As a general rule if I’m having a conversation with someone about music and they bring up the tired old cliche about pop stars being interchangeable cogs in the music biz machine devoid of any individual talent who are simply “made” by faceless executives, I tune them out. It’s a good sign that the person I’m talking to either has no idea how infrequently the record industry hands out deals to anyone who’s less that one million percent devoted to making music, no matter how pop it might be, or they’re an anhedonic snob. Or, frequently, both.
But as much as I hate to give those types any fodder, here’s a little gift to the pop-star-as-cog types: Billboard agrees with you, at least in certain circumstances. Right now there are two songs in the Hot 100 with slightly weird artist credits. At number 30 is Wale’s single “Bad,” credited to “Wale featuring Tiara Thomas or Rihanna,” and at 49 is Ke$ha’s “Crazy Kids,” credited to “Ke$ha featuring will.i.am or Juicy J.”
These little crediting quirks are actually not so much an indication of how interchangeable pop artists are, but of how digital distribution models allow labels to test market songs even after they’re released. Will.i.am had a hand in writing and producing the album version of “Crazy Kids,” and when RCA decided to release it as a single they used a remixed version where he rapped on a verse. It’s a fairly terrible verse, even by the low standards of will.i.am raps, so the label followed it up with another remix with a Pitbull verse. That one was so bad that it seems to have been almost entirely forgotten about, and doesn’t even appear on Ke$ha’s Vevo page. The third try, with a verse by former Three 6 Mafia front man Juicy J, finally achieved the critical mass the label seems to have been looking for, but since the will.i.am version’s apparently getting play, Billboard’s decided to share the credit rather than have the same song competing with itself on the chart.