Chris Martin has said the theme of Coldplay’s forthcoming album Music of the Spheres (out Oct. 15) was inspired by watching Star Wars and speculating on outer-space sounds. “I wonder what musicians are like across the universe?” was the thought that crossed his mind while watching dome-headed aliens play extra-terrestrial jazz, according to a recent interview.
We get a taste of that far-out concept with last week’s release of the sci-fi video for the album’s second single, My Universe, a collaboration with South Korea’s best invention since kimchi, the K-pop boy band BTS. The video by director Dave Meyers is set in a futuristic world where music is forbidden.
The irony of this collaboration is that the song itself is so sweet and banal that it begs a banning of tunes. Martin, who if nothing else has a milky way with melodies, may have unwittingly set in motion a galaxy-wide outlawing of pop radio. Still, the collaboration between the gently fading British soft-rock veterans and the red-hot East Asians is a pairing that represents a reach across generations, cultures, time zones and genres, if not actual worlds.
There was a time when these kind of oddball alliances were mostly the products of stunt pairings on Grammy Award broadcasts and zany hook-ups such as Run-D.M.C. with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The former’s cover of the latter’s Walk This Way in 1986 helped birth the rap-rock genre.
The counterintuitive collaboration is much more common now. Streaming demands constant creation, genres are less rigidly defined, technology facilitates remote recording sessions and the competition for attention encourages outside-the-box ideas. Moreover, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns gave artists more time on their hands than ever for mixed musical marriages.
Look no further than Elton John’s The Lockdown Sessions, set for release on Oct. 22. The album of duets and other joint efforts was recorded during the past 18 months, after John paused his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. Some of the sessions – with everyone from Eddie Vedder to Nicki Minaj to Yo-Yo Ma to Stevie Nicks to Lil Nas X – were done through Zoom.
We live in an unmuted musical world – everything goes. Let’s call 2021 the year of unexpected partnerships and unforeseen alchemies, with the following songs representing the best, worst and weirdest collaborations.
Coldplay + BTS + Max Martin = Exactly what you would expect
“And they said that we can’t be together, because, because we come from different sides.” On the bilingual Coldplay single My Universe, Swedish producer Max Martin brokers a shimmering, sentimental ballad that unites the world in a saccharine treaty.
Miley Cyrus + Andrew Watt + Elton John + Yo-Yo Ma + Robert Trujillo + Chad Smith = Mitallica
Singer Cyrus, pianist John and cellist Ma are serial collaborators, so it’s no surprise the three would end up bumping into each other on a song eventually. On her wide-screen cover of Metallica’s epic power ballad Nothing Else Matters, Cyrus stoically intones like an android Stevie Nicks on a towering track with an all-star backing band that threatens to trigger earthquakes or a heavy metal revival, whichever comes first.
Paul McCartney + Idris Elba = A remax, not a remix
The song Long Tailed Winter Bird off McCartney III from 2020 is more a groove than a proper song. For this year’s remix album McCartney III Imagined, actor Elba had a go at a full-blown reimagination that involved him rapping and McCartney singing a new hook. A little help from a friend, then.
Billy Talent + Rivers Cuomo = Tweezer
Both survivors of the 1990s, Canadian post-hardcore quintet Billy Talent and Rivers Cuomo of the hook-happy rock band Weezer speak the same musical language. Here they unite on Billy Talent’s just-out single End of Me, a tight, bratty piece of punk-pop that Billie Joe Armstrong could appreciate.
Bruno Mars + Anderson .Paak + Bootsy Collins = A shag rug celebration
Pop star Mars and hip-hop’s .Paak have toured together – a collaboration is no surprise. But throw in legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins as “special guest host,” and we have a retro R&B super duo called Silk Sonic saluting an era the stars would only know through their parents’ record collections. From an album set for a 2022 release, the seventies-loving single Leave the Door Open is smoother than The Spinners’s satin sheets.
Charlotte Cardin + De La Ghetto = A reggaeton Winehouse
Montreal singer-songwriter Cardin, with reggaeton singer De La Ghetto, interprets Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black as Back 2 Black (Yo Regreso A). Sensual, tropical and with a Spanish verse, the version is a slow-burning drama that translates universally.
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