Cover Songs: Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Get Enough of Them

I love cover songs. I think it is totally awesome when artists sing another artist’s song, especially during concerts because it mixes things up a little bit. On her recent “Stronger” tour, Kelly Clarkson performed at least 3 cover songs at each stop: 2 were part of the setlist (Florence + the Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms” and Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t”) plus a fan request. I’ve heard Maroon 5 sing “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” James Morrison and Diane Birch once performed “With A Little Help From My Friends.” John Mayer has sung “Free Fallin” and “Gone.” Justin Timberlake sang “This Love” at one of his benefit concerts (even though he technically performed that with Maroon 5). This is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on and on with amazing covers.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized where I draw the line when it comes to covers. Hearing covers in concert is one thing because I’m watching an artist I’m a fan of so they can’t do much wrong in my books. But over the years, watching so many TV shows where covers abound like Idol, The Voice, X-Factor, and now with Glee + Smash, my reaction to song choices vary from the usual groan and eye-roll when a song that’s been OVERDONE is sung again (11 years of Idol will turn you into a cynic) or total excitement. There has been countless times when we’ve heard female contestants sing songs by Mariah, Whitney, Celine, etc. even though they don’t have the range for it. But then there are a lot of cases where singers do a fantastic job covering the song by either changing up the song to fit their style (Hello David Cook’s version of “Always Be My Baby” and Kris Allen’s “Heartless” that’s STILL on my iPod) or just simply singing the HELL out of the song. Some covers are even better than the original. Glee, in my opinion, does this the best – take an okay song or one that’s entirely overplayed and make it better/worth listening to (i.e. Blame It On the Alcohol, Teenage Dream, We Found Love). For certain songs though, I’ve found that I can’t even like the cover, despite how good it might be.

In the episode of Glee entitled “On My Way”, the Troubletones sang Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”. I was excited to hear it, but at the same time, it was like “Why couldn’t they pick another song?” I think it comes down to the fact that it was a single and I like Glee better when they’re not doing songs that are already on the radio. After I heard it, I felt kind of indifferent about it – it was good but I didn’t really like it. Why? I realized that I’m fiercely protective of when anyone sings Kelly’s songs. I mean I love Kelly Clarkson – she’s one of my favourite artists ever and I love her songs like they are the soundtrack to my life. So for me, I don’t think anyone should ever sing her songs, unless they can do the original justice.  Megan Hilty sang “Breakaway” on a recent episode of Smash and though there’s no denying that she has a great voice, I didn’t feel as though it carried the same weight as Kelly’s original. But again, maybe that’s because “Breakaway” was such a big song for Kelly. Then on Glee, at the end of the episode “Choke”, Lea Michele sang “Cry” off of Kelly’s “All I Ever Wanted” album and I thought she did a fantastic job with the song. It fit nicely with the storyline and worked well with Rachel Berry’s feelings, so it didn’t feel forced. Actually, it was a nice reminder of what Glee was like when it started. Now of course it really is a track-by-track basis, in terms of what I’m willing to accept.

Christina Aguilera is probably one of the best voices in the industry; she’s got a diva voice. We’ve heard people sing “Beautiful” and “The Voice Within” among other Christina songs, and it’s usually met with the same eye-roll and groan. I thought Amber Riley did a good job singing “Beautiful” on Glee, but I definitely was not happy about Darren Criss singing “Fighter” in the episode “Big Brother.” Not that there was anything really wrong with his version, but “Fighter” is one of my all-time favourite songs and no matter how much angst we’re supposed to feel from the storyline, it just can’t match Christina’s sheer power.

Then there’s Adele. Over the span of this past year, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been covered. Scratch that, over the span of the past 6 months, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been sung on TV. I’ll admit I liked  Angel Taylor and Mathai’s attempts at singing “Someone Like You” and “Rumour Has It”, respectively, during their blind auditions on The Voice. Before that, Glee did a great mash-up of those 2 songs as well. But now it’s just plain old fatigue of hearing people try to sing Adele. Just stop please.

It’s not just songs by these artists with big voices being covered that have me  up in arms. I have deliberately  sort of avoided American Idol this past season because it got tiring, with the theme weeks and the judges making no sense. But there was the one week where the theme was songs from this decade (so, the past three years in music). Seeing what the set list was ahead of time, I found it to be an interesting line-up, so I actually attempted to watch the show that week (in between my regular television shows of course). I only came out disappointed, feeling like it was a slap in the face because they not only ruined 2 Kelly Clarkson songs, but also a Maroon 5 song. I know, one should not compare a contestant’s rendition to the original, but let’s be real, it’s inevitable and you can’t help it. The contestant in question, Phillip Phillips, re-arranged Maroon 5’s “Give A Little More”. I’ll embed both versions below and judge for yourself. But while the original has a sexy quality to it (what Adam Levine does seamlessly), Phillip re-arranged it somehow to make it cheesy (Saxophone? Really?). This also doesn’t mean The Voice gets off scott-free either because I was REALLY not impressed with RaeLynn singing “Wake Up Call”. Sure the song can be made country but not by RaeLynn, sorry Blake. And I know Adam seemed to like it, but as a fan, I was not having any of it.

Those are the artists, who in recent weeks/months have been covered that I’ve had problems with. On the flip side, I always love a good Britney Spears cover. I love Britney, and to me, she’s pure pop royalty. People can say what they want about Britney, but damn does she not have some great catchy pop songs? I love it when people cover Britney because her songs aren’t obvious choices. When people hear Britney, they just hear the music because she’s never really been known as a vocalist (which she isn’t and we all know that). So hearing someone sing a Britney song, gives a somewhat cool factor. Naturally, when Tony Lucca sang “…Baby One More Time” on The Voice, I flipped out because the whole thing was just PURE GENIUS. Same song, different show – Marty Casey was absolutely brilliant with his version on Rock Star INXS back in 2005. In concert, I’ve heard Kate Voegele sing “Till the World Ends” and again, I geeked out.

Consider this me ranting about song choices on TV shows (reality or otherwise). Also, a justifiable excuse for me to post videos of some cool/awesome (and I guess one not-so-great) covers. Enjoy!

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