Seeing the name Britney Spears appear anywhere in relation to cover songs should strike fear into your heart. The infamous pop music icon has a storied history of disastrous covers, made all the more notorious by the popularity and elitist appeal of the classics she has mangled. Any listing of all-time worst cover songs is all but certain to include either her 2000 mauling of “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction)” (which even this Spears apologist admits is truly dreadful) or the 2002 reincarnation of “I Love Rock N Roll” that got one bewildered journalist noting that “Joan Jett would be rolling in her grave if she were dead.”
Fortunately, it appears that the pop superstar may have grown wise to the ire her cover songs inspire and withdrew from a game she clearly hadn’t the skills to play. Meanwhile, Britney effect has continued to pervade the world of cover songs on the flip side of the coin: not as one who covers but rather as one who is covered – arguably a weightier assessment of artistic importance than a knack for musical reinterpretation of another’s work. Some of the covers out there of Britney Spears tunes are excellent – and even most of the rest turn out more interesting than your average remake.
We thought we’d revisit an idea from earlier this year, where we compiled a pair of lists with the best Bob Dylan covers you’ve (probably) never heard. This time around, we gathered ten of the best, less-known Britney Spears covers. Come now…you know you’re curious.
1. Alina Simone – Oops! …I Did It Again
With little more than a slower tempo, hysterically earnest enunciation, and an electric guitar, Brooklyn alt-rock wailer Alina Simone transforms futuristic sass into an anthem of self-loathing fit for any cutter’s iPod.
2. Joan as Police Woman – Overprotected
I don’t know what it is exactly, but something about Joan Wasser’s badass take on this minor single transports my head to a dark place adorned with chains, whips and assless leather chaps. Maybe it’s the cover art.
3. Sliimy – Womanizer
After “Toxic,” “Womanizer” has inspired a wider range of artists than any others from Britney Spears’ repertoire. Artists from Lily Allen to All American Rejects to Timid Tiger have tackled the tune’s stuttering chorus in any number of different styles, but a mockney English cut by a North African-born French pop star who looks like Mika and sounds like the lovechild of Prince and Sade Adu? Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
4. Max Raabe & Palast Orchaster – Lucky
If you’re wondering why on earth an orchestra dedicated to the recreation of German dance music of the 1920s-30s would cover a song by Britney Spears, you’re thinking too hard (besides, Marlene Dietrich might easily have fit many of them in her repertoire) .
5. Ahmet & Dweezil Zappa – …Baby One More Time
Upon its 1998 release, many were too busy being hypnotized by Spears’ smash hit debut single and accompanying naughty-schoolgirl video to notice what she was singing about. The Zappa brothers’ hard rock attack is less ambiguous, with a grizzled vocal over a menacing wall of electric guitar. Here, the primal screams of “Hit me!” are literal.
6. Kenny Mellman – If U Seek Amy
If you get the title joke, the tried-and-true Max Martin production and Spears’ trademark teasing sexuality make this controversial single a trashy-lite delight. If you don’t, though, disaster awaits, because none of the rest of it makes much sense. Not with Britney at the helm, that is. Replace the pop princess with a pervy older white guy with a creepy, Dead or Alive kind of voice, and you get the opposite effect: the stalking of the title female in the verses suddenly works, although the chorus becomes deluded at best, nauseating at worst.
7. Tricky – Piece of Me
During Britney Spears’ very public breakdown in 2007, producers Tricky and The-Dream came up with a guaranteed smash hit they thought could save their floundering friend. Her label foolishly declined, so instead it was Rihanna who achieved superstardom under that umbrella, ella, ella. No hard feelings, though, as Tricky found time while working with Britney’s old rival Christina Aguilera to whip up a sizzling minimalist study of “Piece of Me” for strings, harmonica and drums.
8. Glen Hansard – Everytime
Half of the Oscar-winning duo behind the film Once, Glen Hansard’s mournful delivery of Britney Spears’ strongest ballad would not have been at all out of place on the film’s soundtrack.
9. Boyce Avenue – Circus/Just Dance (Britney Spears/Lady Gaga cover)
In case one sensitive male singer-songwriter isn’t enough, the three brothers of Boyce Avenue should do the trick: their mashup of Britney Spears’ recent single and Lady Gaga‘s ubiquitous debut seems almost shamelessly engineered for maximum female swoonage (though they lose points for switching up the gender pronouns, the wussiest of cover song sins).
10. FORK – Toxic
Spears’ best record, for which she won her first – and, so far, only – Grammy, is also her most covered, but this Finnish foursome’s live a cappella rendition is one of the few that approaches the addictive thrill of the original production. The three-female/one-male quartet’s cover is great up until the bridge…at which point it becomes fantastic.