Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Divas Duets (Hits & Misses)

(Misses: The divas duets that don’t live up to the expectations)

1)When You Believe- Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey
When the industry’s two biggest vocal heavy-weights like Mariah and Whitney, also rumored rivals both celebrated for their diva antics, vocal prowess and similar musical style, perform together on a song, the expectations of course are sky-scraping, nothing less than monumental. As it turns out, they duet on a gospel song, featured on the soundtrack of “The Prince Of Egypt”. With this classy but sappy song, they both get to show off their strengths in the beginning verses (Whitney’s incomparable vibrato and extra-smooth tone and in Mariah’s case, her vocal gymnastics and smoky texture) but obviously roof-raising explosive vocals especially at the bridge are missing. It kind of sounds like the two divas are holding back. The massive choir of voices comes in and the two voices almost get drowned out. Mariah, what happened to your signature glass-shattering whistle notes when you need them? And Whitney, what about those 25-km long mid-range belts that you sang for Bodyguard soundtrack?  Honestly, those would have saved this song from being flat. What remains now though is the million-dollar question, “Which diva wins?”  In the studio version of the song, Mariah sings technically higher than Whitney and her adlibs are better than Whit’s. However it is Whitney who wins in the live version where she absolutely owns the stage while Mariah looks nervous and scared. Therefore, let’s call it a draw and we will need another round of battle in the future, a final showdown.  Can I hear an Amen?

2)Put It In A Love Song- Alicia Keys & Beyonce
I know. A lot of people are like “What?” They have a duet?  “When?”  Yes, they do. Such a great idea that these two biggest divas of younger generation team up but it is so tragic that their immense talents are wasted on this silly lackluster song.  It’s sort of catchy but considering that these two women are at the top of their game, it is fair to say we expect nothing short of spectacular Independence Day fireworks. Sadly, this one is a fire cracker.  The song peaked at number 60 on the billboard Rn’B chart. Also the plan to release it as a single was subsequently cancelled.  Good move!

3)I’m His Only Woman- Jennifer Hudson & Fantasia
Noticeably, the creators of this song (Missy Elliott, Jazmine Sullivan and Jack Splash) wanted to repeat the success of “The Boy Is Mine” (1998) and do a similar one for the urban contemporary listening generation. While using the old-school Rn’B approach, fittingly for the two big-voiced singers with no-nonsense singing, the song somehow does not have the x-factor that “The Boy Is Mine” has. Two black women feuding over a boy maybe typical in the hood (sorry, but female Rn’B singers always seem to singing about it out loud) yet the song is unoriginal. The beginning girl-talk between Brandy and Monica from the original is now transformed into a phone call conversation between J-Hud and Fantasia.  Well played, Huh? Besides, the problem here is that their voices don’t sound great together. Fantasia’s constant shouting may work while singing praise at her local Baptist church but definitely not singing against Jennifer Hudson’s more powerful and expressive instrument. It only causes distraction. Nevertheless, the song was nominated for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with vocals in 2009. It just that it did not win.

4)Me Against The Music- Britney Spears &  Madonna
Back then, Britney was riding high on the music charts around the world and was being touted (just like Lady Ga Ga is being hyped right now) as the new queen of Pop. Madonna was clearly and as always looking for controversy or publicity. The VMA lip-lock with Britney and Christina still fresh in everyone’s memories, what better way to hog the headlines than guest-appearing on Britney’s first single from her fourth album? It’s a win-win situation, no? Arrrrrrrrrrrrm, NO! Not really. “Me Against The Music” just doesn’t translate success for both.  Number 35 on Billboard Hot 100 does not equal a bona fide hit, does it? (It did better internationally though. Europe loves Madonna!)  Although I must say it’s a fun, decent dance track, it’s neither ground-breaking nor buzz-worthy. With no magic moments in stored for both acts, their personalities and voices sadly sink into the pool of heavily-produced dance beats and hooks. Surprisingly no one back then seemed to get that much excited by their reunion as well. It was sort of like “Oh wow, Madonna and Britney. Great! Now let me go back to mow my lawn”.  I guess it was one of those big things that seem great in imagination but not in reality.

5)Beautiful Liar- Beyonce & Shakira
Not always there are catfights and drama when it comes to two big divas. They sometimes too can stick together and defend for each other.  Well, maybe! I’m just not convinced.  Divas duets with positive themes make me nervous. They are usually destined for failure or not very well-received. Simply because, let’s face it, it’s just not as fun. So The Queen B and the reigning queen of Latin pop meet on this Middle Eastern-flavored track with a slight hint of hip-hop. Simple yet appealing melody, easy-to-sing-along chorus and sultry vocals, all seems to be working out pretty well. The music video is smoking-hot (with two of them belly-dancing together) but you can also tell it’s a cheap production. Besides, the single did very well worldwide charting within the top five in many countries. So, what’s the problem?  For me, it’s just way too simple, too clean, too positive, too average and too dreary. They call it a hit but I call it a wasted opportunity. Believe me, ten years down the line, not many will remember this duet. Sorry, I have a very high standard when it comes to divas duets.

