You know the process by now. Tiësto plays "Jackie Chan" in Vegas; Post Malone performs it on his tour; stations like Wild 94.9 add it to their rotations; and it inevitably climbs the Billboard Hot 100, possibly breaking the top ten. By the end of the summer, even the snobbiest music fans sing along to that godforsaken "Cha-aaa-aan" melody.
Dutch EDM producer Tiësto and white American rapper Post Malone—artists two continents and one generation apart—might seem like unnatural collaborators, and that's because they are. In an over-saturated media landscape, where artists need gimmicks to compete for fans' attention, labels increasingly favor the practice of pairing together popular artists who have nothing in common. It's an obvious bid to maximize profits by combining the streaming power of both fan bases, and it's starting to become transparent and cheap.
With the prevalence of partnerships like Tiësto and Malone's, which both feel and sound forced, we've reached peak label-engineered collabs. These cloying songs incessantly remind us that the music industry is an industry. And, frankly, that erases all the magic, fun and spontaneity from pop music.
Yes, features in rap and R&B especially have been a way to boost numbers for decades. But these transparent attempts to game the charts are all over today's radio: take Rita Ora's "Girls" with Charlie XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha; or Katy Perry featuring Migos; or Camila Cabello featuring Young Thug. These types of mega-collabs sometimes work, like G-Eazy's admittedly catchy "No Limit," featuring A$AP Rocky and Cardi B. But when they flop like "Girls," their perceptible absence of musical chemistry is especially cringeworthy.
This new era of "What's Going On (2001)"-esque celebrity mashups has its current-day origins in Drake and Future's 2015 album What a Time to Be Alive, a runaway success that clued labels into the profit potential of two giants coming together, despite its C-minus reviews. (For the record, I still like WATTBA.) When super-producers like DJ Khaled and Calvin Harris rose to prominence, mega-collabs only became more prevalent. Khaled's "I'm the One" featuring Justin Bieber, Quavo, Lil Wayne and Chance the Rapper dominated Billboard in the summer of 2017, leading us into the current era of Perry and Migos' "Bon Apetit," "Girls," "Jackie Chan" and their ilk.
Pop music has always been a business, and maybe I'm just getting older and more jaded. But as the artificial-feeling collab phenomenon continues, it's resulting in an overabundance of canned, rote and, frankly, boring music.
I want to see spectacle. I want to see greatness. I want pop songs that help us transcend the relentless news cycle for three minutes and believe in the beauty and magic of life. In an era where nearly everything in entertainment reeks of exploitation or outright trolling, these label-engineered collabs feel like another cynical way to gain clicks and streams. They don't have too much magic to them.
What they do have is incessant, nagging hooks. And if you see me out this summer singing "Jackie Chan," know this: I'm so sorry.