Go take a look at the Billboard Hot 100 if you dare, and notice the amount of “feat.” collaborations all throughout the chart. The current #1 song by Drake called “One Dance” features WizKid and Kyla, whoever the hell they are. Three of the Top 5 songs on the Hot 100 are also collaborations. Collaborations are the dominant feature of the charts these days. Why? Because music isn’t about music anymore, it’s about celebrity. Though the talk surrounding these singles is about the art of collaboration and how it brings out the creativity in artists, in reality it’s all about combining the selling power of celebrity franchises onto one track to create as much attention as possible to push it to the masses.
It’s like movie studios figuring out the formulas for superhero movies. When the Batman and Superman movies run their course, make it Batman vs. Superman. Modern popular music is doing the same thing, burning the candle at both ends in a shortsighted view that it will never flame out. Backroom payoffs for songwriting credits and appearances on records are the industry capital greasing the wheels that keep more established acts at the top of the charts, and help launch younger artists into established roles. This isn’t artists collaborating organically, this is money changers pulling levers behind-the-scenes.
Make no mistake, country music is heading fast and furious towards this trend as well, and will be enlisting pop stars left and right to attempt to boost the star power of falling stars. We’re seeing it with Dierks Bentley and his duet with Elle King (who now says she wants to make a country record), and now Brad Paisley with Demi Lovato (who, as you guessed, says she also wants to make a country record).
Like most red-blooded country music fans, I can’t name you one Demi Lovato song. Apparently she got her start as a child actor on Barney & Friends before converting to Disney. Sounds about perfect for a modern day country music collaboration.
Brad Paisley’s old enough to be Demi Lovato’s father, but let that be no object to them singing a song together about makeup sex. Demi Lovato has no business in country, and we know where this is all headed. As soon as pop decides Demi’s complexion isn’t perfect anymore, we’ll be hearing all about how she was raised in Dallas and loves country music.
Surprisingly though, “Without A Fight” is not as terrible as one would suspect. Holy shit there is actually some steel guitar floating in and out of the mix, and despite the age difference, the theme of the passionate yet contentious relationship that burns too hot is a good and classic one for country. It’s also a good one for a duet. The song is still more rock than country, but it could be worse. You see the name Demi Lovato and you expect a slew of “producers” which are nothing more than programmers sitting behind MacBook Pros composing drum beats and synth beds, but there doesn’t appear to be any programming on the track. “Without A Fight” was co-written by Paisley and frequent collaborator Kelley Lovelace, and co-produced by Paisley himself.
The slow, but intentional and nefarious infiltration of pop stars into country is real, and in the coming months and years, you could see the country charts blossom with pop collaborations to where 35% to 50% of the songs have “feat.” following the primary performer just like we see in the pop charts today. But focusing on the song—which is where the focus on music should be instead of what celebrities are singing on it—“Without The Fight” is a generic country rock song that will make a little noise in the charts before everyone forgets about it. It’s no Loretta and Conway, but it’s harmless aside from Lovato’s involvement.