The May-December Collaboration Edition

On reaching new audiences, Frankenstein constructs, and chart hits 

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Colin here. An interesting thing is happening in pop music. “Cold Heart,” the new chart hit from Dua Lipa and Elton John is a Frankenstein’s monster of the Elton catalog. The song was constructed from four Elton John songs: “Kiss The Bride” from Too Low For Zero, “Where's the Shoorah?” from Blue Moves, “Sacrifice” from Healing Hands, and “Rocketman” from Honky Chateau. The most identifiable hook is obviously from Rocketman, which Dua Lipa sings, but the Australian production duo PNAU stitched everything together with a bulbous, synthy house bassline, and voila, it’s huge. Obviously, the classic artist coupled with a current chart star isn’t new, but you are seeing these types of collaborations happen more often. 

Here’s how Sir Elton described the song’s success to Billboard: 

A lot of it is, of course, due to Dua Lipa’s popularity and the brilliant Pnau remix, but I feel very very content and happy that I’m relevant. I’ve always tried to be relevant. I think a lot of that is due to the fact that I do my own [Apple Music] radio show, [“Rocket Hour]. My object when I do that is to play new music by new artists. I’ve come into contact with them, promote them and become friends.

Elton John has always been a keen student of the charts and it was interesting to see how his radio show was his connective tissue to a new guard of artists. Whether it’s his radio show, the team around him, or just his legend in the industry, he has found ways to consistently connect himself to culture-makers who get noticed. In addition to his Dua Lipa collaboration, he’s due to do a Christmas song with Ed Sheeran and recently worked with Lil Nas X during the pop star’s Montero press blitz.

Why is this interesting? 

While a lot of legacy artists are happy to make a lot of money with their back catalogs and tend to their Pacific Palisades estates, it is interesting to see the collab culture coming from legends and new acts. Since Lil Nas X connected with Billy Ray Cyrus for “Old Town Road” there’s been a fun onslaught of May-December collaborations. 

Another recent example is Paul McCartney. His McCartney III Imagined album had an interesting list of both big and emerging names including St Vincent, Beck, Josh Homme, Damon Albarn, Blood Orange, Khruangbin, 3D RDN of Massive Attack, Ed O’Brien (EOB), Anderson Paak, and others. It wasn’t just about album appearances, though, McCartney also did a series of IG Lives in confinement (Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien was a notable one). It was quite media savvy—keeping up relevance while floating on the thermal updrafts of a lot of heavy-hitting social graphs. 

It’s all refreshing in a way. A lot of old acts would just get the band back together and hit the reunion tour when the coffers run low, but these new types of collaborations are a more fun way to build on prior success while continuing to create cultural momentum and also creating a symbiotic relationship with young artists. Here’s to hoping the trend continues and keeps finding more unexpected pairings. (CJN)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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