Covers like this don’t seem to build on original ideas, but to reduce them. Perhaps it’s this sense of emotional simplification that makes me narrow my eyes at the Top 40; but I think it goes a little deeper, still. After all, it’s not so different to what my favorites were doing back in the ‘00s, when songs were being subsumed into a formulaic pop sound in the same way — but back then, it wasn’t acoustic indie pop or tropical house, it was bubblegum pop. The older generation might have hated Britney’s take on “I Love Rock N Roll” for polishing Joan Jett’s rebellious anthem into a pristine product — but, in a way, you could see that bubblegum-ifying process as a rebellion in itself. Feminized pop music was always an easy target to hate on, given its creators and defenders were mostly young girls. What makes the popular covers of 2016 a little more troubling is that they come from a totally different demographic: bros.
I have a friend who repeatedly sends me links to slow, acoustic covers of songs. They’re generally awful. Several of them are so reductive, removing so much much nuance and cultural context from the original, they are borderline offensive.
Take Jonas Blue. His adaptation of “Fast Car” is bound to be irritating to anyone who appreciates the subtleties of the original and dislikes the current tropical house trend. As Jonas said himself to Idolator, “I wanted to create a new version of it for the younger generation.” Does that mean it’s inherently bad? No. But what does give pause is the way in which the song — a woman of color’s dream about escaping a cycle of poverty — has had its edges softened. Chapman’s “Fast Car” has a heavy weight, as the protagonist’s fantasy of a better life is undermined by the grimly realist final verse: I’d always hoped for better/ Thought maybe together you and me would find it. In Jonas Blue’s version, the song instead ends on the hope that its hero will live in the suburbs, and the pop-friendly house beat suggests pure escapism. All this, in order to turn a tragic song into a commercial hit for a man who posts Instagrams of himself with the hashtag #fastcar.