There are not many genres as well-adapted to provide a plethora of pop and rock covers than the esteemed pogoing clique of pop-punk. Whether its a compilation CD featuring all ’80s pop-punk covers from your favourite noughties bouncers or a smash R&B hit refurbished as a skater garage anthem, the genre is never far away from picking up a song and making it their own.
Paramore were, for a large chunk of a decade, at the top of that pop-punk pile, among others, and dominated the alternative rock scene with their lead singer Hayley Williams operating as the monarchic focal point. Williams polished vocal always allowed the band to flirt with different genres and they were never far from sharing a cover of their favourite song. And, in 2020, with a new album to promote and nowhere to promote it, Williams did what a lot of artists di and took to their trusty webcam to share some covers and keep the conversation going.
There’s no doubt about it, if 2020 was a terrible year for music in so many ways, it was also a good one for those of us who love a cover. The year that saw music, along with the rest of the world, in lockdown, also meant that artists had more time than ever to reflect on their own work and inspirations. In turn, that meant that countless covers flooded our timelines with Hayley Williams among the most prolific.
We’ve always felt here at Far out that the mark of a great artist isn’t only established by their own work but by how they can interpret others and express a new kind of emotion. It’s a skill few possess with any real deft touch and Williams certainly has command of it.
Below, we’ve gathered up seven of our favourites covers from Williams both from 2020 and her time with Paramore and offer them to you as proof of her growing prowess as a dynamite artist in her own right.
Hayley Williams’ best covers:
‘Unison’ – Björk
2020 will go down as a horrible year for everybody and music certainly suffered too. One brief reprieve from the horrorshow came from singers and songwriters reflecting on the music they loved and providing covers of the tracks. Williams was one artist who jumped on board quickly.
“Someone asked me to do a Bjork song a while back,” Williams tweeted on July 16th, sharing another edition of her favourite songs reimagined. “I’d actually hoped to cover a different song of hers live this year but I guess that will have to wait until some other time… anyway, this one has to be in my top 5 – ‘Unison’. Apologies for the crudely casual rendition.”
It’s another passionate and touching rendition of one of Williams’ favourite songs. It’s also a moment of pure artistic clarity.
someone asked me to do a @bjork song a while back. i’d actually hoped to cover a different song of hers live this year but i guess that will have to wait until some other time… anyway, this one has to be in my top 5 – “Unison”. apologies for the crudely casual rendition. gnite! pic.twitter.com/fUDMUeOwR0— hayley from Paramore 🌺 (@yelyahwilliams) July 16, 2020
‘Fake Plastic Trees’ – Radiohead
Another song on the list of Williams’ favourites, and therefore up for a cover, was the classic Radiohead number ‘Fake Plastic Trees’. Williams said that the song is “the top requested song throughout my brief career in self-serenadism” as part of her lockdown covers series.
“Seemed sacrilegious at first until I realised that the band themselves have never once regarded what they do as precious or never-to-be-toyed with,” Williams wrote. “They are never beholden to any one version of their expression and public affections don’t seem to sway them.
“So many times people thought they were at their best only for them to bloom more beautifully into something unexpected and unequivocally better,” the singer added. “For a time I pretended to be over Radiohead, but good things always find you and welcome you back.”
‘My Hero’ – Foo Fighters
It’d be incredibly easy for Paramore to stick Foo Fighters’ classic song ‘My Hero’ in the amplifier and kick up the pop punk attitude but, as an indication of their style, they reverted the song to an acoustic track.
The stripped back sound focuses on Williams’ incredible vocal and it is a near-perfect performance. The song was originally recorded for the 2006 superhero film Superman Returns and its a fitting feature moment of any film. It stands out on the soundtrack as the best moment on the release.
Grohl’s original vocal expressed all of the tender sadnes sof the track’s origination and, like any great artist, Williams accurately manipulates that tone and makes it her own.
‘Teardrop’ – Massive Attack
Massive Attack are a truly esteemed band, one who is covered by very artists, largely because their sound is so unique it feels impossible to emulate. However, Williams is clearly comfortable in this realm, see her take on ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ for proof, and delivered a serious performance.
The track was recorded as part of the Ally Coalition’s Annual Talent Show this year and sees Williams take on the track with aplomb. The event was livestreamed free from Jack Antonoff’s Twitch account to help raise money for homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
Williams’ role as the fragile yet empowered lead singer is exemplified in this touching and careful performance.
‘Someday’ – The Strokes
The Strokes were an important band for many artists growing up in the noughties and Paramore were clearly another band influenced by the garage rockers. One of the finer songs on the band’s debut LP Is This It, ‘Someday’ has been covered by many artists over the years but Paramore handle it with an enthusiastic energy.
Naturally, the song comes with some tougher and higher octave guitar riffs while the percussion remains distinctly pop punk. Nevertheless, the track is one of the better covers of the Strokes’ classic that we’ve heard.
‘Drew Barrymore’ – SZA
2020 has naturally been a time when artists have reflected on the music that inspired them. As well as taking on some other notable artists during lockdown, Williams also paid tribute to a contemporary in SZA and a cover of her song ‘Drew Barrymore’.
Williams performed live from her home in isolation and posted her version of ‘Drew Barrymore’ to social media alongside the caption “self-serenades/amateur hour”. Later in the post, she admits that the cover was one of many performances filmed back in April, that she had “saved up”. It was a time in the year when the thought of apocalypse was very real and there’s a vulnerability to the performance that is hard to miss.
“I’ve been holding out on y’all,” she wrote. “The only constant for me (besides limp ass, unwashed, unfixed hair) in the age of COVID is a guitar and free reign to mess up all my favourite songs.” Williams comes nowhere near to messing this one up and it soars under her guidance.
‘Use Somebody’ – Kings of Leon
In 2008, there was only one song that everybody had permanently ingrained on their mind, Kings of Leon’s mega-watt anthem, ‘Use Somebody’. It was, for a moment at least, an inescapable tune. Cearly, Paramore had their share of it too.
Taking to the BBC Radio 1 Live Loung, Williams and the rest of the band provided a pretty damn perfect cover of the song. While Caleb Followill and co. had reigned supreme with the original, Paramore’s rendition was positively brimming with emotion.
Of course, with such a pop smash as this, a band always needs a standout singer to take the reins and Williams’ performance is a powerhouse moment which showcased her incredible talent.