Add This To Your Playlist: Week Twelve- Collaboration

It seems as though in recent years, the number of artist collaborations have skyrocketed. Every few months, I hear about the next two major stars who are going to be working together. This is an enormous draw, because it often means the blending of genre and music styles. Fans of both artists are persuaded into listening to something new, something they may not have otherwise listened to. This mixing of culture and sound has created a community that is now more open to listening diversely.




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Song One: “Let Me Down Slowly” by Alec Benjamin and Alessia Cara


I was particularly excited when I heard of this collaboration since Alessia Cara has, in recent years, gained quite a bit of popularity; however, Alec Benjamin is still a relatively lesser-known artist. His songs such as “Paper Crown” that tells the story of the Statue of Liberty and “The Water Fountain” which discusses the pains of examining someone you love in a relationship with someone else paint him as sentimental singer/songwriter that pays special attention to craft. Alessia Cara is best known for her radio hits “Here” about her uncomfortable experience at a friend’s party and “Scars to Your Beautiful” about beauty culture.

“Let Me Down Slowly” married Alec Benjamin’s gift for softness with Alessia Cara’s intentionality in a way that created a beautifully dynamic duet. The song itself follows the inner-pleadings of someone who knows that they are about to be cut off in a relationship. They come to terms with the finality of the break, but hope that the other person at least has enough compassion to “let [them] down slowly.” They are begging this other person not to simply cast them aside in the lyrics “Don’t cut me down, throw me out, leave me here to waste. I once was a man of dignity and grace.” Here, Benjamin is admitting to the fact that this love made him grovel and become less than he used to be. He needs someone to be gentle with him because he has always been more invested in the love than the other.




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Song Two: “Valentino” by Years & Years and MNEK


This was a collaboration that was more a matter of time than a question. Years & Years and MNEK have been supporting one another’s careers for years now (one could even say years & years) and it came as no surprise when this extra track was added to the deluxe version of Years & Years’ latest album Palo Santo. Years & Years consists of bandmates Olly Alexander (singer), Emre Turkmen (keyboardist and synthesizer) and Mikey Goldsworthy (guitarist). Their band is best known for its synth-pop sound, featured in their song “King” that topped the UK Singles Chart in 2015. MNEK, on the other hand, is a Grammy nominee as well as a singer, songwriter, and record producer out of England. His style mostly sits between dance-pop and R&B.

“Valentino” is a cleverly done tale of a trickster. Valentino is the name of the man that successfully seduced both Alexander and Emenike and the song is their lament after having their hearts broken by his cruelty. Alexander tells the audience that Valentino “Seems to be the name on everybody’s lips. So I told myself that I wouldn’t fall for it.” It seems as though Alexander knew when they met that Valentino would be trouble, but it was easy to look past it when he was so charming and enchanting. Emenike’s experience seems to mirror that of Alexander as he claims that Valentino “Knew what to say to sweep me off my feet. I should’ve never heard a word he said to me.” Valentino was the ultimate sweet-talker that said exactly the things that they wanted to hear. They both express their regrets for having given him so much power and profess that they “Should have known not to trust Valentino.”




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Song Three: “i’m so tired…” by Lauv and Troye Sivan


You probably know of Troye Sivan who, since the release of his debut album Blue Neighborhood has become a rising star and icon in the LGBT+ community. Many of his songs focus on the difficulties he has had while navigating the intricacies of his life and his sexuality, as pictured in the music videos of his Blue Neighborhood Trilogy, which consist of the songs “Wild,” “Fools” and “Talk Me Down” and tells the story of two neighborhood friends falling in love and the resulting consequences. Lauv is a newer artist to the music scene, but most likely recognizable by his radio hit “I Like Me Better.” As an American singer, songwriter, and record producer, Lauv chose his stage name because of its Latin meaning of “lion” and the fact that his first name, Ari also translates to “lion” in Hebrew and that his zodiac sign is Leo.

“I’m so tired…” is a song inspired by the feeling of a cycle that cannot be broken. The words of the chorus “I’m so tired of love songs” reflect on the want of the speaker to remove himself from this cycle of falling in love and backsliding to the same people. Lauv sings about his frustrations of trying to move on by narrating his search for someone new. He sings “Party, trying my best to meet somebody, but everybody around me is falling in love to our song.” He feels at once singled out of this culture of happy couples and also sorely reminded of better times he had with a significant ex, only making him more nostalgic for the comfort of that old relationship. Sivan narrates the other side of the story as he, too, is not over the relationship. In his verse, he tells us that he is “Killing [his] lonely nights with strangers,” to mean that he is trying to find a suitable substitute for the affection that is now gone from his life.




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Song Four: “Written in the Stars” by John Legend and WENDY


Another unexpected, yet highly appreciated collaboration comes in the slow ballad shared between John Legend and WENDY. John Legend, along with being a singer, songwriter and record producer, also dabbles in both activism and acting. His single “All of Me” off of his fourth album, Love in the Future, hit the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. WENDY is a South Korean singer known famously for her role as one of the five members of SM Entertainment’s breakout girl-group Red Velvet. As she lived in both Canada and the United States in her lifetime, she is also fluent in the English language.

