No matter how much we would like to deny it–we all have some intrinsic voice, either timid or deafening depending on the individual, which denies us the right to like something that feels corrupted by the commonplace, the dreaded mainstream. Call it a musical conscience if you will–a metaphorical pituitary gland of musical appreciation that allows us to distinguish between things that are new, original, and pre-approved for listening to in front of strangers and thus solidifying our hipster chops, and things that are less than glorious, the equivalent of a hundred Macarenas, which we must sweep under the rug even as we grudgingly acknowledge their staying power.
It is with this same musical conscience that peers and fans alike have examined, rejected, and condemned many an artist for daring to pollute their sound with the evil tendrils of the supposed mainstream–the pure innocence of good old EDM spoiled eternally by the encroaching powers of pop, rap, and even *shudders* country.
At this point in our lives, I think we as a collective whole can agree that collaborations, for better or for worse, are and will remain a fixture of contemporary music for the foreseeable future. In fact, you could say that it is becoming nigh on impossible to find a track listing nowadays that does not contain the words “and,” “with,” or “featuring.” And when you think about a traditional collaboration from an unbiased, outside perspective, the idea of hybridizing two genres, of diversifying one’s musical portfolio to appeal to a larger fan base, the concept simply makes economic sense. Two popular artists who operate within the same genre and create a track together may attract some attention yes, but its success will most likely be restricted within the existing audience of said genre. Take two popular artists from polar ends of the musical spectrum however, throw them in a recording studio for a day or two, and eureka—a Frankenstein’s monster of a single which will put some die-hard originalists off their supper, but inevitably attract a number of listeners from two once entirely independent demographics. No one better exemplifies the economic and moral quandary of the current, genre-melding climate in electronic music and music as a whole than chiefest and greatest of all collaborating calamities, Skrillex.
Skrillex, a businessman at heart, even bespectacled and greasy haired as he is, has been successfully operating as an electronic artist for years using this model. His genre hopping knows no boundaries, along with his ability to warp and twist his sound to accommodate. The lineup of his one-time collaboration partners looks vaguely like the guest list for a nightclub co-run by Ina Garten and Childish Gambino that I once invented in a fever dream post-wisdom teeth removal; in a word, diverse. Korn, Ellie Goulding, The Doors, A$AP Rocky, Damian Marley. More recent reports from Skrillex himself indicate that he is currently working on yet another collaboration with Bruno Mars. With such a diversity of sound, talent, and genre behind him, whether the finished product is categorically “good” or not is beside the point—ether way, scary monsters, nice sprites, and Korn cobs alike will listen to it, and that, children, is how you make money–by making things that people will listen to.
Needless to say, this approach receives mixed reviews from fans of Skrillex, fans of dubstep, and even some of Skrill’s peers and ex-professional friends. Most notably and most vocally, it is deadmau5 who vehemently rejects Skrillex’s more mundane collaborative pieces, particularly his venture into electro-pop crossover with Justin Bieber. Zimmerman was so incensed about Skrillex and Diplo’s collaboration with Beiber on “Where Are Ü Now” back in 2015 that he posted a video confessional about the affair on his YouTube channel that contained some pretty harsh accusations regarding his integrity as an artist:
“It’s not that I hate Skrillex, and I hate the shit he does…I hate that he allowed himself to be a goddamn tool for someone else…But I can’t be too much of an ass about it…he likes to do it, he’s a f—ing little hippy and loves working with people, and that’s his thing. I can respect that.” -deadmau5 (via YouTube)
Mixed levels of respect aside, deadmau5 will probably be just as salty when the Bruno Mars collaboration comes onto the scene, particularly as Skrillex continues to sing his new musical partner’s praises in interviews and promotions and plugs continue on social media.
Preserving one’s own standards for self-respect by clinging to an imagined sense of artistic integrity is admirable in a sense, however, if all it means is that you miss out on creating a catchy-as-hell hell song with a world-renowned artist whose millions of adoring fans give you screaming, fan-girling access to a crossover pop and EDM audience who practically throw money at you, does it really come across as a smart move? Maybe it’s the “right” thing to do, according to your own self-imposed moral compass—dissing Skrillex, dismissing him as a corporate-corrupted, money grubbing hack who will cozy up to just about anyone to make a buck. If you ask me, and if, of course, I had any discernable iota of musical talent, I’d rather debase myself by churning out a single with Justin Beiber and make millions of dollars than toil away in obscurity while I cling obstinately to the authenticity of my craft. Maybe that makes me a sellout—maybe that makes Skrillex a sellout too. But at least he’s a talented, business-minded sell out with a boatload of cash, which in my own humble opinion, is the best kind of sellout there is.