‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
We all know the reason everyone’s talking about Beyoncé this month: It’s the fifteenth anniversary of her debut solo album Dangerously in Love!
Okay, maybe that’s not the only Beyoncé news setting the internet aflutter these days – but it is the reason we initially decided to do this list. So it was extra nice of her to drop a surprise album with her husband, what’s-his-name, to give us something else to tie this into. In tribute, we’re writing this entire post from the Louvre.
There aren’t any Everything Is Love songs covered here, but we can’t imagine the first great “Apeshit” cover is far off. And every other facet of her career is represented, from the Destiny’s Child radio hits to her early solo pop jams to the more recent political tracks from Lemonade and beyond. Appropriately enough, the artists doing the covering represent an equally wide spectrum. I challenge you to find another list on the internet containing both serpentwithfeet and Reba McEntire.
So let’s start the countdown (heh) of the best B covers ever. All hail the Queen!
25. Sondre Lerche – Countdown
Norwegian crooner Sondre Lerche’s cover of “Countdown” – my favorite Beyoncé song and it’s not really close – is perhaps tender to the point of being ironic. It draws a ton of attention to gender-swapping pronouns – and additional words like “shorty” and “chick” – in ways that come close to making me uncomfortable. But it’s also a rendition that reveals how the original doesn’t need flair or digital wizardry to be a good song. Though some of the gender stuff feels a little homophobic, a deeper listen reveals some interesting stuff that re-narrativizes the song, and Lerche never shies away from lyrics that might make him sound silly. Finally, the song doesn’t devolve to irony or novelty, because Lerche finds new ways of singing it throughout its three minutes. He treats it like a deeply personal story and song instead of an answer to the unlikely question of what would happen if a Norwegian crooner covered Beyoncé. – Matt Vadnais
24. The Weeknd – Drunk in Love
The Weeknd’s “Dirty Diana” cover topped our best-of-list, back when Abel Tesfaye was a semi-anonymous enigma dropping mysterious mixtapes online. “Drunk in Love” came more recently, when he was already fully ensconsed in megastar status. Similar to “Dirty Diana,” it’s a dark and wonderfully layered production underpinning his lilting falsetto. It would rank even higher, except I can’t say I think much of his lyrical changes. – Ray Padgett
23. Emeli Sande Ft. The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Crazy in Love
Roxy Music lead singer Bryan Ferry founded the orchestra that bears his name to reinterpret his own songs like jazz tunes from the Roaring ‘20s. In 2013, the group went a step further and tapped British vocalist Emeli Sandé for a jazz-age makeover of “Crazy in Love” for the soundtrack to Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. The ensemble reworked Beyoncé’s famed dance grooves with blazing horns, a devilishly-inspired banjo, and clickity-clack percussion reminiscent of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings. The frenetic energy of the track makes you want to sneak into a speakeasy and do the Charleston with that fine flapper across the room. – Curtis Zimmermann
22. Lidwine – Run the World (Girls)
Lidwine de Royer is a French harpist who has recorded beautiful plucked covers of pop stars like Sia (hitting those “Chandelier” high notes with a huge harp leaning on you seems no easy feat). You wouldn’t deduce her classical training from her pounding “Run the World” cover, though; a harp is nowhere to be found to these ears. Instead, it’s dark and aggressive electropop for a late night on the streets of Berlin. It’s a bold step away from her main axe, and a successful one – though I’d kind of like to hear her tackle a harp Beyoncé cover now too. – Ray Padgett
21. John Mayer – XO
In 2014, John Mayer cracked the pop charts with this cover of Beyoncé’s “XO.” He transformed her original into a production in line with his trademark style, with harmonica and acoustic guitar. He gives the lyrics his signature “sensitive-guy” spin and sings with such sincerity that you would think he wrote the track himself. Time will tell whether he can convince his current bandmates in Dead & Co. to turn it into an epic 17-minute jam. – Curtis Zimmermann
20. Local Natives – All Night
