“I did spend a while translating the lyrics before I could sing it! [3 cryface emoji],” wrote Samantha Harvey on her Facebook page when she posted the above video, an (1) acoustic (2) piano (3) cover of (4) Rihanna’s (5) “Work,” in a comment that now seems to be deleted. It’s an extremely smooth yet extremely difficult listening experience, well within the tenacious, widely practiced tradition of white people melting rap and other genres of black pop music into something you could sing with your dorm friends around a campfire, a la Ben Folds, who is arguably the Contagion Gwyneth of the current, horribly YouTube-enabled wave.
The sonic awkwardness of the white-person-covering-hip-hop genre is one thing; the blandly obvious underlying implication (that there’s a huge part of the American population who would rather listen to distinctly black music when everything that makes it distinctly black is replaced) is another. It’s particularly interesting to see how many white singers rushed to cover, and translate, “Work”—a song that has Rihanna sliding into levels of island patois with not a glance towards the people who won’t understand what she’s doing—as well as “Formation,” the negro-nose-with-Jackson-Five-nostrils-checking Beyonce song, which is perhaps her blackest ever. This artist, for example, even decided to cover both!
The camera work is nothing short of something!
Anyway, what’s wrong with these covers, again, is not that they “exist” or “are bad,” but that they draw on the lowest common denominator of basic appropriation—in which something that was black gets magnificently worse when it’s borrowed by whiteness, and white people are like “Finally; something for me!” You’ll find lots of comments on the above videos that say things like I hate the original, I can’t understand a word she’s saying, but I looooove your version <3 <3, and, to be fair, a lot of comments that are like Babe it’s patois and you can’t do it to save ya fuckin life.
But in for the kill shot comes #TrapCover, a hashtag that holds an actual treasure trove of brief, incredibly deadpan trap snippets of the whitest songs in the world. For example, Taylor Swift:
I bleated like a goat while watching this one:
Here’s “Baby One More Time”:
Here is a song from the cartoon Disney musical “Mulan”:
And finally, here’s the goddamn Star Spangled Banner.
Note the last hashtag on that one. God bless America.
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