FEATURE: By Hook or by Crook: Do Collaboration-Heavy Songs Add Something to Music or Are They Cheaply Commercial?



By Hook or by Crook


ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images 

Do Collaboration-Heavy Songs Add Something to Music or Are They Cheaply Commercial?


YOU can’t argue against the fact…



Girls, a song that has been in the press recently, boasts some pretty big names. Rita Ora leads the track but is joined by Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha. The single’s artwork (above) is eye-catching and it seems, from the outside, to be a confident and sassy hook-up among four women who at the top of their game. Whilst the song itself is not a complete train-wreck; many have argued it is not worthy of such hype and crowding. I wonder whether Ora could have delivered the song herself or trimmed the numbers you see on the track. I am a fan of Cardi B and she adds a little something to it – the collaborators on Girls seem to be there for the ride. It has been accused, by Hayley Kiyoko of providing a somewhat naïve and ignorant view of homosexuality. Looking at this article in Vulture, you can see her point:

The topic of girl-on-girl has long been a staple of pop music, but as more openly queer artists make their mark on the industry, the more their perspective complicates the notion of singing about kissing a girl, and liking it, just for the titillation factor. Singer Hayley Kiyoko, whose fans famously call her “Lesbian Jesus,” took to Instagram on Friday to express her concerns about Rita Ora’s new song “Girls” featuring Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX. The song, Kiyoko says, offers a “tone-deaf” fantasy version of queer and lesbian relationships….

…Pointing to lyrics like “Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls/Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls,” Kiyoko says in part, “I don’t need to drink wine to kiss girls; I’ve loved women my entire life. This type of message is dangerous because it completely belittles and invalidates the very pure feelings of an entire community.” Writes the singer, “We can and should do better”.

There are some obvious points to take from this. Chief among them is the rather foolish and commercial lyrics. I am not sure who wrote the lyrics – whether the artists themselves penned it – but there is more besides a tone-deaf view of sexuality that stands in the mind. Whilst offence can be detected and addressing a subject like homosexuality needs to be dealt with (with) greater care; the quality of the song is not exactly sky-high. Here are artists of the mainstream who, between them, command millions of fans and inspire legions of fans. Whilst the message of Girls paints experimental and harmless tones – getting a little tipsy and kissing – there is a concern these lyrics are sending a bad message to the fans –  a clumsy and ill-thought-out portrayal of gender and sexuality. One of my biggest gripes concerns quality and the need for so many people on one track.



It is more endemic of the streaming age we live in; the fact so many songs have endless names appearing on them. Girls is not the villain and sole culpable when we look at this problem: look at the weekly Spotify playlists – their New Music Friday – and you will see those songs that seem to feature everyone in the music industry! I can see where Girls is coming from: assembled a quartet of confident and popular female artists to perform a song that, in many ways, speaks to the experience of their demographics (the teen and pre-teen audience). I am not a gigantic fan of any of the four singers on the track but I wonder whether feature-heavy songs are a way of racking up Spotify figures and have commercialism in mind. If you were throwing four exceptional names in a song that stuck in the memory for years then you cannot argue: putting together four eminently commercial and of-the-moment artists into one song smacks of money-making and ‘hits’ – seeing how many views and streams we can get for this star-laden song! I guess it would be naïve to mention how commercial artists are more interested in profit, online success and winning the race – they should be more concerned with creating influence and making quality material. Pop music is changing a bit so that new artists are looking inwardly and writing from the pages of their diaries.