Despite a streaming market saturated with sunny indie pop, LA-based Local Natives have managed to stay fresh. The band has a knack for lacing deep, aching lyrics with deceptively cheery instrumentation, and this skill paid off for their cover of Bey’s “All Night.” While no one can top any of Beyonce’s original productions on Lemonade, Local Natives’ earnest approach to the ballad makes the acoustic cover stand out among the millions of stripped-down homages. – Maggie Clancy
19. Holy Holy – Hold Up
I’m always impressed by bands that nail these one-time cover sessions, like the BBC Live Lounge, AV Undercover, or, in this case, Triple J’s long-running “Like a Version” series in Australia. Quintet Holy Holy, well-known down under but less so elsewhere, came in last year and delivered a polished and revelatory reimagined cover of one of Beyoncé’s more recent hits. They hadn’t performed it before and, as far as I can tell, never did again. It’s just this little self-contained gem, and deserves every one of the half-million views it’s gotten. – Ray Padgett
18. serpentwithfeet – Love Drought
Few covers fit as naturally with their cover artist as “Love Draught” does with serpentwithfeet. From the almost-talking verses to the convenient gender pronouns and the subject matter of difficult love, this might as well be a serpentwithfeet original. Yes, the mournful piano is new, and this is more stripped down and less buoyant. And, yes, because of serpentwithfeet’s trademark repetition of lyrics that turn love songs into something like prayers, the defiant center at the heart of this version of the song is given a much more naked and unconventional strength than Beyoncé’s fiercely honed one, but it helps that different voice here is no less beautiful. Perhaps the biggest addition to the song is the way the microphone picks up the clicks and swallows from his mouth. The ambient noises add a layer of pain to the process that, in the original, exists primarily in the song’s relationship with the album and narratives surrounding it, a context I wouldn’t believe could be replicated. It’s a truly spectacular cover that takes a song from an album – Lemonade – seemingly limited to the hyper-specific details of the most public marriage in America, and makes it feel authentic in a completely different context. – Matt Vadnais
17. Tone Stith – Dangerously in Love
The most recently recorded cover on this list, Houston R&B singer Tone Stith’s stunningly lush run through “Dangerously in Love” just came out in April. It’s already a classic, his layered falsetto climbing mountains over only an electric piano. And just wait until he starts hitting – and holding – those Mariah Carey-level high notes. It’s no wonder that Drake himself has taken the 23-year old under his wing. – Ray Padgett
16. Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band – Say My Name
“Say My Name” is a song about a girl who’s on the phone with her boyfriend; suspecting that he’s with another woman, she challenges him to talk to her like he loves her to prove he’s true. It’s a sad situation, and Kat Wright captures the sadness in her cover. She sounds less about the demand that he say her name than about the regret of knowing what it means that he’s not saying her name. That hangs heavy over the song, pulling it from anger into anguish. – Patrick Robbins
15. Rag’n’Bone Man – Freedom
Anyone who has ever heard Rag’n’Bone Man’s voice – and if you’re reading this from the UK, where he’s a superstar, it’s practically a sure thing that you have – will recognize it from the first line here. He brings that low gospel groan, the one that sounds like a Delta bluesman a century ago, to a modern sort of gospel song: the Lemonade standout “Freedom.” His large soul band gives this passionate rearrangement a depth and grit with strings and powerful backing singers. Ultimately, though, it’s all about that unreal voice. – Ray Padgett
14. Maren Morris – Halo
With its biblically inspired themes of faith and love and its gospel sound, Beyoncé’s power ballad “Halo” lends itself well to country reinterpretations. In early 2016, Maren Morris’ star was rising in Nashville while she was gearing up to release her major label debut album Hero. Around that time, several versions of the country singer performing an acoustic cover of “Halo” began circulating around the Internet. Though the sound quality may vary greatly, what they all have in common is Morris’ booming voice. In each version, she puts on an amazing display of her vocal prowess as she blasts through the song’s final chorus. The only surprise is that Morris never released it commercially; this cover had all the makings of a hit. – Curtis Zimmermann
13. Heike Has The Giggles – Crazy in Love
