This year’s Coachella moment to rival last year’s Virtual 2Pac came when Phoenix brought out none other than R. Kelly. One of the music industry’s oddest living soul legends, he treated the crowd to his hit, “Ignition,” but with Phoenix playing their classic “1901” over it.
Rumors ran rampant that Phoenix would include their childhood friends Daft Punk in their Coachella performances. But they had done that already, in 2010 at Madison Square Garden. The band didn’t want to give in to predictable expectations, but they also didn’t want to disappoint by not having a special guest. After last year’s Virtual 2Pac, they knew the bar had been set high for special guests. Their solution was to do exactly what nobody would ever consider: Ask R. Kelly. Here’s what Phoenix singer Thomas Mars told Metro about it.
How long in advance did you know that R. Kelly was going to come up and sing with you at Coachella?
He confirmed on Wednesday for that Saturday, but he doesn’t fly. He had to take his bus from Chicago to Palm Springs. So to drive here, he had to leave on Wednesday at 12 to make it on time. And he said yes at 11. So he only had one hour [between making up his mind and leaving]. And when we got on stage he was still stuck in traffic, I think.
So you hadn’t even rehearsed?
No. We sent him the chords. We knew what we wanted him to sing and on what chords. We changed the chords because it’s specifically our music with his melodies. So he heard that, but we never met him before. So it was really nerve-racking.
How did you come up with the idea to even have him be a collaborator? It’s not exactly the most obvious collaboration.
When we’re on tour, he’s with us. We play his music a lot backstage to listen to before a show. It would only work if musically it was interesting. … When we had that idea, when we thought of doing something special, [we thought] people would expect something that was more of the same, and then it wouldn’t be a surprise. We thought, “What could we do that would surprise us?” but it would have to make sense. I think when R. Kelly came into the conversation we didn’t really allow ourselves to think that it was a possibility because we thought that musically it wouldn’t work. And then we just tried it. And then instantly everything worked. There were so many possibilities! Every song just worked. Even before knowing exactly what we were going to do, we thought we should ask him. … I think he’d heard of us before but I don’t think he knew what we looked like and what we looked like live. So apparently he YouTubed a few performances and he liked it.
It has to be heard to believed. After watching this performance, check out a few of our other favorite surprise cross-genre duets below.
Hip-hop and pop music crossovers are nothing new. Ever since the advent of the mash-up, artists who you would think would have nothing to do with one another have found themselves collaborating live. This doesn’t mean that it’s not surprising when it happens. And when it works, it’s worth celebrating. Here are a few other notable oddball collabs.
Usher joined the Afghan Whigs at SXSW late last month for a surprise duet that must be seen to be believed. The Whigs, who Usher rightly refers to as “indie rock royalty” have made a career out of covering songs outside of their specialized genre. They were especially known for churning out gripping versions of Motown classics in a style that was all their own. The Whigs start out covering Usher’s “Climax” and the Usher cameo comes in almost three minutes later and the two acts jam on three more songs! If you can’t stand the anticipation of watching the whole Whigs set, jump ahead to the 13:42 point.
Mary J. Blige joined U2 for an especially powerful duet of their “One” at the 2006 Grammys. Where Bono is so often a spotlight hog, here he seems all too happy to let Mary J. take it and run with it. And run away with it she certainly does!
Mick Jagger joined Peter Tosh on “Saturday Night Live” in 1978, for a duet of the Temptations hit “Don’t Look Back.” It’s funny to hear the crowd acknowledge the Rolling Stones singer’s entrance, and then to watch Jagger figure out if he’s going to goof around or be serious.