The last show of Lorde’s Melodrama world tour took place this week (aside from two dates in Russia in May and the odd festival). One of the remarkable features of this tour has been the sheer number of cover versions she’s performed. Gareth Shute trawled through them all and presents his top five.
The YouTube videos of Lorde doing other people’s songs now number over one hundred and they stretch right back to her first appearance on RNZ when she was twelve years old doing ‘Mama Do’ by Pixie Lott (okay, I guess) and ‘Use Somebody’ by Kings of Leon (oh dear god, no!). In more recent times, she’s made it a regular part of her show to perform a stripped back cover, either acapella or accompanied only by a guitar or piano. Often her choice of artist to cover is inspired by the city she’s in. For example, she covered Drake in Toronto and Bon Iver in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
She’s now performed songs by a daunting list of artists, including Phil Collins, The Replacements, The 1975, St Vincent, Son Lux, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Naked and Famous, and Prince. It took a ridiculous amount of time to look through them all, but here are the best ones from the Melodrama tour, listed in a countdown from very good to excellent (judged on the performance rather than sound or video quality). Plus I’ve added a playlist of every song she’s ever covered (original versions) at the bottom – it makes for an interesting mix!
5: ‘Solo’ by Frank Ocean
One of Lorde’s favourite ways to perform a live cover is to sit near the front of the stage and play it with minimal accompaniment; a quiet moment shared between performer and audience. You can see she’s having fun in the moment and that the crowd is right there with her, singing the call-and-response section with such enthusiasm that Lorde stops the song to compliment them before breaking out in a laugh.
4: ‘I’m On Fire’ by Bruce Springsteen
It’s fitting that Lorde put her spin on this track, given the Boss did ‘Royals’ when he played Auckland in 2014. She has guitarist Ray Suen out the front with her, giving her the opportunity to direct the song intently at him and stalk around him during the instrumental parts. Just at the moment when it feels like it’s flagging, she gives him a subtle grin and switches into the pre-chorus for ‘400 Lux’, putting her own new spin on both tracks. Nice!
3: ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’ by Paul Simon (with Jack Antonoff)
Okay, I know what you’re thinking – this wouldn’t even make a top five of Paul Simon’s best songs. But context is everything and when Lorde sits down with her Melodrama co-producer Jack Antonoff to sing campfire-style at the front of the stage in the afternoon of an outdoor festival, suddenly this song seems perfect. This is probably the most you’ll ever see her grin and laugh while singing a song, especially when she forces Antonoff to sing a chorus. So don’t overthink it, just soak up the fun vibe.
2: ‘Hang with me’ by Robyn cover (with Tove Styrke)
In the same vein as the last one, this cover derives its joy from seeing Lorde creating a special moment for her audience by having a bit of fun with a friend. In fact, she’s previously done this song live with Antonoff as well, but this version with her support act, Tove Styrke, captures the fun of two buddies on the road together, hanging out.
1: ‘Love Lockdown’ by Kanye West
Lorde has done so many Kanye songs, it’s almost a subgenre to itself. She did a punchy version of ‘Hold My Liquor’ back in 2013 and used ‘Flashing Lights’ as an excuse to flood the stage with flickering spotlights (though the vocals never quite suited her). I much prefer this vid, despite the weak camera work. Here she achieves the goal of any great cover version: she takes an unlikely song and makes it her own, using only the uniqueness of her voice.
Bonus track: ‘Life on Mars’ by David Bowie
This performance took place before Melodrama came out so I left it off the list above, but it does seem to exemplify what divides a passable cover from an amazing one. To wit – remember that time that Lorde sang ‘All Apologies’ with the surviving members of Nirvana and a bunch of famous female musicians (Kim Gordon, St Vincent, Joan Jett), plus for some godforsaken reason, a piano accordion player? That was really laying it on a bit thick, but thankfully things are more restrained here. David Bowie’s backing band do the song just how he last did it, while Lorde proves she was worthy of being in a mutual admiration society with Bowie by infusing it with the perfect amount of passion and pathos.
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