Cover songs, which are recordings of popular music by a new artist, are an easy medium for musicians to expand their fan base, display their creativity in reworking old material, and of course, earn money. Most of the cover songs, particularly songs of love, sex, and breaking up involve a sort of gender-switch, where more often than not the point of view of women or men is reversed, apparently to suit the palate of the artist and the audience. Although it can be difficult to gauge whether the covering artists end up recording the version they do because they want to make a statement or if they merely want to do justice to the original by staying true to the lyrics, a few famous covers of popular obviously-heterosexual songs do end up changing the script of the traditional woman-man/man-woman format in pop music. Listed here are some covers which are a part of a limited retinue of songs which don’t hetero-normalize the queer perspective.
The dominant understanding of pop music is that it is entertainment; it is but an industry, with its logic of demand and supply and media and marketing, all of which ultimately caters to the masses. But it can be a veritable smorgasbord of deviating identities, whether this happens consciously or inadvertently.
How much currency do we give to pop music? When singers and singer-songwriters perform, to what extent do we charge them with the responsibility of owing up to the words they are singing? Is it simply make-believe, a cog in the wheel of the larger mass culture industry, or is it representative of politics too, personal or otherwise?
Maybe a bit of both, when we realize that popular music has the power to confirm, subvert, or completely bypass expectations. Since such music virtually always incorporates a lyrical element, pop singers have by the virtue of performance the opportunity to create and simultaneously address the gap seemingly created when the musical output does not cater to certain standards, and indeed normative standards of assumed gender and sexuality. The same is visible in the following famous covers.
Ed Sheeran – Drunk In Love, by Beyonce
Mark Ronson ft. Amy Winehouse – Valerie, by The Zutons
All Time Low – Alejandro, by Lady Gaga
Lana Del Rey – Chelsea Hotel No. 2, by Leonard Cohen
“You told me again, you preferred handsome menbut for me you would make an exception” also gives a new direction to the moment of fleeting lesbian intimacy between the two characters in this song, rendering it wryly sweet and nostalgic without going overboard.
The White Stripes – Jolene, by Dolly Parton