Calvin Harris reinvigorates sound through collaboration
Charlie Kenney | Thursday, April 6, 2017
If you’ve been to any bar, danced at any nightclub or owned a radio for the past five years — you’ve probably heard Calvin Harris. His commanding, melodic voice and pulsating rhythms have dominated the party and electronic music scene for nearly half of the past decade. Hits like “Feel So Close,” “Summer” and “My Way” have racked up innumerable hits on Spotify, Youtube and iTunes while simultaneously becoming staples of every “Party” playlist and CD that blasts through car stereos. His songs have made him the highest paid DJ in the world.
The smartest move of his career, however, was realizing that he could do better.
Harris’ voice is great, but it’s limited — and he saw that. All of his solo tracks follow the same pattern. They all have constantly repeated choruses masked by intoxicating beats and cadences. He doesn’t go for the high notes, he doesn’t try and rap at 100 miles an hour, he doesn’t lace his lyrics with swathes of emotion and he doesn’t break your eardrums. Not because he doesn’t want to, but because he can’t.
By himself he could only be Harris. But with collaborations he can be as emotional as Frank Ocean, as catchy as all three of the Migos, as “Happy” as Pharrell Williams, as bizarre as Young Thug and as powerful as Ariana Grande. And in his two new singles “Heatstroke” and “Slide” — he does exactly that.
The two singles, although not Harris’ first collaborations by any means, are the peak of his career. His former projects have been just Rihanna, just Ellie Goulding or just Big Sean. They were monochromatic and unexciting — keeping one genre for the entirety of the song. In saying this, it is not implying that solo projects are always bland, but when the potential of Harris was always on the periphery of his songs with just one artist, they came off that way.
The two new singles, however, are the opposite of that. They’re love ballads, they’re hip-hop heart-to-hearts and they’re club music cacophonies all meshed into one jaw-dropping symphony. Both of them are all of Harris’ talent in mixing, producing and recording externalized in the form of a song.
The first release and more successful of the two, “Slide,” is a stunning collab of Frank Ocean and Migos. In the song, piano chords and guitar strums replace bass drops and reverbs typical of Harris, and his low bass sound is replaced by the tenor cry of Frank Ocean and the catchy, rhythmic beat of the Migos.
The song covers the topic of sexual promiscuity and attainment of wealth in ways uniquely Ocean and uniquely Migos. A longing to buy the painting “Garcon a la pipe” is an allegory that is held throughout the song along with “putting some spotlight on the slide” — slang for exposing someone cheating on you. Both artists want you to be conflicted between the themes of wealth and sex. Someone is not only “starin’ at your diamonds while [you’re] hopping out a spaceship,” but they also reply with “I might” when the question of “Do you slide on all your nights like this?” is posed.
The more recently released song, “Heatstroke,” although less popular, deserves no less praise. The three-way collab between Young Thug, Pharrell, and Ariana Grande is a three-way mix of genres in a song not about dehydration, but about the “Heatstroke” that comes with love. All three have unique perspectives on the topic of love in their individual songs, and all three contribute it in the song — creating an interesting fusion of a raunchy, a beautiful and a poppy love song. Young Thug shows his affection by saying “she got every red bottom like a baboon,” Pharrell shows it by saying to “Release, let go and have a good time” and Ariana shows it by posing the question of “How can anyone get tired?” in a relationship this good. Harris brings them all together, and makes three different songs and different emotions sound like the conscious of one conflicted mind after his production.
Yeah, “Slide” and “Heatstroke” might not shatter the windows that Harris’ old stuff used to shatter. They might not have all the bumps, all the bass drops and all the sounds that you don’t even know the names of like they used to. But that’s not a bad thing. Harris is bringing together genres that clash and making them work, he’s complicating a topic as complex as love even farther and he’s somehow booking the hottest artists in the music industry for singles. Even if you don’t like the sound of them now, he’s innovating and making progress in the right direction. That progress something worth waiting for.