Category: Rihanna

All Folked Up: Rihanna
(10 unplugged covers from YouTube and beyond)

January 7th, 2012 — 03:10 pm

It was inevitable, I suppose. When we started this blog way back in 2007, Rihanna was just another rising star in the pop world, a Barbadian teenage beauty queen with a sweet backstory and her first multichart number one single just starting to get coverage.

But ignoring the 23 year old superstar gets harder every year. Her continued work as a performer of hits, and as a collaborator with other rap and pop stars of no small stature, is readily admired by fans for its power, and for the confidence she brings to the table. And in the modern world, a critical mass of fans brings transformation. Somewhere out there, there’s a whole pop coverage subculture of amateurs and wannabe social media stars, armed with solo piano or guitar and voice, and though Rihanna isn’t their queen, her many chart-toppers are on their bucket lists.

The thing is, I like Rihanna’s songs. Signature song Umbrella, which was originally written for Britney Spears, caught me before it was covered to begin with; that several of the covers I have heard since are equally as beautiful is no condemnation of the source. She may be merely an interpreter of the lyrics and music she performs, but her hits have staying power.

And those hits just keep coming, with 42 singles in a short six album career proving ample fodder for coverage, and constant radioplay keeping her songs in the air, ready to be plucked and reshaped. This past year, alone, saw a neverending stream of rising stars take on her songs, including close to a dozen new standout covers both in and beyond the YouTube realm of amateur production – of newer tracks such as We Found Love, which is already enjoying initial coverage after a November 2011 release, and of still-standing classics Umbrella, Rude Boy, and others.

Yeah, not all of these are worth our time. This sort of R&B-tinged pop invites melodramatic interpretation; many of the covers today are truly acoustic pop, like mid-set cuts from a mid-nineties MTV unplugged session, and I turned down multiples of each in the same vein in my search for coverage this week. HelenaMaria, Tyler Ward, and Jake Coco and Corey Gray, especially, turn in takes on this end of the sound spectrum; all are good, if glossy, and if not folk in the purest sense, have their own acoustic beauty to be discovered.

But there’s also diversity in the mix here. Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro’s weary-voiced Umbrella segues into John West’s aching cello-and-voice cover exquisitely; from there, Mechanical Bride startles with indie bells and piano atmosphere that encase the song in ice. Ypsilanti singer-songwriter Nathan K. turns beats into slow, ragged handclaps for a haunting acoustic We Found Love. Gomez lead singer Ben Ottewell finds loneliness and hope in a driving gender-bent solo take on Only Girl (In The World), a compliment to the longing and urgency in Ellie Goulding’s orchestral in-studio take on the same.

In every case, stripped of their beats, with the melodic lines thinned and the lyrics forced forward, it becomes clear how sparse these songs truly are. Repetitive elements designed for a catchy bounce become an emotional trope, a call-out, an outlet; melodies written for dancefloor chant-along dip and soar with nuance. There’s heart here, thanks to the backdrop songwriters of the Def Jam corridors, the young, hopeful songstress who brought them to us, and the artists who fulfill the potential of these songs in their living rooms and studios. We are reminded, once again: folk is where you find it, in the end.

A tip o’ the cap to Cover Me, who first found and shared several of the newer songs posted above.

PS: want more coverfolk throughout your week, including bonus finds and previews of upcoming features? Why not subscribe to our facebook page…where there’s currently a classical cover of Rude Boy, and a new five-person single-guitar Gotya cover, just starting to make the rounds!

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