I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I am, in fact, a gigantic pop culture junkie. And that’s not a bad thing, I’m just surprised by the sudden realization. Thinking about it, I love lots of things that have to do with mainstream media. I pay attention to which members leave One Direction and which ones get new tattoos and which ones get girls pregnant. I’m constantly checking Tumblr to see Rihanna’s latest outfits and Nicki Minaj’s social commentary. I dance to Taylor Swift and I listen to “Can’t Feel My Face” on repeat and I know all the words to multiple Top 40 songs. I watch the X Factor every week. When Drake and Norm Kelley showed up at Ryerson last night, I was gutted that I missed it, simply because of the weight that a moment like that carries on social media platforms. TIFF is happening right now, and I can’t resist feeling excited by the fact that tons of celebrities are in town to celebrate. I love pop culture and things that everyone is obsessed with and I like paying attention to what’s becoming popular. It’s interesting and it’s fun.
While I’ve admitted that I do enjoy certain mainstream things, at heart I will always be a lover of all things independent. Telling people that my favourite band is The Vaccines often results in quizzical looks, mostly because it’s rare to find another person who’s heard of them, and partly because people are puzzled by the fact that anyone would name their band after needles. I get called a hipster at least once a week without fail. I have knowledge of multiple indie music labels and I like homegrown music festivals rather than raves and a lot of that seems to be very different to what most people my age enjoy. But I’m cool with it.
One thing that combines my fascination with popular culture and my deep love for everything indie is the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. Essentially, artists spanning multiple genres are invited to play live on the air. They perform their own songs and usually do a cover, and the covers are often Top 40 songs. What’s popular in the UK seems to be a lot different than what’s popular in North America, which means that we get bands like Florence + the Machine and Alt-J and Arctic Monkeys on the show all the time, and that’s normal. I spend a lot of time listening to the covers. Bands interpret music their own way, changing up the tempo or the melody or the delivery of the vocals, and it’s interesting to hear such a broad spectrum of sounds from so many different artists. And since I’m so obsessed with them, I figured it was only fair to share my favourite ones. Here we go:
I love seeing Canadian talent become popular all over the world. I’m not an avid Half Moon Run listener, but this cover intrigued me. It doesn’t sound like much at first, and then the chorus hits and it’s all catchy, toe-tapping, harmonic goodness. Half Moon Run uses their folky tone to enrich the song and make it soulful and smooth, and it’s incredibly beautiful.
When this track came out, it felt like everybody and their mother were covering it, but this ranks as one of my favourites. Arctic Monkeys have definitely changed and matured over the years, and this cover fits in with the sound of their fifth album, AM. Although they didn’t significantly alter the song, it’s still a nice change. They managed to make a Drake song sound like one of their own. Alex’s dance moves and Matt’s high-pitched backing vocals definitely add to the experience, making it a Live Lounge session to remember.
Guys, Deap Vally is beyond cool. We all know I love female rockers, and this duo is so badass and interesting that I’m upset at myself for not listening to them sooner. Their sound is complete, bluesy, rock n’ roll, but they still keep some of the folk elements of the original song for their cover. The result is amazing and cool and different and I love it.
First things first: I love the original version of this song and I can’t deny it. But Alt-J’s version goes above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. The band kept the skeleton of the song, but added in their own unique sounds and effects, making it beautifully different. Along with Joe Newman’s trademark vocals, it’s absolutely perfect.
George Ezra has the weirdest taste in music. Before his shows start, he plays everything from 50s tunes to the Spice Girls, so it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that he decided to cover a popular nineties song. And it’s great. It’s still as catchy and groovy as the real deal, but George’s deep, unexpected voice heightens the entire experience. If anything, you should just watch the video for the way he says “hiya!” at the beginning. It’s adorable.
I really don’t like Ariana Grande, and I’m not a huge fan of Hozier save for a couple songs, but this cover is insane. I can’t help but sing and dance along every time I listen to it. Hozier’s voice is big and it takes up space and that completely changes the tone and emotion of the track, making it something that I actually enjoy listening to.
I feel like it’s probably hard to make a One Direction song sound like punky rock n’ roll, but Wolf Alice managed to do it. This is the last song I would have expected them to cover, although I’d consider it as one of my favourite Live Lounge performances. The heavy synth and distorted vocals transform the track, making it dark and encompassing in the best way possible.
At this point, The Vaccines are Live Lounge veterans. They’ve done four different covers, including Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and OMI’s “Cheerleader,” but this one gets the top spot in my books. I (not so) secretly love One Direction, and The Vaccines are my favourite band, so there was no doubt that I would love this. The boys completely changed the beat of the song while maintaining the melodic vocals, and the outcome is wonderful. Although Justin never seems fully comfortable performing anything but his own songs and at times it seems a little bit like a karaoke night, I love it with all my heart. (But we all know I’m biased.)
I’m convinced that I will love everything this band ever does. This cover is ethereal. It’s enveloping and consuming and haunting. You feel like you can’t get away from it. It’s by far my favourite ever Live Lounge session. The best thing for you to do it to just listen to it, because my words do not do it any justice.
Covering another musician’s work seems like it would be a hard thing to do. If it were me, I’d be terrified of messing up or completely ruining the song or doing something just as bad. All of these artists seem to have perfected the art of the cover. They’re all gloriously phenomenal, which is why I couldn’t help myself from sharing the wealth.