“Written in the Stars,” much like its title suggests, is about two people who believe they are destined to be together. This is not a wholly uncommon assumption of people when they are in love, however they believe that this love had to come from a divine place because they keep finding a way back to each other. WENDY begins the song with the lyrics “Seems like we’ve been here before,” alluding to the possibility of them having met “in another lifetime.” They then justify this belief by saying “Don’t tell me you don’t feel what I feel right now.” Clearly, their overwhelming feelings for each other have made the rest of the world fall away for them. This song begs the question if intuition exists in love or if it is just a skewed perception of something cosmic clouded by mutual attraction.




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Song Five: “i hate u, i love u” by gnash and Olivia O’Brien


If you want to talk about heartbreaking collaborations, “i hate u, i love u” blends beautiful vocals featured by Olivia O’Brien with cleverly crafted rap lines by gnash. gnash is an American singer, rapper, record producer, DJ, and songwriter while Olivia O’Brien is a pop and trip-hop singer. This collaboration off of gnash’s third EP us reached number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and reached number one in Australia.

This song illustrates the very real pain of a failed relationship and wanting something that is not good for you. In the opening lines of the track, O’Brien sings “Feeling used, but I’m still missing you.” Here we get the first glimpse into the functionality of this past relationship that sets the foundation of the character dynamic. Even though she never felt appreciated within the relationship, that other person was enough of a draw for her that she still often thinks about them and is still in love with them. gnash then narrates his own role as the playboy that got his heart broken when he got played. He tells the audience in his rap that “wedding bells were just alarms, caution tape around my heart.” He has always been afraid of commitment and now that he has feelings for a friend, it’s only proving to him that he can’t trust someone else.




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Song Six: “Lovely” by Billie Eilish and Khalid


Perhaps another unexpected pair comes in the collaboration between Billie Eilish and Khalid in their song “Lovely.” Billie Eilish is an American singer who gained popularity after her single “Ocean Eyes” went viral. She is known for her dark themes within her music and music videos as well as her eccentricity. In contrast, Khalid is an American singer and songwriter that plays heavily with the R&B genre. His single “Location” reached the 16th spot on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in July of 2016. Khalid has also collaborated with other artists such as Normani with the release of their song “Love Lies” for the Love, Simon soundtrack.

“Lovely” is a song that greatly contradicts its title. The track itself is mostly about loneliness and the feeling of being trapped. The contrast almost becomes haunting as the chorus uses the word “lovely” to describe one’s “heart made of glass and mind of stone” as well as the feeling of being torn “to pieces.” The song illustrates how people feel stuck in their solitude and cannot find a way out of their own minds. In Khalid’s verse he narrates himself “Walking out of town,” meaning that he’s trying to distance himself from his struggles, but reflects on the fact that there’s always something “in [his] headspace.” No matter to what lengths they go to, they will never be able to escape their own thoughts. Therefore, they need to spend their time trapped in this box to confront their fears and sort through their problems.

Song Seven: “Dancing With a Stranger” by Sam Smith and Normani


Speaking of collaborations with Normani, I couldn’t create a master list of some of the best current collaborations without including “Dancing With a Stranger.” This song combines Sam Smith’s soulfulness with Normani’s power. Sam Smith is an English singer-songwriter who has become almost inescapable on the radio. He is notorious for his emotional ballads, the most popular of which is likely “Stay With Me.” He’s been nominated for six Grammy awards and has won four of them. His counterpart, Normani, is one of the members of the girl group Fifth Harmony that gained their popularity from their third-place finish on the second season of The X Factor. As a soloist now, her first album is set to release in early 2019.

Following the thread of many of these songs, “Dancing With a Stranger” is about, you guessed it, still having feelings for your ex. At the beginning of the song, Smith admits to the fact that he is not over his ex and he asks “Can you light my fire?” Here, he’s directing the question at the prospective third party, the new love interest that he meets out somewhere. He wants to know if this new person will be able to fill the holes left by the other. In her verse, Normani then plays the role of the ex-lover as she also describes her own difficulties getting over her past relationship. She sings “I wasn’t even going out tonight, but boy I need to get you off my mind.” She forced herself to seek out a distraction so that she wouldn’t spend all of her time thinking about her ex. However, it seemed to work for neither of them as they say in the chorus “Look what you made me do.” They are in turn blaming each other for needing to use someone else as a crutch to get over each other.


There are many times in which major collaborations between artists promise to deliver more and fall flat. The industry knows that if it sells popular artists together that whatever songs they put out will succeed just because of fan loyalty. While this marketing tactic is unfair and sometimes compromises artistry, it is an effective tactic and it does draw upon a wider audience. I know that collaborations can either be some of my favorite songs or simply major disappointments, but there is always excitement surrounding them, and sometimes, they surprise you.

You can listen to the full playlist here!