Musicians altering lyrics in songs they cover can be a wonderful thing. They’re putting their own spin on somebody else’s idea, not simply parroting what the other person spat into a microphone. The problem is when their lyric change sucks, and is clearly meant to protect one’s image and boost their PR versus actually having something to say.
For awhile, the worst offender was Hillary Duff’s take on My Generation. ”Hope I die before I get old” became “Hope I don’t die before I get old,” and suddenly a timeless tale of youthful anger and rebellion devolved into a flaccid and neutral tribute to mere breathing. “Gee willikers, I sure do like being young and hip, but I’ll probably also enjoy growing up too. Yay living!”
Sadly for Miss Duff, it’s time to hand her pinhead crown to a brand-new wizard: Katy Perry. She recently contributed to an album called The Gay Nineties – Olde Tyme Music, where musicians as varied as Weird Al, Tyler the Creator, Nick Cave, Kirk Hammett, and Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo all sang the same song: “Daisy,” the 1892 ode to poor people in love that Hal-9000 sang while dying in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Katy’s version, as one might expect, is very pretty and flowery, which is fine. Her lyric change, however, is pure old people farts. The original song goes:
It won’t be a stylish marriage / I can’t afford a carriage
Katy, clearly wishing to shield her young fans from the idea that poor people exist, rewrote that couplet completely, changing it to:
We’ll spend our life together / regardless of the weather
That’s right — Katy Perry took a song so toothless that Alvin and the Chipmunks sang it unedited, and still managed to pull out a molar. What’s next, you doe-eyed harbinger of wholesome? Are you going to change “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” to “Sunshine, Granola Bars, and Rainbows” because too many lollies might make a kid fat? Maybe you could do “Hound Dog,” but instead of “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, and you ain’t no friend of mine,” you could warble “You ain’t never caught a rabbit, but you’re still a great friend of mine.” After all, true friends don’t care about your bunny head collection; if they did, Elmer Fudd would’ve bwown the widdle gwey bwain matter out of his skull decades ago.
The point behind altering lyrics is to do something creative with them. Mothersbaugh did so by intentionally butchering the song, warbling off-key throughout, and changing Katy’s least favorite couplet to “We can’t afford a carriage / so there will not be a marriage.” Also, instead of a “bicycle built for two,” it’s now a “bicycle built for you.” In other words, he’s a scrub, deal with it. It’s unique, twisted, and kinda sad. THAT’S how you get creative.
A scrub is a Devo Hat-wearing Potato Jesus who thinks he’s fly.
Or you can be like Kirk Hammett and omit the lyrics altogether, instead turning this sweet little jingle into a doom metal death march that somehow invokes despairing images of Nazi Germany. Those 1890′s Nazis were just the worst.
Do anything you want with a tune, as long as it’s different. Go crazy. Katy’s theoretically an artist, so unless she considers “shoot shit out of my boobs” the height of expression, maybe it’s time she created like one.