By Courtney E. Smith
A good duet, in our modern age, is a rare thing. There are plenty of features, guest verses and co-writes, and the cameo drop-in is a dime a dozen. The number of genuine duets, where vocalists share verses and tell a story together in the space of a song, is very small.
We compiled a list of the flashiest, most important, most entertaining duets of the last decade in pop music. The biggest moments in big pop duet recent history are all here. Some of them are simply a huge moment framing two iconic artists. Some of them are ground-breaking reinventions of the concept of a duet. Some are surprise hits that launched a career, while still others are proof-positive that an emerging artist is a star in the making.
All of them are moments we won’t ever forget.
12. Sia and Sean Paul “Cheap Thrills”
This unlikely duet brought Sean Paul back to the top of the charts in 2016; it was his first top ten hit in the U.S. since 2009. The song probably would have sounded great on its own, but Sean Paul’s vocals weaved around Sia’s so perfectly on this song.
11. Sean Kingston and Justin Bieber “Eenie Meenie”
The year 2010 will never feel as far away as it does when you watch this duet. How can Justin Bieber have changed so much in only five years? What happened to Sean Kingston, like where did he go and did Justin Bieber’s people have anything to do with his disappearance? We’ll never know. All we can tell you is that this song was deleted from Kingston’s album Back 2 Life and included on Bieber’s My World 2.0 and only one of these gentlemen still has a career. Don’t doubt the power of a duet.
10. Timbaland and Nelly Furtado “Promiscuous”
You have to reach all the way back to 2006 to find this Nelly Furtado and Timbaland, and in 2006, this song was inescapable. It’s one of the few conversational duets where the two partners aren’t only singing at each other, but talking around a subject. In this case, it’s a negotiation for s-e-x. A subject that never goes out of style in pop music.
9. Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen “Good Time”
8. A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera “Say Something”
Did you know who A Great Big World were before this song? Did you even know who they were the first dozen times you heard this song? Probably not, but a million listens later they were on your radar and they’d jolted Christina Aguilera back there too. Something her vocal chops badly needed on its release, since she would soon become better known as a coach on The Voice than as a musician.
7. Rihanna and Mikky Eko “Stay”
It’s the duet that launched a thousand ruminative baths. Mikky Eko actually penned this song for Rihanna and she insisted he stay on for a verse and lend guide vocals to the chorus, turning it into a duet. Did she do it to divert attention away from lingering rumors about the song’s connection to her crumbling relationship with Chris Brown? Probably, since she got back together with him that same year. Oh 2012, at least you gave us this solid duet ballad.
6. P!nk and Nate Ruess “Just Give Me A Reason”
Hot off his success with fun., Nate Ruess and the band’s producer Jeff Bhasker got together with P!nk to write and record this slow jam. It was our precursor to his announcement that he’d be going solo before there would be a new fun. album. It’s also one of the few on this list with overlapping vocals. P!nk takes the first verse, Ruess takes the second and the remainder of the song is sung by both.
5. Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown “No Air”
In 2008, this duet was an ear-worm you couldn’t break free of. Jordin Sparks had just won the sixth season of American Idol in 2007 and was serious about announcing her intent to take over the pop world with her debut album, so she got Chris Brown on a duet for her first single. Needless to say, it was a big hit. The biggest of Sparks’ career so far, as a matter of fact.
4. Mariah Carey and Miguel “#Beautiful”
Miguel had been simmering under the radar for a while before this duet came about. In 2012 he really broke out and in 2014 Mariah Carey got on the Miguel train, tapping the soulful singer to join her on a duet from her troubled album, which would eventually be shelved and started from scratch. While Mariah’s project may not have worked out, Miguel worked his magic on her and they created something truly #beautiful.
3. R. Kelly and Usher “Same Girl”
Speaking of the elusive storytelling duet: R. Kelly and Usher tapped into it, following the “Promiscuous” template, in 2007 with this stunning single. As the title explains, the two men discover in conversation that they are messing with the same girl. The dialog isn’t exactly Shakespearian–it owes a greater debt to the verbal acumen of Chaucer.
2. Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran “Everything Has Changed”
Before Taylor Swift officially went pop, like with a formal announcement and everything, she explored the waters on her 2012 album Red. This track is co-written with and sung as a duet with Ed Sheeran, who was her opening act at the time. This was the single’s 32nd single (or something like that) so it didn’t burn up the charts but it was a bellwether of what was to come for Sheeran and where Swift was going to take us.
1. Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake “Love Never Felt So Good”
Of course this Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake duet is number one on the list of duets in the last decade. It’s the biggest male pop star from 2000(ish) on with the King of Pop. It’s a duet we never thought would exist, but it was the biggest deal of the decade starting from the moment it was released. It simply doesn’t get any bigger for duets.