By Sterling Wong
‘Tis the season to be jolly, especially if you’re a Justin Bieber fan, as the teen superstar is set to release his first holiday album, Under the Mistletoe, come November 1.
(The first single, “Mistletoe,” dropped earlier this week during MTV First: Justin Bieber.)
For this release, Bieber has roped in a whole host of guest artists. Some guest appearances are to be expected – mentor and close friend Usher, of course, duets with Bieber on his version of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts).” Some, though, seem to have come out of left field. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to do a double take when I found out that Bieber would be collaborating with Mariah Carey on a new version of her smash “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Not only is the music Carey makes very different from Bieber’s, her fanbase is an entirely different demographic.
But, then again, this new Justin/Mariah power combo is hardly the first unusual music collaboration. Artists working together and crossing genres often produce fresh, innovative music. In anticipation of hearing the new duet version of “All I Want for Christmas is You,” I thought I’d take a look back at some of music’s most unusual and unexpected collaborations.
Eminem and Elton John, “Stan”
Not only do Elton John and Eminem belong in significantly different genres, before the duo came together to perform “Stan” at the 2001 Grammy Awards, Eminem was not known to be the most gay-friendly musician out there with some of his harsh anti-gay lyrics, while John was, of course, out and proud. Barriers, and we’re not just talking about musical ones, were broken when the two performed a moving version of “Stan” and later embraced, as Eminem squashed any notion that he was homophobic.
Nelly and Tim McGraw, “Over and Over”
What happens when you get a country and a hip-hop superstar, both at the top of their games, into the same recording studio? In the case of Tim McGraw and Nelly, you get 2004’s rolling “Over and Over.” According to Nelly, country and hip-hop actually have a lot of similarities, because both genres emerge from poverty-afflicted communities. The “Ride Wit Me” singer may be right on that point, but this single, though successful commercially, was probably not the best work of either artist. Still, props to the two for breaking conventions!
Jonas Brothers and Common, “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime”
I get it … Like many Disney tween stars (think Miley), the Jonas Brothers probably wanted to break out of their safe, good-boy images at least a little bit, which is why for this song on their 2009 Lines, Vines and Trying Times album, they engaged rapper Common to duet with them. But while I bought Miley’s edgier sound and look for “Can’t Be Tamed,” I’m just not convinced when Nick, Joe and Kevin sing with Common about robbing banks together. Chalk this one up as a misguided experiment.
Kanye West and Bon Iver, “Lost in the World”
On the one hand, the idea of the man who sang “Gold Digger” collaborating with indie darling Bon Iver sounds preposterous. But on the other, it’s not when you think about how sonically adventurous the constantly boundary-pushing West is. (Which other rapper would release a first single that doesn’t contain any rap and features singing with heavy autotune?) The result of this collaboration was a catchy and atmospheric “Lost in the World,” and it showed the world that labels like “indie” or “mainstream” don’t mean much. There’s only good or bad music.
Mariah Carey featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Fantasy (Remix)”
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find out Mariah is working with Justin Bieber. After all, the diva shook up the music world back in 1995, when, as a wholesome singer known primarily for family-friendly power vocal fare like “Hero,” Mariah chose to remix the pop-sounding “Fantasy” into an urban-styled track and roped in the controversial O.D.B from the Wu-Tang Clan to guest-rap. Nowadays, no one blinks an eye when pop stars like Katy Perry duet with rappers like Snoop Dogg, but keep in mind, this was 1995, and the success of “Fantasy (Remix)” meant that Mariah had effectively pioneered a whole new genre of music, melding the world of pop together with rap/hip-hop in way that had never been done before.
Do what you must to prepare for Bieber’s duet with Mariah. In the meantime, you should catch up on her Christmas classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”