Okay, real talk.
When news broke earlier this week that will.i.am really, really is coming on board as the executive producer of Britney‘s 8th studio album (working title: Blackout 2.0: It Gets Urbaner), the reality of the situation left most, if not all of us, steaming like a pot full of vegetables.
I, for one, was furious: After all, I’ve referred to him as a musical terrorist for the greater half of the past decade. He’s cocky, his name is annoying, he’s got a stupid haircut and he’s responsible for megatons of club-pop drivel: “Boom Boom Pow,” “Check It Out,” “Imma Be,” “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever)”—and worst of all, THIS. Plus, we all know “Scream & Shout” is only tolerable because of Britishney, bitch.
But upon further consideration and extensive prayer and meditation, I’ve come to realize that will.i.am isn’t always the will.i.worst. (Just, y’know, usually.)
As the executive producer of Britney’s album, will.i.am doesn’t necessarily have to touch all, or even any, of the songs. His responsibility is to curate the overall record. Beyond that, he’s already promised to meet with Britney and create something “personal” and “intimate,” rather than a mere collection of slay-ready dance floor cuts. He seems genuine in his intention to represent Brit Brit’s life in a meaningful way through her musical output—and that’s something to support, not shade. (I don’t know about you, but I sure want a Spearitual Ray of Light!)
Yes, he’s spent the last few years of his career servicing hashtag-friendly, Auto-Tune-heavy robo-bangers for the masses, but he’s contributed some pretty major tunes to the pop universe too.
So instead of waking up in a cold sweat screaming (and shouting) from night terrors of Britney singing the sequel to “My Humps,” let’s just remain Optimisticney and consider all the good stuff. (And please Godney, let there be no hashtags.)
He also provided us with Nicole Scherzinger‘s iconic Her Name Is Nicole (pre-order on Amazon!) gem, “Baby Love.”
Baby, Can You Play With Fire?
Did you know? will.i.am was a co-writer on Hilary Duff‘s flaw-free Dignity standout, “Play With Fire.” No, he didn’t produce the track—but he had a hand in it, at least—much like he will on Britney’s album. The Kylie-lite kiss-off flaunts Hilary at her sassiest yet, and represented the best of what Le Duff could offer as a post-Disney electro-pop princess.
T to the A, to the S T Y
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a former Wild Orchid member named Stacy Ann Ferguson fronted a hip-hop-turned-club-pop troupe called the Black Eyed Peas. And in 2006, the songstress briefly went solo with a record called The Dutchess, a jubilant, genre-bending collection of horn-heavy ‘urban’ jams (“London Bridge”), massive, if not overwrought pop balladry (“Big Girls Don’t Cry”) and slick grooves promoting both lavishness and literacy (“Glamorous”).
Will was the executive producer of The Dutchess, and he had a heavy hand in crafting almost all the songs: He produced “Fergalicious,” “Clumsy,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Mary Jane Shoes” himself, among others. Seven years later, the album still plays like a fun, fresh collection of non-trend hopping pop that hasn’t aged in the slightest.
Speaking Of, The Black Eyed Peas Weren’t Always Terrible
The Black Eyed Peas aren’t completely mindless club fodder and bar mitzvah-ready bangers (or weren’t, anyway): At the turn of the millenium, the troupe first broke out as an innovative, groundbreaking hip-hop trio, collaborating with acts like Mos Def, Wyclef Jean and Esthero on 1998’s Behind the Front and 2000’s Bridging The Gap.
The addition of Fergie eventually led to the insipid club-pop cuts, but there were still plenty of gems scattered over the past decade: 2003’s Elephunk brought us snappy earworms like “Shut Up” and “Hey Mama,” as well as the Grammy-nominated “Where Is The Love?” (“Let’s Get Retarded” is fun, but that ignorant line has always made the song hateful.) 2005’s Monkey Business brought “Pump It,” the phunky phreshness of “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” and “Don’t Lie,” while 2009’s The E.N.D. gave us the perfectly danceable “Rock That Body” and “Meet Me Halfway,” a dreamy disco meditation that, apart from will.i.am’s irritating verses, would sparkle sweetly with Britney’s heavenly coos on top.
It Was Those 3 Words…
Cheryl Cole & will.i.am: Two black eyed peas in a pod. Ever since their first collaboration on Will’s Songs About Girls with the above-average “Heartbreaker” (remember how she learned how to be a ‘street dancer’ for “Heartbreaker” in Passions of Girls Aloud?), will.i.am and the former Girls Aloud songstress (frowny face) have collaborated constantly, churning out semi-amazing, semi-shit tunes for 5 years running.
Will was the executive producer of Chezza’s 2009 debut, 3 Words, popping up on the gorgeous, deeply underrated “3 Words” and “Heaven” (as well as the mostly dreadful, Fleetwood Mac-sampling “Boy Like You.”) He returned for 2010’s post-malaria sophomore stinker Messy Little Raindrops on “Live Tonight” and “Let’s Get Down.” Most recently, the duo teamed up yet again for “Craziest Things” on Cheryl’s third studio album, 2012’s A Million Lights.
Together they’re a very mixed bag, but there’s no way Cheryl’s solo career would thrive the way it has without will.i.am.
Welcome To The 22nd Century
It’s the strongest supporting argument, by far: will.i.am was the executive producer of Kelis’ almighty Flesh Tone—the greatest album of 2010 (along with Robyn‘s Body Talk and Kylie‘s Aphrodite), and one of the most forward-thinking blends of raw emotion, endlessly catchy melodies and pummeling electronic beats of the past decade.
When it was announced that Kelis was going to release Flesh Tone under will.i.am’s label, there was plenty of doubt then too, but Kelis was confident: “He’s like a musical encyclopedia…It makes it fun. He’s not afraid to push the limits and kinda go further than everyone else and that’s exciting. He still seems to be having fun doing it and that’s what it’s all about,” she told Rap-Up in December of 2009.
Will is only credited on one song on the entire record: He co-wrote “Brave”, the final, anthemic battle cry on the record—and arguably the best song of the bunch.
If his intention really is to draw out a personal narrative from Britney as he did with Kelis, Britney’s 8th studio album may very well become a sonic revelation a la Flesh Tone, blending 22nd century production with lyricism that cuts surprisingly deep—and that would be a very, very good thing.