Ke$ha, Wale, and the mix-and-match duet | Bleader

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ke$ha, Wale, and the mix-and-match duet

Posted By on 07.16.13 at 04:23 PM

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As a general rule if I'm having a conversation with someone about music and they bring up the tired old cliche about pop stars being interchangeable cogs in the music biz machine devoid of any individual talent who are simply "made" by faceless executives, I tune them out. It's a good sign that the person I'm talking to either has no idea how infrequently the record industry hands out deals to anyone who's less that one million percent devoted to making music, no matter how pop it might be, or they're an anhedonic snob. Or, frequently, both.

But as much as I hate to give those types any fodder, here's a little gift to the pop-star-as-cog types: Billboard agrees with you, at least in certain circumstances. Right now there are two songs in the Hot 100 with slightly weird artist credits. At number 30 is Wale's single "Bad," credited to "Wale featuring Tiara Thomas or Rihanna," and at 49 is Ke$ha's "Crazy Kids," credited to "Ke$ha featuring will.i.am or Juicy J."

These little crediting quirks are actually not so much an indication of how interchangeable pop artists are, but of how digital distribution models allow labels to test market songs even after they're released. Will.i.am had a hand in writing and producing the album version of "Crazy Kids," and when RCA decided to release it as a single they used a remixed version where he rapped on a verse. It's a fairly terrible verse, even by the low standards of will.i.am raps, so the label followed it up with another remix with a Pitbull verse. That one was so bad that it seems to have been almost entirely forgotten about, and doesn't even appear on Ke$ha's Vevo page. The third try, with a verse by former Three 6 Mafia front man Juicy J, finally achieved the critical mass the label seems to have been looking for, but since the will.i.am version's apparently getting play, Billboard's decided to share the credit rather than have the same song competing with itself on the chart.

Wale's "Bad" is a slightly different story. The song was originally released late last year on his mixtape Folarin, with Tiara Thomas filling the role of the female hook singer. As with Young Jeezy's "R.I.P.," his "official" label, Atlantic, seems to have seen the track's commercial appeal, and the song was elevated from the mixtape realm (which is largely ignored by mainstream pop listeners) to label-sanctioned single, and given an additional boost by replacing Thomas's vocals with identical hooks (plus some ad libs) sung by the much more recognizable Rihanna.

The fact that each of these iterations can be distributed digitally and almost instantaneously is a major boon for labels. From now on one bad bit of casting won't necessarily ruin a single's chart potential. It's not only likely that we'll see more of this type of thing on the charts in the future, but that it'll only get more common. I wonder how long it'll be until we see one song with the same production and backing track being credited to two different primary artists both trying to make it break.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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