I am currently listening to the Vitamin String Quartet version of “Best of You” by the Foo Fighters. (I discovered this group while on the hunt for a wedding song many years ago. Their “Strung Out on U2” album is more hits than misses, and “With or Without You” puts most traditional pieces to shame. My groomsmen and I walked up the aisle to that one.)
Also on the playlist are string versions of two Offspring songs, a Green Day cover, and the most elegant version of Bad Religion’s “Sorrow” that you will ever hear. The game of playing any of these tracks and asking the person nearest to you “Hey, guess what song this is?” never gets boring. Unless you are my wife, in which case it gets boring around song number 78. She really doesn’t enjoy that game anymore.
Yes, I understand that I am feeding into the Stuff White People Like rule #120. I love my song covers. But this is where I start to get confused.
Here’s how the logic goes: genre-defying covers are the anthems of the hipsters. They love them. The more absurd the cover, the better. Johnny Cash’s 2003 version of NIN’s “Hurt” sent legions of loft-dwelling counter-culturalists into paroxysms of smugness. The juxtaposition of a beloved country singer lending depth and value to a popular industrial rock band’s whiny angst was the definition of hipster ideology. More recently Pomplamoose went and self-consciously hipstered the living hell out of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” (watch it here). The contrast between original artist and cover artist is obvious.
So, what do we do with this?
It’s over a year old now, but Chris Daughtry’s cover of “Poker Face” presents us with some cultural problems. Daughtry is generally lumped into the Nickelback school of musical construction: 4/4 time, guitars, growly vocals, and not so much as a hint of innovation. He got his start on American Idol, which means that he will never, ever be regarded as cool by anyone that wears vintage clothing. He represents popular, safe, uninspired music that has a common denominator so low you’d have to dig to find it.
But when he took Lady Gaga’s equally popular “Poker Face,” Daughtry spat Coors Light in the face of every guy that has ever owned horn-rimmed glasses ironically. It works like this:
Premise: Hipsters like obscure covers of popular songs because they deliberately upend the values of music that they consider below their artistic sensibilities.
Premise: Daughtry, a popular artist, deftly translated a pop song that would have stumped even the most indie jazz-fusion trio into a raw acoustic track that, had it come from some nameless girl with dreadlocks instead, would have been on the iPhones of every vegan couple north of the Mason Dixon line.
Conclusion: Daughtry made ironic, thoughtful cover songs substantially less cool.
Please don’t misinterpret this as me saying that I don’t like this version of the song, or even the original one for that matter; I’m a big fan of both. To me, this is just a lovely little incident with which I may dig at my hipster friends over pesto lamb burgers and craft beer.