Nov 162018

“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty years.

gettin jiggy wit it covers

Will Smith’s 1998 number-one hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” would have been perfect for our current era of YouTube covers.

First and foremost, the song was massive. It topped the charts for three weeks and won Smith his second-consecutive Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. But more specifically, the simple novelty number boasts an instantly-identifiable hook (“Na na na na na na na…”) that would remain recognizable transposed into any genre. Google searches of “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It metal” and “”Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It bluegrass” would likely turn up a dozen options apiece.

But “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” came out in 1997, eight years before YouTube’s founding. Though a massive, inescapable hit – if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t fit this feature – almost no one covered it. We’ll get to the few who did below, but what strikes me most is how this dearth of “Jiggy” covers opens an interesting window into how drastically YouTube has changed the cover-song landscape.

For comparison’s sake, take another pop-rap novelty number that went to number-one well into the cover-video boom: LMFAO’s insufferable 2011 song “Party Rock Anthem.” It offers much of the same appeal – if you can call it that – as “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”: a goofy, dumb earworm with hooks simple enough to remain recognizable whether played on kazoo or accordion. And YouTube offers literally thousands of covers. All the most-watched YouTube-cover acts have done it. Karmin, the rap-covers duo so popular they played Saturday Night Live, tackled it. So did Walk Off the Earth, the band that went viral with the video of all its members playing “Somebody That I Used to Know” on one guitar. Postmodern Jukebox was only just getting off the ground in 2011, or else I’m sure they’d have a 1930s-swing version topping a million views too.

But pre-YouTube, the market for novelty covers of guilty pleasures barely existed. Every couple years “Weird Al” Yanvokic would cram a dozen such hits into a polka medley, but beyond that pickings were slim. I’m not necessarily lamenting that, or claiming the world really needs tongue-in-cheek “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” covers – just noting why they barely exist.

There are, of course, a few exceptions. And they are…

Phish – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It (Will Smith cover)

The only well-known artist to ever cover the song, Phish performed this exactly one time, on November 20, 1998. It’s a hoot to hear once, though I don’t know that it merits multiple listens. Drummer Jon Fishman, who raps exactly as well as you’d expect, reads the lyrics off cue cards, then plays a vacuum cleaner solo while the band repeats the hook.

Tundra – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It (Will Smith cover)

U.K. party band Tundra brings a touch of funk, but they don’t really embrace their big band and saxophone player to change the song all that much. To be honest, their rote delivery feels rather joyless for a party band. YouTube cover pickings are slim, though, and this well-produced video illustrates the sort of slick take that would abound were the song released today.

Matt Ward – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It (Will Smith cover)

The other major YouTube-covers genre not yet explored: earnest white dudes on acoustic guitars. If the song had come out a decade later, there would be hundreds like that. Best of the few that do exist comes from Matt Ward (no, not that Matt Ward). He does an impressive job keeping up with the lyrics, and has a good enough voices to give the “Na na na”s some heart. Keep it going until the last thirty seconds, where he has his own jazzy vocal scatting.

Tom Lukas – Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It (Will Smith cover)

Lukas’ work with the loop pedal setting up his rhythm is pretty impressive; watch close after the beatboxing as he adds little guitar lines atop each other. Once the lyrics hit, this unfortunately devolves into a pedestrian acousti-rap party trick.

Bonus: Pearl and the Beard – Will Smith Medley

The “Jiggy” chorus only enters at the end, but this trio’s joyful run through a half-dozen Smith hits is pretty much the definition of a novelty cross-genre covers video that works. It blends silliness with serious musicianship, making a goofy gag something actually enjoyable to listen to.

Check out more installments of ‘Covering the Hits’ – featuring songs that have been covered more often – here.

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