Hailing from Ravenna, Italy, the band Heike Has the Giggles has next to no interest in recreating the famous horn sample that’s on “Crazy in Love.” Instead, they turn the song into a heavy garage-rock number, giving it a whole different edge. Now it’s not a blast of summer on a dance floor, but a night crawl through back alleys, supplying the music with a whole other kind of tension. – Patrick Robbins
12. The Rooks – 1+1
Lacking any knowledge of Beyoncé’s original songs, much less covers, I was planning to sit this one out, when my daughter pointed me to this cover of “1+1” by The Rooks, a band formed at Wesleyan in 2011 by a group of musicians who wanted to have a post-graduation musical project. Garth Taylor, the singer, is a friend of a close friend of my son and daughter, so I thought I’d check it out. I was duly impressed by his voice, the emotion of his performance, and the expressive piano of Gabe Gordon. According to Taylor, Beyoncé’s album 4 was released the summer before they officially formed the group, so he suggested they add the cover to their live show to give people a recognizable song to sing along to. The video was recorded in Wesleyan’s Memorial Chapel in 2011. Taylor has recently released a solo EP, Human Nature, under the name “Garth.” (with the period), which you can check out here. – Jordan Becker
11. Ólafur Arnalds – Say My Name
With Beyoncé such a ubiquitous presence in culture these days – even other megapop stars hardly seem her peer – it can be hard to remember back when she was just one member of an R&B girl group drifting in TLC’s shadows. But even as her star has long eclipsed Destiny’s Child’s (and theirs shone plenty bright at the time), musicians keep going back to their songs. That Kat Wright version of this came from 2014, and this one’s even more recent. I wonder why Destiny’s Child songs still get covered almost as often as Beyoncé’s solo work. Perhaps one reason is that many Beyoncé solo songs come weighted with cultural, racial, or other baggage – despite the song being a sensation, other artists rarely attempt “Formation.” Destiny’s Child’s simpler pop songs may seem easier, and safer, for a white, male classical composer from Iceland to approach. – Ray Padgett
10. Nazca – Survivor
Ukulele covers are often, frankly, insufferable. Not this one. The saving grace comes from the vocals, traded among the four band members until their voices join powerfully in the chorus. It adds more heft than the typically feather-light uke performances we often come across. It’s a powerful arrangement with an air-tight production. Oh, and bonus point: I love hearing their French accents trying to voice a line like “Not gonna diss you on the internet.” – Ray Padgett
9. Jack Garratt – Crazy in Love
Jack Garratt’s desperate delivery of the vocals in his cover of “Crazy in Love” highlights the desperate tone of the lyrics, and he sounds increasingly unhinged as the song progresses. Garratt stabs the keyboards throughout this Triple J performance, punctuating his smooth flowing vocals, even throwing in one unexpected clap. It’s a performance full of energy, made all the more impressive as a live take. – Mike Misch
8. Reba McEntire – If I Were a Boy
In 2016, Beyoncé made a bid for the country charts by re-recording her Lemonade song “Daddy Lessons” with the Dixie Chicks. It seemed like a new and novel genre-crossing – except Reba McEntire was there six years earlier. Her “If I Were a Boy” so thoroughly reworks the song as modern pop-country that you’d never guess it came from Beyoncé. The funny thing is, it actually did better on the country charts than the Beyoncé/Dixie Chicks crossover. – Ray Padgett
7. CHVRCHES – XO
CHVRCHES vocalist Lauren Mayberry made it very clear she knows she “can’t sing like Beyonce,” but that doesn’t make the Glasgow trio’s rendition of Bey’s “XO” weak by any stretch. Instead of trying to emulate Beyonce’s powerhouse voice, Mayberry sticks to her signature ethereal croon as her bandmates Martin Doherty and Iain Cook strip down the production. “We tried it a few times, we tried it with a big production. It always seemed somehow wrong or somehow inferior,” said Doherty. The band opted to back up Mayberry’s singing with sparse, atmospheric piano and acoustic guitar, and the result is swoon-worthy. – Maggie Clancy
6. The Horrors – Best Thing I Never Had
There were a few years in the early 2010s where British post-rockers The Horrors – along with frontman Faris Badwan’s side project Cat’s Eye – were delivering some of the best covers around. In 2011 alone, they tackled David Bowie, Nick Cave side project Grinderman, My Bloody Valentine, even the Get Carter theme song, for god’s sake. And the best of the bunch was a distorted shoegaze-Cure squall through “Best Thing I Never Had.” It made our top-ten of 2011, which itself is a moment in time (Dum Dum Girls! Austra! Bon Iver when he would still do something straightforward like a piano ballad!). – Ray Padgett
