No stranger to collaboration, Ed Sheeran has earned a reputation over the course of his career as an artist undeterred by genre boundaries. He’s dived head-first into working relationships with artists as disparate as Beyoncé, Tori Kelly, Hoodie Allen, and Lupe Fiasco – lending his significant streaming influence or hoping some of theirs will rub off, depending on the collaborator.
Sheeran’s recent “I Don’t Care” with Justin Bieber, a party soundtrack about feeling left out at parties, eventuated as more than just a single; it was just the appetizer to an album of Sheeran & Co. songs, with the likes of Bruno Mars, Chris Stapleton, Stormzy, Skrillex, and Khalid appearing on No. 6 Collaborations Project. “Remember The Name” sees Sheeran playing peacemaker, and uniting Eminem and 50 Cent, while Sheeran makes up for missing out on remixing “Despacito” – something he said he’d hoped to do before Bieber got there first – by joining the Latin crossover movement with “South Of The Border,” featuring Camila Cabello and Cardi B.
From chart-toppers at the peak of their influence to big names shining a light on emerging artists — while hoping for some of the sparkle to rub off on them — pop collaborations have long extended, altered, or launched pop careers. Here are ten of pop history’s most influential and unforgettable.
10. Beyonce, Nicki Minaj — “Feeling Myself”
Bolstering each other up for what felt like the entirety of 2014, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce played a game of collaboration tennis, remixing and guesting on two of the year’s best hip-hop tracks. First came the “Flawless” remix, where Onika answered the call over Bey’s first sample of Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” (but not the last).
Months later, its psychic twin was born when it came time for Nicki to drop her long-awaited Pinkprint. The two artists share writing credits with SZA on the track, which serves as a reminder of their many, undeniable successes – “Male or female, it make no difference: I stop the world,” Beyonce points out. You can almost feel the song’s hair flipping you in the face as it shrugs and smirks. Refusing to be pitted as rivals, the pair gee one another up, flexing all the while. It’s a highlight on Pinkprint – itself a highlight in Minaj’s discography for the skillful way it managed to avoid evoking genre whiplash, flitting from tracks like this, “Anaconda” and “Trini Dem Girl”s to the more introspective “Bed Of Lies,” “Favorite,” and “The Crying Game” that serve as emotional counterpoints to her delicious braggadociousness.
9. Brandy, Monica — “The Boy is Mine”
A duet designed to squash rumors of jealousy and competition between two young women – but largely served to only create more of them on its journey to becoming the biggest female duet in chart history – “The Boy Is Mine” has both the lyrical content and a sound that transports you back to 1998. It was not only the breakout single for both its singers, but also for writer and producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, who’d go on to have credits on songs by Destiny’s Child, Nsync, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Beyonce and play a significant role in crafting the sound of pop in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Famously conceived while he was watching women fighting over a deadbeat cheating boyfriend on an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, “The Boy Is Mine” is both an homage to Paul McCartney’s guest spot on Michael Jackson’s Thriller lead single, and a response to ideas of a professional feud simmering between Brandy and Monica. The duet attempted to rebuff the idea in an environment where it was presumed only one woman could be at the top of the R&B charts, but 14 years after its release, Monica essentially confirmed the inverse had been true all along: Rather than being antagonists because of any rivalry or jealousy, the two singers simply didn’t get along as teenagers and uniting in the face of gossip was little more than a stunt.