Nothing chaps my hide more than when a female pop star gets a massive hit, and before she can even really enjoy her success, some indie faux-soulful white guy comes along to cover it, in a slower tempo, in some bullsh*t attempt to give the song more “depth.” I’m looking squarely at you, Ryan Adams, and that f*ckery you pulled with Taylor Swift’s 1989.
Ariana Grande just got the same treatment from The 1975—a band comprised entirely of twenty-something white guys, who look exactly how you’d expect them to. So of course they heard ‘Thank U Next’ and thought to themselves—“Hey, this song is really popular right now. But you know what this song really needs? A man singing it so that people can properly understand its subtext!”
This has happened to numerous women in the music industry: Ryan Adams did it to Taylor Swift’s whole f*cking album, Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ has been covered and released by both Justin Bieber and that band Passenger, even Britney Spears got the treatment by Travis with ‘Baby One More Time.’
The issue here is not that these songs are being covered—the issue is that specifically women’s pop music, which in most cases is geared towards other women, is getting the same damn treatment every time. If a female artist has a successful song it’s all but guaranteed some indie rocker is going to do a “stripped” down acoustic version as soon as they can figure out the right chord progression—for no good reason other than that they have appointed themselves taste masters and want to show a larger audience (read: men) that the song actually has depth. As Overlord Genevieve pointed out, these covers are akin to the white lady on a ukulele doing rap covers that are so incredibly ubiquitous on YouTube. Sure, maybe at one point it was mildly interesting, but now it’s just formulaic and has the same gross undercurrent of “What’s yours is mine. Here, let me make it better for you by opening it up to an audience who doesn’t care about you otherwise.” Especially when no one asked for the cover in the first place.
I’m all for covers, but I feel that they should add something new to a song, and that “new” shouldn’t be steeped in paternalistic “dude knows best” bullsh*t. You know who likes Ariana Grande? Teenage girls. You know who likes The 1975? I don’t know—I’m genuinely asking that question because I’ve never heard of them and wouldn’t have if they hadn’t done their cover of ‘Thank U Next.’ They’re coattail-riding of the grossest degree—no one would be talking about them if it weren’t for their Ariana Grande connection, and they’re only getting this attention because they put out a crappy cover to make people (read: men) “think” about the song in a new light. The point is that these indie slowed-down stripped covers are a dime a dozen, and yet they are inordinately of songs made popular by women with the same insidious goal: to get people to agree that there is emotion behind the song, finally!
Pop has depth. Pop is capable of conveying emotion, hell, multiple emotions, without the use of an acoustic guitar. Female artists do not need indie bros to come in and demonstrate to the world the emotion their songs are capable of having—in most cases they know because they wrote the damn things.
The indignity of this happening is compounded because once it does, everyone looks to the female artist, in this case Ariana Grande, for their seal of approval. Which they usually give, because what are you supposed to do? Call out the inherent bullsh*t of the cover? Then you become the bItch and invite more criticism—from a cover you didn’t ask for, from a song that you still have on the charts.
No, you say it’s good and move on, because you know it’s going to happen again so what’s the point? Basically, you have to go Thank U, Next.
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