(HitsThe divas duets that go beyond the expectations)

1)Tell him- Barbra Streisand & Celine Dion

Since Barbra and Celine are such classy, gracious and refined artists, singing a song about two women snatching a boy would definitely raise more than eyebrows. They also can’t sing about two women sharing the roast chicken recipe at a gala dinner either. So, David Foster and Walter Afanasieff (responsible for a lot of Mariah’s early hits) effectively came up with a song that suits both talents called “Tell Him” in which Celine, a love-struck young woman asks advice from a more matured and sisterly Babs on how to make a boy fall in love with her. Smart, eh?  Celine, no doubt, is the only singer in the business who comes close to Babs’ tremendous singing talent and it is also undeniable that there’s so much influence from Babs in the music that Celine sings. When they sing together, their voices blend in so well and sound so nice that Linda Richman would say “It’s like buttah!”  The song’s beautiful melody and lush production from David Foster simply take the glorious voices of Barbra, a legend who is often imitated but never duplicated and Celine, an icon in her own right, to the newest height. Now, this is a vocal master class that will go down in history.

2)Same script, different cast- Whitney Houston & Deborah Cox
You can already feel the D.r.a.m.a brewing when you hear Beethoven’s Für Elise playing in the background at the beginning of this song. Very smart and witty lyrics sung by two of the most expressive and remarkable voices of Rn’B music, this song not only showcases both divas’ distinctive tones and textures, also allows them to play their respective characters. Whitney as the former lover of Deborah’s boyfriend warns Deborah, the current girlfriend, to be aware of the player and his games. The pleasant surprise here is that Deborah Cox, one of the most underrated singers, not only holds her own, she manages to shine parallel with the legend.

This is a retake of my life. I was his star for many nights. 
Now the roles have changed, And you're the leading lady in his life. 
Lights, camera, now you're on. Just remember you've been warned. 
Enjoy it now, 'cause it won't last. 
Same script, different cast.

The song has since become one of the most performed and parodied songs of the drag queens and the remixes of this song are still being frequently played at the gay clubs and pride events around the world. It’s such a shame that there never was an official video for this song and they also never performed it live together. 

3)No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) - Barbra Streisand & Donna Summer
Barbra does disco on this one with Donna. That alone should give enough reason to listen to this song.  Donna Summer, needless to say, the disco-darling shows Barbra what it takes to let her hair down, loosen up and rock the disco crowd. But it is Barbra who in return demonstrates how to hold a 17-second note. Oh, I miss those good old days when they really sing!  This song is cool, groovy and just divalicious. Plus, it perfectly captures the funky vibe of 70’s disco era (not that I was there of course! I can....imagine)

4)The Boy Is Mine- Brandy & Monica
The original girl-fight song that has stood the test of time. Many have tried to relive the glory of this tune but nothing else even comes close to this 1998 original. Overseen by super producers of that time, Rodney “Dark Child” Jerkins and Dallas Austin, “The Boy Is Mine” sums up what Rn’B in the 90’s sounds like. It also did wonders for both Brandy and Monica professionally. Not only it earned them their first Grammy, it gave them their first worldwide numberone hit as well. Both divas play around with their vocal range, their adlibs are sexy and fun but the fact that they don’t over-sing makes this song even more special. Towards the end, when the sing, “Not yours, but mine”. That’s it.  No more to be said.  That’s classic.

5)Disrespectful- Chaka Khan & Mary J.Blige
I’m not sure many people know this song but “Disrespectful” is the real female empowerment anthem Beyonce’s been searching in vain to sing, sung with full of attitude and gusto. The vocals on this gem are fierce and mammoth. It’s of course hard to keep up with the great Chaka but Mary J. Blige is not the one to get easily outdone, alright?  Matching the fast and furious drum-beats, Chaka shows who the original everywoman is. She sings as if she has a saxophone, swallowed inside her tummy. The super-high notes she hits are off the roof. The song went number one on the U.S. dance singles chart and their efforts were paid off at the Grammys that year where they took home the award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Deservingly!


Squizzygal said...

What, no Aretha/Annie 'Sisters are doing it for themselves'??! 'Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson's 'I know him so well' from Chess? (love it).. what about 'Class' from Chicago (yep, me and Bekka did that one!), even ABBA was mainly two rockin babes... ;-)

You might like this link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/rockandjazzmusic/3606080/50-best-duets-ever.html (duets in general, mainly male/female, but still a good read)

Squizzygal said...

Oh, CTTO, it's me, Christine :)

Charlie T.T.O said...

Well, Squizzygal, how could I forget the earth-shattering version of "Class" at Monsoon Restaurant? To be honest, I don't like Aretha and Annie's "Sisters". But it's a classic so I avoided it. Thanks for checking out the blog. And in the meantime,just so you know, I'm waiting in Bali for you so we can duet on some dazzling numbers soon. :)

Squizzygal said...

Still trying to make it to Bali CTTO... I have a 6-month contract til 20 dec... would love to come before then, but might not be able... will you be there for a while honey? How's the new place (you have a new house right... well, new-ish!)... miss you and can't wait to belt out some big duets with you!!!