In one small way, Madonna's current single, Give Me All Your Luvin', marks the end of an era. It's the last time for the foreseeable future that Nicki Minaj, who guest-raps on it, intends to collaborate with another artist. "I'm done with the collabs," she said last year. "No more collabs for the next two years."
If anyone is entitled to call it a day on the "collab" front, it's Minaj – Give Me All Your Luvin' is the 40th she's appeared on (including 11 in 2011 alone). If only her attitude were shared by other serial collaborators. Right now, on a pop record near you, you'll almost certainly encounter one of the following doing a little turn on someone else's song: Pitbull, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Akon, Lil' Wayne, Bruno Mars – and the list goes on. In the last couple of years, there's hardly been a successful chart act who hasn't turned up as a "featured artist" on another successful chart act's single.
It goes like this: Big Star A – Madonna, let's say – is recording a single. It's destined to sell well because Madonna is still a huge brand. But how many more people would listen to and download it if she invited Big Stars B and C – Minaj and MIA – to add guest verses? Everyone benefits: Madonna gets the kudos of working with a couple of hip names, while Minaj and MIA get the kudos of working with Madonna, and all three reach not just their own fanbases but those of the other two as well.
Give Me All Your Luvin' debuted in America at No 13 – Madonna's highest position since 2008. Her appearance at the Super Bowl, where MIA flashed her middle finger at the camera, helped, of course: a case of a collaboration that will go down as one of pop's more memorable.
More often, though, A-list hookups aren't landmark events. How can they be, when they've become mandatory for the generic pop/urban acts who've dominated the charts for the past half-decade? There are half a dozen in every week – and for every one that shows an actual affinity between the acts – such as Drake and Rihanna's Take Care – there are a dozen Pitbull/Chris Browns, who exhibit all the passion of two CEOs signing a corporate merger. Even Brit acts such as JLS are traipsing on to the bandwagon; their Brit-nominated outing with American singer Dev is a fine example of two acts being put together for the greater good of their record labels.
Obviously, some collaborations have been inspired matches: Jay-Z and Alicia Keys brought different but equally stirring things to Empire State of Mind; ditto Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg on California Gurls. Christina Aguilera's contribution to Maroon 5's Moves Like Jagger blasted an already euphoric song into the ionosphere, and Lady Gaga and Beyoncé made Telephone an irresistible détente between two alpha females.
More often, though, collaborations are soulless things whose ubiquity is changing the tenor of the chart. The more successful they are, the more get released, and if you've been thinking pop has been a depressing place for the last few years because it's stuffed with schlock-merchants such as Bruno Mars, it's even worse when it's Lil' Wayne featuring Bruno Mars.
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