If Britain’s mainstream pop industry was as interesting and ruthless as Ancient Rome, then BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge would be the coliseum. It’s in this sanitized death pit that pop stars are challenged to play live and, most notably, test their supposed raw talent and versatility on a cover song. Some lucky sods come out as heroes, like Daughter; who turned Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” into the haunting sound of Chris Isaak’s moody sex dreams. Or the late Amy Winehouse, who made such a good job of The Zutons’ “Valerie” that everyone forgot The Zutons existed in the first place.
Quite often, though, everything goes goes to shit, and pop behemoths—outstripped of their protective shields—get scalped by their own inability to sing a note, play an instrument or keep even remotely in time, while darting their eyes at the lyrics that have just been printed out for them.
Usually, everyone does a faux-tender and maudlin version of an upbeat pop song to make it sound like their cover has brought new meaning to such a well known hit. Other times, white rock bands do hip-hop covers because of how unexpected that is—with the intention of making people go, “Whoa, I didn’t expect that the Arctic Monkeys would listen to Drake! How very cool and unique. I will now buy their record.” Other times, mid-level pop stars languishing outside of the top ten cover whatever is in right now so they can piggyback on its popularity.
It’s all pretty depraved, basically car crash entertainment in its most Ballardian form. Reality, for one, doesn’t seem to exist within the Live Lounge, and no matter how badly someone butchers a track, it will send shivers up DJ and Live Lounge host Fearne Cotton’s spine, coaxing her into calling it “eerily beautiful” and possibly the best thing she’s ever heard. Then the poor charlatan megastars—positively fluffed by Cotton's worship—walk back into the real world, check Twitter, and realise they’re trending worldwide for performing an absolutely dog-shit version of “All About That Bass.”
Last week, poor Fuse ODG incurred the wrath of the Radio 1 listenership when he tried to cover “Waves” by Mr Probz in such bizarrely gruesome fashion (because Fuse is actually quite good) that his drummer almost pissed himself laughing.
Fuse ODG doesn’t have a patch on this lot though: a collection of stars across the years who have entered the room and come out bleeding tears. This is BBC Live Lounge’s Worstest Hits…
ARCTIC MONKEYS DOING DRAKE
Arctic Monkeys have made their entire post-debut career out of repurposing American culture. But Canadian hip-hop was perhaps a step too far when, in 2013, the band’s metaphorical Harley Davidsons burst into flames after they covered Drizzy’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
Listening to the track, it’s sort of like Alex Turner has been marooned somewhere between singing in his usual British accent and doing a cabaret version of Drizzy’s Toronto flow, resulting in hesitance and a rather awkward pronunciation of the word “home.” The vibe in the studio—Alex prancing around in sunglasses, wearing a white shirt and crooning—makes the whole thing feel like a music performance at a wine and cheese night. The result morphs Drake’s disco-tinged panty-dropper into something you can imagine spinning at your local golf club’s Christmas party.
GLASVEGAS DOING AMY WINEHOUSE
Do you remember Glasvegas? They’re basically a footnote on some rarely visited page in Wikipedia history. An iconic band dreamt up by whoever was editing the NME back in the mid-2000s and the few people at Radio 1 they managed to convince to get on board. The band have done a lot of terrible things but one of their worst contributions to life was when they covered “Back to Black,” turning the dynamic pop song into a long, greyish smudge of music that sounded a bit like The xx doing a Limmy sketch in slow motion. [Limmy is a Scottish comedian. Here he is moaning about Americanisms. He'll never make it in America because he's not very good and no one would be able to understand him anyway.]
MAGNETIC MAN DOING WILLOW SMITH
You can imagine this came after weeks and weeks of back and forth from Magnetic Man’s team.
“Listen. I’m not sure we can do a live pop cover in the studio. We’re three electronic producers.”
“No, YOU listen. I’m not sure anyone on daytime radio will care about you unless you do a live pop cover.”
In the end they agreed to it; and in the end they made a shitpipe out of Williow Smith’s “Whip My Hair.” The vocals sound like they’ve been run through a can of beans; the wubs sound like regret; it’s probably one of the worst cover songs in existence. Well done everyone!
FLORENCE DOING BEYONCE
Back when Florence hit up the Live Lounge she was kicking the arse right out of the London party scene, telling the Guardian in one interview that she was once, “So drunk she woke up, one morning, on the roof of a pub wearing only a paint-speckled Captain America costume.” One can assume, then, she had a stinking hangover in the studio—which is probably the worst time to attempt a Beyoncé cover. She sounds absolutely shattered, becoming breathless throughout, and struggling with the pitch. To be fair to her though; everything on Lungs bangs and let’s be honest, most people can’t even compute emails when they’re hungover, let alone attempt unleashing their hoarse pipes on the entire nation.
THE AUTOMATIC DOING KANYE WEST
Basically: white rock band does hip-hop and adds flute.
LEMAR DOING THE DARKNESS
This one is a perfect example of Live Lounge’s cabin fever effect. Lemar’s team—trapped in that windowless studio like sailors without a North star—lost their sense of the world, what they they were meant to be doing, and what was morally acceptable. [For non-Anglophiles, Lemar came to the attention of the British public when he scraped into third place on reality singing contest Fame Academy back in 2002.] Lemar, carrying all the misplaced confidence of a Fame Academy finalist, proceeded to breathe his way through “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness, inexplicably mixed with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” because fuck it, why the hell not? You can put your money on it that everyone in the room at the time thought they were witnessing a "special moment in music history."
KASABIAN DOING IGGY AZALEA
Kasabian, but worse than usual because the one that looks like George Best tries to sing-rap.
TAKE THAT DOING KAISER CHIEFS
This isn’t just Take That. This isn’t just the Kaiser Chiefs. This is Take That covering the Kaiser Chiefs—which is basically the musical equivalent of going on a bus tour of Britain's best roundabouts. To be fair to the 90s heartthrobs, this occurred in 2006 after a 10 year hiatus and you can hardly expect the poster boys of Cameron’s Britain not to have been a little rusty. It's on hearing them sing live that you realize they probably spent that last decade drinking Fosters, listening to "Never Forget" and pondering what they are to the world if they aren't Take That.
Hence, this performance of everyone's seventh favorite Kaiser Chief’s track, “Everyday I Love You Less and Less”—a rendition so melodically challenged and tastelessly executed that you can already imagine UKIP defending it.
THE ORDINARY BOYS DOING TATU
The Sussex band reminding everyone what they were famous for: fuck all.