// by Devon Armstrong //
With a talented artist and good material, it’s easy to do a great cover. But for a truly special version of a song, something must shift from the original – arrangement, meaning, interpretation, style. If the cover artist manages to flip one of these on its head, that’s when a cover is the most interesting.
Platforms like BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and triple j’s Like a Version facilitate experimental covers that would’ve never happened otherwise. They also give us an insight into the musical tastes of our favourite artists. Obviously classic covers like Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower, Amy Winehouse’s Valerie and Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah (all of which eclipsed the originals) exist in their hundreds, so I’ll be focusing on covers by contemporary artists that happened in the last five or so years. What’s even more impressive about these covers is that they were all performed live!
Sampha – Cranes in the Sky
It’s a testament to Sampha’s unreal vocals that he matches Solange’s vocal acrobatics on this track. At Glastonbury 2017, Sampha – who worked on Solange’s album with her – did an emotionally-charged piano cover of the song.
Paramore – Passionfruit
No one would expect American trio Paramore, with their pop-punk roots, to cover one of Drake’s most commercial tracks. But Hayley Williams’ vocals have somewhat matured since 2010, and the blend works quite well – she even works in a bit of ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’!
Billie Eilish – Bad
Slow, sensual and mysterious, Billie Eilish’s raspy and seductive vocals turn Michael Jackson’s pop classic into a quirky, off-the-wall acoustic hidden gem.
Slaves – Shutdown
Slaves’ aggressive cover of Skepta shows just how well punk and grime mesh together. In fact, Skepta liked their cover so much, he joined them on stage during their set at 2015’s Radio 1’s Big Weekend.
Hozier – Problem
Somehow, Hozier made a mind-numbingly repetitive pop song a beautiful gospel anthem, also weaving in a verse from old-school hip hop tune Regulate by Warren G.
Dua Lipa – Do I Wanna Know?
Dua Lipa’s emotional piano cover of the Arctic Monkeys reverses the gender roles of the relationship. The song moves from its original seductive, flirtatious groove to an emotionally exhausted, heart-wrenching tale of toxic love and relapse.
Lorde – In the Air Tonight
Rogue choice for then up-and-comer Lorde, Phil Collin’s atmospheric ballad gained a new level of ambiance with Lorde’s velvety vocals on it, showing that sometimes the artist adds something to the track using only their voice.
FKA Twigs – Elastic Heart
Dark and atmospheric, the arrangement on Twigs’ cover really captures the mystery and emotion of Sia’s lyrics. Twigs’ vocal ability matches Sia’s (a feat in itself), and she even twists up the vocals a bit, making the song into something that would blend in perfectly on one of her albums.
HAIM – That Don’t Impress Me Much
Emphatic of their feminist power, HAIM have vocals perfect for a cover of Shania Twain, but it’s their mellow synthy version of the song gives it new life.
Wolf Alice – Steal My Girl
the arrangement on this track makes 1D sound like a Wolf Alice number – the grungey guitar combination allows a mediocre repetitive pop song to have substance.