There’s something unintentionally hilarious about the new single “This is Love.” The song, which is currently number one in the U.K. and is racing up the iTunes chart in Yankeetown, is credited to “will.i.am featuring Eva Simons.”
And that’s funny because if you listen to this song for one second, it’s obviously by will.i.am. Check it out and see what I mean…
I mean, right? “This is Love” might have the eurodance energy and big-diva notes of other recent hits, but it’s also got will.i.am’s special brand of rapping (short phrases, hitting final syllables really hard), his tendency to make a song sound completely different in the middle than at the beginning or the end, and his constant use of computer effects to make voices sound inhuman. Like, it’s not a will.i.am hit until someone’s voice gets distorted by the Sing-O-Bot 3000 and they sound like an old Teddy Ruxpin whose battery is running down while it mutters something vaguely menacing like “switchup!” or “feel this” or “global domination.”
But is that a good thing? Is it good that will.i.am has such a dominant, definable sound?
On one hand… yeah. It’s awesome because his sound is really hot. will.i.am’s best tracks take his computerized obsessions and his clipped beats and turn them into weird, brilliant pop explosions. “This Is Love” might follow will.i.am’s formula, but that formula is different from everyone else’s.
Then again… why isn’t this a Black Eyed Peas song? Why isn’t it Fergie on the hook instead of Eva Simons? It might as well be. And it’s the same with Usher’s 2010 hit “OMG,” which will.i.am wrote and produced. This might as well be a Peas song, too. Or a will.i.am solo hit. It’s not like Usher or Fergie or Simons do anything distinctive on the tracks. Ultimately, they’re all just servants to will.i.am’s vision.
And to me, that’s not such a great thing. As inventive and exciting as will.i.am can be, it suggests a certain rigidness that he rarely lets his collaborators develop their own identities on the tracks he creates. Like… remember a few years ago when every song was produced Timbaland, and they all sounded the same? That sound was the bomb for a few years, but eventually, the moment passed. I think the same thing could happen to will.i.am—if he never breaks away from his own formula and he never lets guest stars influence songs with their own artistry, then he could seem trapped in his moment.
And sure, that “moment” has lasted almost ten years, but plenty of producer/writers have been around a lot long than that. Prince, for instance, wrote “Nothing Compares 2 U” for Sinead O’Connor, “Manic Monday” for The Bangles, and “I Feel For You” for Chaka Kahn. Those songs put the singer front and center, and because they’re produced by a variety of people, they don’t all sound the same. And even Prince’s own hits sound really different from each other. That kind of flexibility is what keeps you interesting, and I wonder if will.i.am will ever show it.
But again, I’m not complaining. For now, I’m still enjoying the will.i.am experience. But I still hope he does something that surprises me. The next time he releases a song, I hope I have to be told it’s from will.i.am instead of knowing it in five notes or less.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He’d like to meet you halfway. Right on the borderline is where he’s gonna wait. For you.