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Pop Off: He Raps, She Sings. Does It Still Count As A Duet?

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Pop Off: He Raps, She Sings. Does It Still Count As A Duet?

Music Articles

Pop Off: He Raps, She Sings. Does It Still Count As A Duet?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And now let's take a look at the rankings on the pop charts. Get this: Three of the top five songs on the pop charts are duets right now.

So let's have a commentary duet. Here's Maura Johnston and Jay Smooth of our Pop Off team.

MAURA JOHNSTON: Remember back in the day when you'd hear a duet sung by a man and a woman on the radio, and you would feel like the two people who were singing at each were really in love?

JAY SMOOTH: I have a vague memory of that, but I don't recall it happening on the radio too often nowadays.

JOHNSTON: No. They're definitely missing the sort of interplay of, say, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's "Islands in the Stream" or Lionel Richie and Diana Ross's "Endless Love."

(Soundbite of song "Endless Love")

Ms. DIANA ROSS and Mr. LIONEL RICHIE (Singers): (Singing) Oh, I know I've found in you, my...

SMOOTH: Most of the songs I think of as classic duets, let's say Barry Gibb and Barbara Streisand, "Guilty," or Rick James and Teena Marie, "Fire and Desire," you're hearing two partners in a relationship interacting with each other in an intimate way.

(Soundbite of song "Fire and Desire")

Mr. RICK JAMES (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) Baby, baby.

Ms. TEENA MARIE (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) I wasn't, I wasn't very nice, I know.

Mr. JAMES: (Singing) Sugar, sugar, sugar, sugar...

SMOOTH: The song that's been at the top for the last five weeks or so is Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg, "California Gurls."

(Soundbite of song "California Gurls")

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) Greetings, loved ones. Let's take a chance.

Ms. KATY PERRY (Singer): (Singing) I know a place where the grass is really greener...

JOHNSTON: With "California Gurls," even though the song is credited to Katy Perry, the whole idea of what the California girl is and should be seems to rest in the mind of Snoop Dogg, who is the guy who's leering at all of the women who are putting themselves in Daisy Dukes and bikini tops for the purposes of garnering more male attention.

SMOOTH: Yeah, it's - I feel like the makeup of a duet has changed over the years, because it'll usually be a male rapper and a female singer. Then that almost always plays out as if the singer is just echoing the rapper's thoughts, like the woman's place is to just sort of repeat or mirror what the man is thinking.

Even with the Snoop Dogg-Katy Perry, where Katy Perry nominally is the star of song and Snoop is just in the guest spot, it still seems to be centered around his male gaze, as it were, and his perspective.

(Soundbite of song "California Gurls")

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) Katy, my lady.

Ms. PERRY: Yeah?

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) A looka here, baby.

Ms. PERRY: Uh-huh.

SNOOP DOGG: (Rapping) I'm all up on you, 'cause you're representing California.

Ms. PERRY: (Singing) Oh-oh-oh, yeah. California girls, we're unforgettable. Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top.

JOHNSTON: This is a woman singing: Hey, I'm hot. Please let me know that you think I'm hot, Snoop Dogg. And he obliges.

SMOOTH: Well, hey. I'm here to ogle you, and it's going to be even creepier than you thought it was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHNSTON: Do you think people think of it as creepy, though?

SMOOTH: Apparently not. Which is surprising to me, because historically, in American culture, having a black man be sexually suggestive and aggressive towards a white woman could be contentious or raise people's hackles in parts of the country. But this, maybe it's a sign of generational shifts that no one really seems to bat an eye at Snoop Dogg being lascivious towards Katy.

INSKEEP: That's Jay Smooth, who blogs at, and music writer Maura Johnston. The Pop Off team talks more about duets at our website,

(Soundbite of song "Nothing Like the Real Thing")

Mr. MARVIN GAYE and Ms. TAMMI TERRELL (Singers): (Singing) Ooh, baby. Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby. Ain't nothing like the real thing.

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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