the city, then Rihanna’s sweet vocal kicks in and you know you’re going to like this one. While the song screams ‘dance’, the actual lyrics are quite dark and not suggestive of partying at all. Kanye seems to have taken some depressive/happy hints from Foster the People on this one. Regardless, we all know 99% of people aren’t going to listen to the words and it’s going to be one of the songs you play before you leave the house on a Saturday night. It’s going to be amazing every time it’s performed live when the house lights just have to go on. There's apparently thirteen other vocalists on this track, including the equally ‘featured’ Kid Cudi who provides us with the bridge, but it’s Rihanna who steals the light (pun unintended) and she’s the popular ‘featuring’ tag. It’s Rihanna’s voice you walk away with in your head. Another hip hop track; nothing without it’s ‘feature’. “Turn up the lights in here baby….”

OK, enough of the hip hop rants. Too easy. It’s all about the feature in hip hop isn’t it? So then there was:

Gotye featuring Kimbra:
Somebody That I Used To Know (2011)

This song is the one that inspired this whole ‘featuring artist’ thought process. After the JJJ hottest 100 winner was announced, I had the conversation for the 1000th time, “That song is nothing without Kimbra”. ‘Tis true. It’s a fantastic song, but it’s not until the Kimbra voice chimes in three quarters of the way through that the spine starts to tingle, the radio gets turned up, the singing in the car becomes loud enough for the people at the lights in surrounding cars to notice; Kimbra takes this song and makes it hers. This one was brilliant marketing as both artists prepare to take on the world, doing it together could mean superstardom and lots of income, but thankfully the song is incredibly strong as well. I saw Gotye and Kimbra perform this for one of the first times together live, at Splendour in the Grass last year. Even though it wasn’t the strongest live performance, it was great. The song had just started to grow and reach the general public’s consciousness and when Kimbra started singing the crowd exploded. I haven’t been as impressed with the live performances I’ve seen on the youtubes (let’s not mention the ARIA’s performance), both Gotye and Kimbra seem a bit flat, but this is such a great pop sing I don’t care anyway and I’ve only now, more than 6 months later, just started to tire of it. That’s a good pop song. Can someone put this on a karaoke track somewhere? I want to be Kimbra! “…I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know!!”

Miami Horror featuring Kimbra:
I Look To You (2010)

Hmmm. Funny. Kimbra, again. If this solo thing doesn’t work out, maybe she could just spend a career helping other artists be better. Before she saved Gotye’s single from being slightly bland, she helped Miami Horror out. They seem to need as much help as they can get, as they’ve disappeared into a void at the moment. Australian electro acts seem to have a habit of doing that though, no doubt they’ll pop up again soon with another image or name. What they need is another Kimbra. This, for most, was probably the first taste of her amazing voice. The song is ok, but it’s nothing without her sweet vocal. Without the vocal, it sounds like the background music of a commercial for some kind of economic, cheap little car. She, of course, is super cute in the clip too, but I expect nothing less of her. Without Kimbra: bland repetitive beats. With Kimbra: beautiful soft vocal and song that encourages one to sway. “The future we’ve found, to stay here, on higher ground….” Kimbra, does everything you do have to be so amazing? You’re really making it hard for all the average Australian/New Zealand artists.

Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé:
Telephone (2010)

Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. This was a match made in pop music heaven. They were two of the most influential women in popular music when this song was recorded in 2009. I’m really glad it didn’t get recorded by Britney Spears (who it was originally intended for) because it’s probably my favourite of Gaga’s songs, just pure pop, about telephones and dancing and nothing too stressful. Apparently, the ‘telephone’ Gaga refers to in the song is representative of something or someone else, but that kind of depresses me. It’s just a pop song. Let’s not get too deep and philosophical about it. It’s just dancing and telephones, alright? So, this song cruises along like all of Gaga’s do, nothing offensive and nothing too dramatic but then it really kicks in; Beyonce’s fifth line, the music breaks down and it’s the line we all like to shout: “I shoulda left my phone at home ‘cause this is a di-sas-ter…” and that’s when then pop music magic happens. It was just Gaga being Gaga up until that point, it’s Beyoncé’s powerful vocal that brings this song to it’s awesome peak and this is what pop music should be. For me, the ‘official’ clip is slightly irritating, it goes for over nine minutes, Beyoncé speaks too much (you need to stick to singing, not so much speaking, Beyoncé) and there’s a huge portion of not so subtle product placement with the actual song constantly stopped and started throughout, but I have to admire the Pulp Fiction references in the hope it bought that film to a whole new audience (probably not, but I can dream). Without Beyoncé, this would have just been another Gaga song. With Beyoncé, it was a marketers dream and a crowd pleaser on the dance floor. Good work you two. Shame about the Beyoncé featuring Gaga ‘Video Phone’ combination. That one was just average and Gaga featuring didn’t save it. This one was better. “Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh….”

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds featuring Kylie Minogue:
Where the Wild Roses Grow (1996)

This is a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier. A marketers dream and a song to match, just brilliant. Nick Cave was just an alternative Australian musician at the time; legendary within certain circles, but the general public didn’t know too much about him. Kylie was a pop princess whose star had threatened to fade, some were ready for a new Australian pop princess to come along and take her crown. Team them together for a ballad and you had beautiful, sweet, depressing sounds. Nick Cave’s deep, strong vocal and Kylie's light airy voice bouncing off each other singing the tragic tale of Eliza Day. It’s been said so many times before, but after this was released, Kylie went from being a bubblegum pop star to a serious (is there such a thing?) pop princess and rightly so. It’s not a song I listen to regularly, but when I do hear it, it stops me and I let it take over. It’s Kylie who makes this one, her vocal, like all my favourite featured artists, being the sound stuck in your head at the end, taking over from Nick’s monotone style; “…why they call me that I do not know, for my name was Eliza Day…” Sigh.

Madonna featuring Nicki Minaj and M.I.A:
Give Me All Your Luvin’ (2012)

Madonna has worked with a lot of people in her time. My fave is probably the Justin Timberlake/Timbaland collaboration; ‘4 Minutes’. That one grew on me. I’m thinking the latest one will too. Teaming up with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. is an interesting move. Madonna shouldn’t need to rely on featuring artists to make her own songs better. She’s been such an incredible influence on modern music, for decades now; it seems kind of funny that she featured anyone on her latest album. Believe in yourself Madonna, you don’t need anyone else! Someone, somewhere decided this would be a good move and we ended up with bubblegum pop trying desperately to be fun but sounding just a little bit desperate. It’s good to sing along to, but the best bits are so small, those teeny tiny raps by Nicki and M.I.A. really should have been more of a feature in this song so the bubblegummy bit didn’t sound like it was trying so hard to be fabulous. Madonna, you get away with this one because you’re Madonna and I still like it, but it’s nothing without those couple of bars by Nicki and M.I.A., especially M.I.A; who delivers her parts in her awesome attitude laden way; “I’ma say this once, yeah, I don’t give a shit”

Then there’s the example of when the feature doesn’t help themselves or the artist they’re featuring with:

Metallica and Lou Reed:
The View (2011)

Admittedly, I’m not a big Metallica fan, or even a big Lou Reed fan, but I am obviously a fan of music, many genres of music. This song though? Like, what? What’s going on here? The reception to this song, when released last year, was not in the slightest bit warm, it was panned across the webs and I don’t like jumping on a bandwagon, but really? This isn’t good. I’m thinking a My Chemical Romance cover band rehearsing hung-over would sound better than this, not to mention Lou Reed. He’s not the most joyous of voices at the best of times, but this sounds like he’s bored, half asleep, waiting for his pay and thinking about taking his next arthritis pills, or a cheeseburger, or something just as bland. Really, who decided who was featuring here? It did no one any favours. I won’t go into the fact there’s a whole album of this, called ‘Lulu’; if this is the single chosen to promote it I can’t even imagine what the whole album sounds like. Maybe it would surprise me. Shame I can’t be bothered to give it a chance. Someone pass me my Eminem CD.

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