If you’re going to cover a song that’s been performed by Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban, Diana Ross, and Judy Garland, you better be pretty confident of your vocal prowess. Janelle Monáe has the pipes to back up the swagger and her run through Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” from his classic Modern Times, redefines soaring.
Universal acclaim greeted Monáe’s new album The ArchAndroid when it dropped last month. It melds genres seamlessly, transitioning from funk to electro to pop without you even noticing. It’s one of the best albums of the year so far and her fiery performance on David Letterman proves she’s a talent who’ll stick around.
Her cover of “Smile” fits more neatly within genre boundaries. Her soaring jazz vocals need only one quiet guitar (take a look at the guitarist’s fingernails, incidentally). No one has accused her of hiding behind effects or production on her new album, but if anyone ever did, here’s Exhibit A to prove them wrong. You won’t need an Exhibit B.