Today's "remix" of Ke$ha's "Blow," featuring B.o.B, has gotten some muted approval here and there since it came out. Don't be fooled by that word, though, as it's nary a mix. All that's changed is the addition of the B.o.B verse and a few of Ke$ha's lines shuffled to the front. It's the inverted pyramid of remixes: wait a minute, and there's nothing new to hear.
Even worse, B.o.B's pop persona (separate from non-Top 40 ventures, the likes of his Odd Future dis) is almost completely at odds with Ke$ha's. Most pop listeners know him as the laid-back goofy presence on, say, "Magic" or Jessie J's "Price Tag," and while Ke$ha's plenty goofy (theremins! quarters!), in general--on "Blow" especially--she's more apt to channel it toward dingy dance floors and joyless hook-ups and turning the club into an apocalyptic fight scene. B.o.B's never been part of that trend, and his "Blow" verse, while technically good, is about as relevant as minute of silence--or hell, those theremins again.
But we can't really fault Ke$ha (or B.o.B, whose idea this may well have been) too much—she's just going through what's apparently a rite of passage for pop stars in 2011. Rihanna enlisted Britney to further sex up "S&M." Britney, in turn, got Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha for "Till The World Ends." Kanye West showed up on Katy Perry's "E.T.," although it's a crapshoot whether his alien sex-via-probing verse is cool with your local radio station.
Featured credits are absolutely not new--ask anyone who's paid even the most cursory attention to hip hop and R&B since ever. All-star pairings in pop aren't new either—remember "Lady Marmalade"? But this is a specific case: taking singles that, "E.T." excepted, either had their run on the charts, or are midway into a subpar run, and tacking another top-ten artist's verse onto the beginning in hopes that it'll turn the floundering dinghy into a juggernaut.
Call it clique-pop: need a boost on the charts? Call in your famous friends! Want to lead up to it with some cutesy Twitter shenanigans? Even better! It's pop brinkmanship, artists trying to outdo each other in buzz and on the charts. Don't get us wrong--just like star pairings in movies, clique-pop has built-in appeal. Who will team up next? How will Diva A stack up to Verse B? Some of these singles try to milk this: Nicki, straight off her "Till The World Ends" verse, plays tour guide: "Iiiiit's Britney, bitch! I'm Nicki Minaj, and that's KE$HA!" And in the best case--Lady Gaga and Beyonce's "Telephone" is the clear precursor here--they're the dream-team pairings that make pop exciting.
But that's a high bar to clear. Britney's turn on "S&M" is forced, her voice squinched into something freaky and cartoonish and her verse (much more explicit than Rihanna's) uncomfortable in light of recent events. The "Till The World Ends" remix only works because it was basically a Ke$ha song already (she co-wrote it) and because Nicki Minaj can do almost anything. Kanye West adds nothing to "E.T." but creepy lines like "I abducted you, so I tell you what to do." It's no wonder the original "Till The World Ends" boasted of being "sicker than the remix" -- that almost always is the case, and these in-name-only remixes usually sound played-out by the first few notes.
It's not that these re-releases don't accomplish their goals. "Till The World Ends" jumped nine places on the Billboard Digital Songs chart after the remix dropped. "S&M" bumped "E.T" out of the #1 Hot 100 singles spot upon the so-called (sigh) "Rih-mix." "Blow" peaked at a comparatively low #7 on the Hot 100, so it's not a stretch to imagine it might go higher if the remix gets enough hype. But will anyone really want to hear it?
Re-releases aren't inherently bad, and Ke$ha should know. Her "Sleazy" re-release with Andre 3000 was widely praised with good reason. Andre's well-matched to the song both in temperament and lyrics, and as Popdust noted earlier, it's a joy to hear him do his thing. One more thing about "Sleazy," too: it wasn't The Big Single that would make or break Ke$ha this week, so the stakes were lower. That may well be the key.