Whilst there are fewer collaboration-rich songs around, I still feel the market is too saturated with packed and muddled songs. Look at the greatest collaborations of all-time and one goes to the duet – a big artist brings someone else into their world and has something added to the music. The reason why artists join forces is to maximise quality and mix ingredients that lead to wonderful music. From Eminem and Dido ‘duetting’ on Stan; Elton John and Kiki Dee’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart; Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox, Sisters Are Doin' it for Themselves – getting that balance right can lead to something exceptional. Fairytale of New York and 7 Seconds have that perfect blend; Don’t Give Up and Crazy in LoveUnder Pressure (David Bowie and Queen) ranks as, perhaps, the best duet. It is not only the duet that appeals: you can create a fantastic song by adding three or four voices together. I am casting my mind back to a collaboration that actually stuck in my mind; one from the past few years that has lodged in the brain. There may have been one or two but, when I think of the best songs around, they are recorded by a band or solo artist (or a duo) – they do not rely on other people coming together.

Look at all those legendary duets – most recorded decades ago – and you can see what happens when you have an incredible song and fantastic artists to deliver it. Now, there seems to be the opposite approach: the quality can be so-so but, as long as you toss so meaty names together, it will sell and start trending. A BBC article, published in January, provided some worrying statistics:

Nearly a quarter of the current UK top 40 is made up of tracks credited to more than one artist.

There's nothing too new about that, but if the first week of 2018 is anything to go by that could soon be on the rise. Rita Ora, Bruno Mars and Charlie Puth are part of collaborations already released this year, while the likes of Justin Timberlake and Mark Ronson are also set to unleash projects”.

You look at those names and a part of you shivers – they are artists who are now renowned for epic quality and are as Pop as you can get. If one-quarter of the charts is based on hook-ups then you have to argue it is not yielding results. Of course; there are collaborations in other genres – again; I cannot think of any that speak to me or have stood out. Why, then, do Pop artists join forces and inflict that kind of thing on the public? The article explains why record labels and bosses join artists together:

Simon Cowell's Syco label pairing Little Mix and CNCO last year was a clear attempt to expose both acts to South America and the UK respectively.

Keep an eye out for Justin Timberlake teaming up with Alicia Keys as well as long-time co-writers Timbaland and Pharrell on his new album, while producer super group Mark Ronson and Diplo are set to launch their new project Silk City in 2018”. 


Streaming now makes up over 50% of music consumption in the UK, more than any other platform…With fans all over the world being more accessible than ever, teaming up with other acts makes a lot of sense…Because these are global artists, or artists with the ambition to be global artists, you have to think about it in terms of having the biggest possible reach and streaming lends itself to that," says Gennaro. "With the right song and artist profile, it can cut through whatever the culture...There's a powerful sense that collaborations enhance your prospects of having a successful song".

I cannot argue against the motives at play. What does get to me is what collaborations seem to say about modern music: it is about boosting profiles, getting money in and all about figures. Where does quality and actual songwriting ability come into this?! All of my favourite songs and albums from the past ten years have been by the artist themselves – none of them has featured other acts at all. Aside from Beyoncé joining with Jay-Z; I cannot think of any collaboration that is natural and needed (maybe the Justin Timberlake song, with Alicia Keys, is as close to credible as you can get today).

I get a bit tired of scanning through the Spotify new releases and having to cancel my plans for the day because it takes so long scrolling through all the names on a single song! Pop, Rap and Hip-Hop are the worst offenders: bringing together crews of names that add nothing but the odd vocal, line or murmur. I have highlighted Girls because it is the definition of wasted potential: if you are going to bring four huge names together then I could think of other options; a better song that was not constructed simply to join fan camps together and get the streaming figures up. Many could argue there is no harm letting artists collaborate and making something a bit different. I support that notion but I wonder whether we need to see so many; if any of these efforts have yielded any decent music – and why all the best duets and collaborations from music are back in the past. I live in hope there will be collaborations that genuinely stand out and do what they are designed to do: create a song that genuinely benefits from having those artists involved. I wonder whether cynicism and business has overtaken genuine passion and curious experimentation – or whether there was commercialism involved with some of those huge duets I mentioned earlier. In any case; it would be good for musicians to focus and, if there are going to be these big-name fusions; let’s make sure the end result is something the music industry…



CAN be proud of.