5. They Might Be Giants – Bills Bills Bills
Almost every genre-bending cover of a pop artist, particularly of a black artist, runs the risk of inadvertent mockery (or maybe not so inadvertent). The idea of They Might Be Giants covering a Destiny’s Child song could be the whole cover itself. Look at these middle-aged white guys saying slang they don’t actually use! Look at one of the Johns getting into every syllable of “no good type of brother!” Look at how odd the lyrics about paying bills sound in the hands of these nerds! And yet, though I am still trying to figure out the official video featuring a moose in a swimming pool, this cover escapes the trap of novelty covers. They Might Be Giants are perhaps better than any band in history at avoiding the traps of novelty, demonstrating the difference between making a career out of unlikely ideas and relying on an idea being cheeky to create a song. I’m not sure they’ve ever done anything with a wink and that’s true here. They play this goofy for sure – but goofy in their hands is earnest, authentic, and winning. – Matt Vadnais
4. Iman Europe – Miine
In the Soundcloud description for this beautiful guitar&B ballad, Europe writes: “So I was gonna release this song on Valentine’s Day tomorrow, but..I met Beyonce tonight and it sorta changed my life. She is so amazing, yo… it’s ridiculous. Nothing and everything you’d expect at the very same time. She told me she loves my hair, so realistically, I’m keeping it like this forever.. haha. No, I’m kidding (not kidding).” – Ray Padgett
3. Sara Bareilles – Single Ladies
Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is an explosion, an irresistible beat married to a powerful, aggressive vocal (no autotuning here). Chuck Klosterman called it “the first song overtly marketed to urban bachelorette parties,” but plenty of rural bachelors fell sway to the song’s hooks, too. It’s not a song that can be taken over, and Sara Bareilles doesn’t even try – she’s just out to reinvent, turning “Single Ladies” into a jazzy piano-based groove, but making sure not to lose the fun. – Patrick Robbins
2. LP – Halo
At 27 million views and counting, this is probably the most popular video on the list. And for damn good reason. In a truly stunning performance, singer Laura Pergolizzi (LP) stretches “Halo” into a seven-minute tour de force. She looks like Jim Morrison, but sings like Aretha Franklin with a side of Janis Joplin grit. Her knockout vocals sound like they’re starting already at 10, but just wait. Every time you think the song has hit a climactic vocal peak, there’s another coming right behind it. I just wish the video didn’t cut off the explosion of applause when she finally comes down; I want to see how long it lasted. – Ray Padgett
1. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Why Don’t You Love Me
Had Beyoncé started recording in the ‘60s, and been backed by Big Brother and the Holding Company, she probably would have sounded a bit like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals on this ripping 2011 cover of “Why Don’t You Love Me.” In Potter and Co.’s hands, the track is transformed into a hard-pounding bit of acoustic blues that could have been a smash at Woodstock. Filmed for Billboard’s sadly-defunct covers video series, Potter delivers a fiery performance, as if she were channeling not only Beyoncé, but also Queen Bey’s predecessor Tina Turner. – Curtis Zimmermann
Check out the Best Ever Covers of Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, Pink Floyd, and more here.
Crazy In Love by Snow Patrol is a good song
I saw TMBG on the list, my first thought was, I didn’t know they did that, that’s pretty great, but I can’t imagine it’s better than Jonathan Coulton’s clearly very similar silliness. Nope, you were right, TMBG’s version is totally better than JoCo’s. JoCo’s is fun too, though
Not sure if you are familiar with Oh Wonder, but they covered Crazy in Love for BBC Radio 1. Highly recommend it!
Single Ladies by Pomplamoose
Stars covering “Hold Up” (https://soundcloud.com/youarestars/they-dont-love-you-like-i-love-you-beyonce-cover)
Third Eye Blind “Mine” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdcX5AwAEK8)
Crazy in Love by Antony & the Johnsons
Ane Brun – Halo is hands done the best cover and should be number one on this list.