Have you ever wondered, perhaps in a darker moment, what an album featuring noted lutenist Sting crooning alongside sporadic novelty hitmaker Shaggy might sound like? Well, wonder no more, because last month they unleashed 44/876, an “island-influenced” collaborative album that honours “the duo’s mutual love of Jamaica”. If you’re now thinking: “OK, but why?” then Sting has the answer. “The most important thing to me in any kind of music is surprise,” he told Rolling Stone. “And everybody is surprised by this collaboration – by what they’re hearing. We’re surprising.” Indeed.

Another “surprising” recent collaboration was Q-Tip and Demi Lovato who have “reimagined” Elton John’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, while 2018 has also graced us with Charlie Puth trying to keep up with Boyz II Men, Justin Timberlake saying nothing with only-famous-in-America human beard Chris Stapleton and Sheryl Crow trying to keep her composure while the bloke from Britpop also-rans Reef shreds his larynx on My Sweet Love.

With head-scratching musical pile-ups set to continue, we look at some of the best, AKA worst.

Destiny’s Child & Matthew Marsden

It is weird to think that in 1998 it was rugged soap star-turned-rugged pop star Matthew Marsden who probably had to be convinced to work with Beyoncé. After signing a half-a-million-pound record deal with Columbia Records, having impressed them by a 12-month stint as a mechanic in Corrie, Marsden was paired with labelmates Destiny’s Child (first album lineup) for a perfunctory cover of Hall & Oates’s She’s Gone. Beyoncé etc do the absolute minimum, barely masking the fact that their bits in the video were clearly shot in a record label office, likely on a separate continent to Marsden, with a record label employee holding the door shut.

Michael Jackson & Eddie Murphy

Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy.
Two to tango... Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy. Photograph: Guardian Design Team

Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson’s earnest Whatzupwitu (opening line of the video: “The elephant is dying”) tries to communicate man’s ills via the medium of cheap-sounding R&B. One explanation for its existence is that Jackson only agreed to do it as part of a deal to get Murphy in his Remember the Time video a year earlier. Why else would noted perfectionist Jackson agree to be in a video that was apparently created using the very first iteration of MS Paint? “Always in the trees,” Jackson sings with underserved gusto while an illustrated heart is superimposed on to his forehead; “Always in the seas,” he warbles while a shower of musical notes rains down. At the end, as a crudely drawn dove of peace flutters by, Murphy clamps his hand over Jackson’s mouth, probably to stop him shouting for help.

Coldplay & the Chainsmokers

Coldplay have always worried about staying relevant, even when their stage outfits suggested otherwise. As early as 2004, Chris Martin co-wrote and appeared on Jamelia’s See It In a Boy’s Eyes, following that with a collaboration with the then white-hot Nelly Furtado on 2006’s All Good Things (Come to an End). In 2012, he brought serial collaborator Rihanna into the fold on Princess of China, wise to the fact she can make anyone in her radius cooler by proxy, even Jonny Buckland. In 2017, aware that streaming rules the charts and faceless DJs are Radio 1 catnip, Coldplay sidled up to US dance bros Chainsmokers for the brainless Something Just Like This, which was a Top 3 hit in the UK and US. Fingers crossed this leads to a Calvin Harris v Starsailor remix of Alcoholic.

Jay-Z & Another Level

Jay-Z and Another Level.
Hard knock life... Jay-Z and Another Level. Photograph: Guardian Design Team

Around the same time that Beyoncé was busy re-reading her contract and ignoring Matthew Marsden’s messages, future husband Jay-Z was in a similar bind. His Roc-A-Fella Records imprint had signed a deal in the UK with Northwestside, who, as it so happened, had a new boyband by the name of Another Level; they, coincidentally, had some space on a remix for a big-name US rapper. The song was Be Alone No More, and while Jay’s verse wasn’t awful, he might have been rethinking his choices when he realised his remix only peaked at 11 in the UK, five places lower than the original, Jay-Z-less version.

Kanye West & Thirty Seconds to Mars

Obviously Kanye West isn’t exactly adverse to the unexpected collaboration – Fall Out Boy, Adam Levine, Estelle – but even during his most charitable moments there’s always been a sense of perspective. That went out of the window in 2010 when he collaborated with Oscar-winning egotist Jared Leto and his side-project Thirty Seconds to Mars on Hurricane. Over Leto’s strained vocals and a backing track that would make Muse wince, Kanye whips out his vocoder for some nonsensical burbling that really should have stayed locked on someone’s hard drive.

Janet Jackson & Cliff Richard

By 1986, after her first two solo albums had flopped, Janet Jackson was talking a lot about control. Control of her personal life (she’d recently annulled her marriage to James DeBarge); control of her career (she’d fired her controlling manager, father Joseph); and control of who she was as an artist (she’d hired producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis). You have to hope that in among all that annulling, firing and hiring she sought the requisite level of revenge on whoever came up with pairing her with Cliff Richard on 1984’s Giorgio Moroder-produced Two to the Power of Love. While a naive young Janet goes for playful and coy, Cliff delivers his lines like a Tory MP reciting grime lyrics.

Wu-Tang Clan & Texas

Say what you want... Method Man and Sharleen Spiteri.
Say what you want... Method Man and Sharleen Spiteri. Photograph: Guardian Design Team

The Brit awards has form when it comes to chucking together artists and seeing what happens. We’ve had Robbie Williams and Tom Jones for the mums, Klaxons and Rihanna for the kids, and Florence Welch and Dizzee Rascal for the self-loathing. In 1998 they gave us Texas and, erm, the Wu-Tang Clan via an unnecessary reworking of every estate agent’s favourite sex jam, Say What You Want. To be fair, it wasn’t directly their fault. “[The Brits producers] were like: ‘We want you to sing with Smokey Robinson,’” explained Texas’s Sharleen Spiteri in 2015. “I went: ‘Nahhh. Listen, don’t get me wrong, I’d cut off my right arm to sing with Smokey Robinson, but that’s what people are going to expect us to do.’” So she got her good mates Method Man and RZA down to London to do the song they’d just recorded and, lo and behold, that age-old question of “Do the Wu-Tang Clan care about their legacy?” was finally answered.

David Guetta et al ...

Since capitalising on the EDM boom, 50-year-old French DJ and producer David Guetta has worked with almost everyone. Seriously. This man’s iPhone address book is basically a who’s who of every bandwagon-jumping artist signed to a major label. It’s not just your typical dance music-adjacent pop stars, either. Give me the name of an unexpected collaborator and chances are he’s twiddled knobs in their vicinity. Stereo MCs? Yep, they’re on 2004’s amazingly titled Guetta Blaster album. Lil Wayne? Oh yes, on a 2011 album track that unfortunately also included Chris Brown. And before you say Ladysmith Black Mambazo, thinking you’re all clever, they appeared on Lift Me Up, a No 157 hit in France from 2014.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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