When an artist shares his music with the world, there is an implicit agreement that the tune is subject to transformation from those who listen. A DJ may speed up the BPM to make it rave-friendly. A rapper may spit over its sample. Perhaps, most simply, another artist will perform the song. Cover songs have become a music genre upon themselves. Relative unknowns like Boyce Avenue and Karmin have racked up millions of YouTube views reinterpreting established hits. Reciprocally, just about every big-time artist pays homage to another at live shows.
A major element of a cover song is genre-swapping. One artist’s original concept can become completely altered through reinterpretation in a different musical style. Many times, genre-swapping covers are written off as novelty and fail to hold up to the original. Sure, some white guys singing about thug life is funny, but do you click the “play” button for a reason beyond that?
Here are my favorite genre-swapping covers that don’t suck. These songs succeed beyond novelty.
RnB vs. Pop
“Dirty Diana”- The Weeknd
The Weeknd infuses Michael Jackson’s cautionary tale of groupie love with distorted drums and airy synth. Somehow, his account of fucking bad bitches comes off more believable than Mike’s.
Rock vs. Rap
"Renegades of Funk" - Rage Against the Machine
Pioneering hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa penned lyrics about cultural outliers, but Rage Against the Machine added some well-needed aggression to honor the revolutionaries mentioned throughout.
"Bitches Ain’t Shit" - Ben Folds
Typically, the “mellow guy doing hardcore lyrics” gets tiresome quickly, but Ben Folds manages to transform Dr. Dre’s braggadocio into a truly mournful tale about love, friendship and loss. That’s some real conversation for your ass.
"99 Problems"- Hugo
Almost an entirely different song, but the same middle finger is firmly flicked to the haters.
Rock vs. Pop
"Last Kiss" - Pearl Jam
Another story of a cover outperforming the original. This mournful tune will forever be associated with Seattle grunge over 1950’s teenyboppers.
"Hurt" - Johnny Cash
Nine Inch Nails were always known for their ability to be eerie, but Johnny Cash’s ultimate contribution was particularly haunting. Perhaps Cash’s death led to the song’s impact, but it’s simply unforgettable.
"Kiss Me" - New Found Glory
Pop-punk was all about cover songs, and to this day the Punk Goes Pop series moves major units. While most of these remakes are terribly corny, NFG’s sugary-sweet bleating works well here. I don’t know. Maybe because I wanted to be in the band when I was 12. Either or I’m into it.
EDM vs. Acoustic
"Save The World Tonight" - Colin McLoughlin
I purposely left out professional cover singers, but this guy’s rendition of SHM is beautiful. I am not a big house music guy, but this version enforces how powerful electronica really is. Hold me.
That wraps it up for me? What are your favorite covers? Which ones do you think suck? Who outperformed their predecessors? Is the girl from Beasts of the Southern Wild a cunt? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!
Krum is an NYC based comedian. Follow him on Twitter @KrumLifeDotCom