Hot New Joint: "Only One" by Kanye West and Paul McCartney
As with most social functions in our modern society, there are lulls throughout the evening. On New Year’s Eve, I found myself at a small gathering with my wife, her siblings, and their respective spouses. It was pretty late into the evening when I happened to be ignoring everyone, scrolling through my Facebook feed, only to find important breaking news—Kanye West had released a song with Paul McCartney.
Like, that was a real thing that happened, somehow, and it was available for the world to experience.
I was pretty much like, “Well holy shit you guys, we need to listen to this.” So I hijacked the iPod cord, much to my brother-in-law’s chagrin, and I streamed “Only One” from a Soundcloud link off of my phone while no one paid attention.
Prior to even listening to “Only One,” I had shared the Noisey story about it. Later on, I found two comments on it—one that said, “Fuck this directly where it hurts. No. No. No.” and the other was of a meme that said “Kill it. Kill it with fire.”
I’d like to think that those people took the time to listen to it, and decided they didn’t like it. But more than likely, that was not the case, and that is a shitty knee jerk reaction to an artist like Kanye West recording something with an artist like Paul McCartney.
Here’s the deal—people really like The Beatles. And you know what? I don’t. I’ve tried. Believe me. It just never took. I can appreciate what The Beatles did for contemporary popular music, and I can hear their influence in, oh, you know, pretty much everything—but despite all my best efforts, I just can’t make myself like something.
Anyway, so imagine an artist you have a lot of respect for or REALLY like or whatever, collaborates with an artist you apparently don’t like, or roll your eyes at a lot or something. Do you go into it optimistically or do you scoff? In my case, I thought, “Oh that’s a weird pairing. But whatever. We’ll see how this goes.”
As a song, “Only One” feels like an unfinished sketch—it’s loose, and somewhat breezy, beginning simply, building up, but never really taking off anywhere. And that’s maybe because it only features West’s auto-tuned singing and McCartney casually playing an electric piano.
At like 10:45 or whatever on New Year’s Eve, there wasn’t a ton of information being offered around about the song, but come morning, Pitchfork offered up more in the form of a press release—saying that McCartney and West worked together on a series of tracks, with “Only One” coming from improvising in the studio. The release goes on to claim that West didn’t even know what he was singing, and that he believed his mother was “singing to me,and through me to my daughter.”
I love Kanye West as an artist. I have for the last decade plus. However as a performer, I do not believe that he can do no wrong. He has his weaker tracks, or less successful tracks, though he has become exponentially more focused and is putting out more consistent material in these latter days. As a “Kanye West song,” “Only One” is about as far removed from anything else in his canon as you can get. Even the auto-tuned robotics and theatrics of 808s and Heartbreak sound normal in comparison to this.
As a song, “Only One,” isn’t bad, but it also isn’t anything groundbreaking. Something this uplifting—a lullaby for his daughter North—is new territory for West, and the juxtaposition of an older sounding instrument—warm electric piano, butted up against something so modern (and now natural sounding) as an auto-tune voice is slightly jarring at first.
In contrast to the harsh, “anything goes” oddities on 2013’s Yeezus, this is a complete curve, and it takes a few listens before the subtitles sink in. It’s soulful, hopeful, and positive—something that West is not exactly known for, but it’s also rather refreshing, and kind of heartwarming.
Again, something I never thought I’d be saying here.
As far as a pair of unlikely collaborators go, it’s really tough to tell who is steering the ship when it comes to material from both McCartney and West, and what the rest of these collaborations will sound like.
“Only One” obviously won’t be the best song released in 2015, but it was a welcome surprise as one stupid year ended and another started, and it shows West’s continued interest in growth and experimentation as an artist.