Currently working on a Metallica covers album, the singer has shared banging takes on Billie Eilish, Blondie, and the Velvet Underground in the last few months alone
If there’s one silver lining to lockdown, it’s that many of our fave musicians have been churning out new music and inventive performances while they’re stuck in quarantine with nothing better to do. Maybe it’s the casual nature of sharing songs in an Instagram livestream, or a deeper need to take comfort in the familiar, but cover songs seem to have flourished in particular over the last few months.
To name just a few, Christine and the Queens has shared some stellar versions of other artists’ tracks from her studio (see: her cover of Travis Scott’s “Highest in the Room”), while Hayley Williams has shared an acoustic version of Björk’s “Unison”, and James Blake has covered Joni Mitchell, Frank Ocean, Radiohead, and more.
But it’s Miley Cyrus who truly deserves the pop queen of lockdown crown, to sit atop that iconic mullet. Over the past few months, she’s performed songs by musicians from Billie Eilish to Blondie, and the Cranberries to Hall & Oates. As she recently told Rick Owens in Interview, there’s also a whole Metallica cover album on the way. Of course, this is nothing new for Cyrus, either. Covers spanning various genres have been a notable part of her catalogue for years, especially since her Backyard Sessions series kicked off in 2012, and her Live Lounge appearances have made waves on more than one occasion.
Given that these Backyard Sessions have been revived in 2020 – seeing her play alongside a fittingly-named backing band, The Social Distancers – and some new bangers from the Whiskey a Go Go fundraiser, now seems like a good time to look back at the best covers Miley has performed over the years.
The “Jolene” is an iconic cover from the 2012 iteration of Backyard Sessions, regularly revisited by the singer at live shows (remember those?). This set followed a year that saw Cyrus lean more into unruly, dance-oriented tunes with her Can’t Be Tamed era and slightly more controversial (though we’ll get to more of those later) live performances. So Miley stripped it back and got closer to her roots once more, to a rapturous audience – bonus points for the fact that Dolly Parton is Miley’s godmother, which surely elevates the song’s status in the covers hall of fame.
Performed as part of a fundraiser for grassroots venues affected by the pandemic, Cyrus’s uninhibited “Zombie” cover earned her praise from the Cranberries themselves, who called it: “one of the finest covers of the song that we’ve heard”. The late Dolores O'Riordan, frontwoman of the band, was known for her stunning tone and the biting grit of her delivery, and Cyrus brings her own raspy flair.
HEART OF GLASS
Cyrus earned a shoutout from Blondie for her cover of the group’s “Heart Of Glass”, with Debbie Harry telling NME: “I’m really proud of the fact she did our song and made it uniquely hers” (which involved belting out Harry’s comparatively restrained vocals). Many covers of the iconic song tend to slow it down and go for the more emotional depth, but Miley brings a raw, full-bodied rendition that drips with the attitude of 80s New York when new wave blossomed.
In another offering from this year’s Backyard Sessions, Cyrus covers Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” with an unexpected (but not unappreciated) country slant, because why not? It’s Miley, bitch.
Cyrus’s “Sweet Jane” is a downtempo take on the Velvet Underground song, via Cowboy Junkies’s Lou Reed-approved cover from 1988. Though it’s decidedly less raucous than the original, Cyrus once again manages to find room for some big vocal moments.
DON’T DREAM IT’S OVER
Aesthetically, the set for Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande’s 2015 rendition of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” is a kind of cross between a campfire singalong and a cosy sleepover, with the two singers perched on an inflatable sofa in (you guessed it) Cyrus’s backyard. When they’re not chatting about their onesies in the instrumental break, they’re trading lines from the Crowded House track, which they would later revive at Grande’s One Love Manchester concert. Grande’s honey tones meld perfectly with Cyrus’s gravelly voice.
Stepping into the BBC Live Lounge all the way back in 2013, Miley Cyrus accompanied her Bangerz hit “Wrecking Ball” with a more pared back, intimate track in the form of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”. It’s in live performances like this that her pitch and control really shine. AKA, a truly iconic meeting of minds.
Returning to the Live Lounge in September this year, Cyrus transformed Billie Eilish’s sparse, introspective “my future” into a jazz-infused rock ballad. Topping it off, she sings Eilish’s lyrics – “I’m in love, but not with anybody else / See you in a couple years” – before sticking her tongue out and saying “but probably not”, proving that no matter how versatile she can be, there’s always a healthy dose of Miley Cyrus attitude to be found in the tunes she takes on.