National Post (Latest Edition)
A most collaborative year
Why Chris Martin’s current girlfriend and ex-wife are on Coldplay’s newest album
Among the guests featured on Coldplay’s new album, A Head Full of Dreams, are U. S. President Barack Obama, Beyoncé (and her daughter, Blue Ivy), and Noel Gallagher — plus frontman Chris Martin’s girlfriend, actress Annabelle Wallis, and his ex-wife, Gwyneth Paltrow (Martin’s ex-wife). Martin told The Wall Street Journal, “what I’m trying to learn in my life is the value of every human. Inclusiveness is the key thing.” It could be that Martin is the nicest man on the planet; undeniably, though, he’s canny.
The al bum’s r oster of strange musical bedfellows is emblematic of pop music in 2015, when the best way to drive attention to one’s music proved to be leveraging other people’s star power. Serial collaboration, once confined to hip- hop albums brimming with guest verses, or superannuated stars looking to get hip with a younger generation — Tony Bennett, meet Christina Aguilera — became de rigueur. Now, everybody’s getting into everybody else’s act.
Even Taylor Swift, who towered Godzilla-like over the rest of the music industry, invited a different duet partner onstage every night of her world tour; her live video trumpets appearances by everyone from Fetty Wap to the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. She hired Kendrick Lamar to boost her single Bad Blood with a guest verse; it hit # 1 in the U. S. and Canada. So, too, did See You Again, weed rapper Wiz Khalifa’s maudlin collab with YouTube star Charlie Puth.
The year’s biggest song was “Uptown Funk,” extracted from Mark Ronson’s guest- packed album Uptown Special and featuring Bruno Mars. The off-thewall collaborations you’d previously see only at the Grammys — Lang Lang and Metallica, together at last! — are now legion. Justin Bieber’s peppy pop comeback was aided and abetted by intestine- rattling dubstep demigod Skrillex; Rihanna teamed up with Paul McCartney and Kanye West on the hit FourFiveSeconds; and Miley Cyrus released a 92- minute album with The Flaming Lips ( renamed, for the project, as Her Dead Petz).
As for Kanye, the legendary ego — once happy to pick a fight with everyone from Swift to George W. Bush — announced he would run for president, but, as he told Vanity Fair, “I’d prefer not to run against someone. I would be like ‘I want to work with you.’”
Antagonism was left to Donald Trump, who has enough of it to go around. That said, not everyone in music got the memo: 2015’s one significant beef found Meek Mill accusing Drake of having found a ghostwriter for the verse he contributed to one of Mill’s songs. None of Drake’s fans were alarmed, and the Toronto rapper responded with diss tracks — Charged Up and Back 2 Back — that didn’t even really bother to address the accusation. It’s not just that Drake takes care to acknowledge his co-writers, but collaboration on every level is now the accepted norm.
The dominance of pop music is partially responsible. Going back to Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building, pop songs were historically written by teams of composers and lyricists; now, artists work with small armies of producers. More and more, these behind- the- scenes boffins are being feted: Swedish Svengali Max Martin became virtually a household name after writing for Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Adele.
And the multi- platform success that every star craves involves collaboration across disciplines — Adele hires Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan to helm the video for Hello; Rihanna holds a press conference celebrating the work of the poet and visual artist who contributed to her upcoming album, Anti. In every medium, the days of the solitary creator, or auteur, are fading — Star Wars no longer belongs to George Lucas, nor is Game of Thrones the sole preserve of George R.R. Martin.
These changes reflect how popularity is driven by social networks. With each collaboration comes the expectation of promotion: scratch my back, and I’ ll tweet about it. Meek Mill’s beef with Drake apparently arose when the 6 God failed to Tweet about his album. Sharing with everyone and playing nice is, in theory, the way social networks are supposed to work: there’s still no Dislike button on Facebook, and Twitter changed its star design for favourites to a heart for like.
But not every joint venture ended in harmony: Damon Albarn, himself a serial collaborator par excellence, wrote off his session with Adele, which didn’t make her album, album 25. Dismissing her music as “very middle of the road,” Albarn turned to his first album with Blur since 2002. The Magic Whip was one of the year’s best — proving that while having friends with musical benefits is all well and good, there’s nothing like the productive tension that comes from musical monogamy.