July 6, 2017


Why DJ Khaled & Calvin Harris Are Music's DC & Marvel Comics

Calvin Harris: C Flanigan/Getty Images; DJ Khaled: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Calvin Harris: C Flanigan/Getty Images; DJ Khaled: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

DJ Khaled and Calvin Harris have both become known for their massive collaborations with artists spanning all genres throughout their careers. This year the two producers announced their new albums—Grateful and Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, respectively—were going to be released just a week apart. Khaled’s 10th album arrived on June 23, while Harris’ fifth effort dropped the following Friday (June 30). It quickly became the battle of the features—but which one came out on top?

After a few comparisons and some research, it's become clear that Grateful is the music equivalent of the DCEU while Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 reigns supreme as it compares to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Keep scrolling to find out why!

Plot Development

DJ Khaled: Grateful is filled with unimaginative music-based storylines that don't display any maturity from the producer’s other albums. Tracks like “To The Max,” “It’s Secured” and “Major Bag Alert” could easily fit on 2015’s I Changed A Lot and last July’s Major Key. The lazy production that is based on trap influences and samples is reminiscent of when DC didn’t even try to make 2004’s Catwoman remotely interesting.

Calvin Harris: The Scottish DJ/producer reinvents himself on every album he puts out, and Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is no different. Similar to the way Marvel has a brilliant take on classic themes we loved from the comics (like the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming movie), Harris’ new LP has an innovative sonic reimagining that leans heavier on funk and soul influences rather than the electro-house on albums’ past.

Marketing & Promotion

DJ Khaled: Remember when we thought the Suicide Squad trailers and promotions were never going to end? Well Khaled is a lot more overbearing! He always has to overly promote his work as if he knows it is going to be a critical failure. The producer constantly shouts “WE DA BEST,” “MAJOR KEY” and “THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO WIN” on Snapchat and pimps out his infant son at every single sneaker event or awards show. It becomes way too much overcompensation for a 23-track album that only has a few memorable standouts. Oh, and that live-broadcast press conference where all he did was announce the album title was a complete waste of every media person’s time.

Calvin Harris: Unlike Khaled, Harris (like the epic Black Panther trailer) made his album speak for itself. Compared to the lengthy Grateful’s 23 songs that drag on for a minute too long, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 clocks in at a succinct 10 tracks. While his promotion wasn’t as excessive, it was effective in keeping people intrigued about what he had up his sleeve. A minimal, summery video was used to unveil the album’s guest features and had parrots play previews of the songs. Is a tropical bird cooler than a played-out lion? In this case, yes.

Box Office (Or Chart) Success

DJ Khaled: Last March’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice made $873.3 million in the box office despite being panned by critics. Suicide Squad (released in August 2016) managed to rake in $745.6 million even though critics and diehard fans alike ripped it apart. Seeing a pattern here? Khaled’s Grateful shows very little musical growth or creativity, yet it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last week. It marks his second chart-topping album following his other weak record, Major Key. Just like the aforementioned movies, Grateful received praise through chart success for basic work. This is what happens when you focus on big names like Chance the RapperRihanna and Justin Bieber to draw sales.

Calvin Harris: Harris’ album, on the other hand, didn’t rely on artists’ promotion to help him achieve plentiful sales. The singers talked about their features in a more genuine way, not by taking photos with Ashad for Instagram and seemingly being forced to appear alongside Khaled on Snapchat. The rollout was a lot cooler and more attention-grabbing, just like the effortless swag of Deadpool. While Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is currently on No. 4 on the iTunes charts (the Billboard 200 chart position hasn’t been revealed yet), the proof is in the album’s sonic longevity.

Play On Superhero Egos

DJ Khaled: DC characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman embrace their powers (whether they were born with it or not) just like the artists on Grateful embrace their cockiness. There is a strange and unsettling play on male ego that fails, where PartyNextDoor, Kodak Black, FutureTravis Scott and Rick Ross try to fight for attention on “Down for Life.” There is little room to breathe when you have five rappers/singers on the same song. It is similar to the forced battle of the brawn that was Batman v Superman

Calvin Harris: Marvel characters’ powers—like the X-Men or Spider-Man—are seen more like a curse, where they either to figure out how to utilize them effectively or they attempt to hide their mutant capabilities from the world. On Harris’ album, the features aren’t boastful. They are instead more subdued, as the artists from various genres come together to make the track work. This is seen in songs like “Feels,” where Katy PerryPharrell and Big Sean’s styles flow effortlessly. 

Character Growth 

DJ Khaled: With Grateful, Khaled calls upon artists that he’s worked with countless times before. Rick Ross is his most frequent collaborator, who appeared 10 times on all of Khaled’s albums (he has four features on Grateful alone). Lil WayneJadakissFat Joe, Mavado, Drake, Future, T.I., 2 ChainzJay Z, Jeremih and Nicki Minaj have also all worked with the producer both on this album and many times in the past. One would assume this would lead to character growth for Grateful, yet we get similar lyrical themes about having endless cash/women and flows that are regurgitated from the artists’ previous works. It is reminiscent of the upcoming Batman movie where Ben Affleck stepped down as director (by the way, is this project still happening?) There are only so many ways one can tell the story of the Caped Crusader, so why not explore other characters in the DCEU?

Calvin Harris: Avengers like Black Widow and Hawkeye are viewed as more of the underdogs when compared to the in-your-face grandeur of their DC competitors. Harris does include well-known names like Nicki Minaj, Travis Scott and Future. But rising artists juxtapose their popularity in a balanced manner. Singers and rappers on the come up (Jessie Reyez, Khalid, Lil Yachty, Kehlani, etc.) all manage to get their equal shine right next to the big dogs. This creates a sense of musical friendship, similar to the Guardians of the Galaxy, instead of tireless competition. 

Chilling vs. Playful Cinematic & Sonic Themes 

DJ Khaled: DC is known for having storylines that are much darker and emotional, as seen in Batman’s entire trajectory. The majority of Grateful’s production digs deeper into majestic percussions that float above haunting, warbling auto-tune courtesy of artists like Travis Scott and Future. 

Calvin Harris: Marvel fans enjoy the movies for its refreshing humor, which is shown in Iron Man, the Spider-Man franchise, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Funk Wav Bounces Vol.1 has a similar vein, where Harris takes influence from funk, soul and post-disco music eras. The album is filled with brightness, from Katy Perry’s lush vocals to the to the tropical breeze of “Slide” with Frank Ocean and Migos.

Below, watch Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso share big 2017 plans, and talk Netflix and MCU comic book tie-ins with Fuse: