Last week Miley Cyrus continued her epic run of recent covers during her pre-game performance at this year’s Super Bowl. Along with a cover of “Heart of Glass” by Blondie (which we previously covered here), Miley also performed a modified version of “Mickey” by Toni Basil, “Head Like A Hole” by Nine Inch Nails and “Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill. Her versions of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and “White Wedding” by Billy Idol, featured special appearances by their original singers, to the delight of the crowd.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
2019 marks the return of the riot grrrl. Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, L7, and Team Dresch, all formative riot grrrl bands, have reunited in 2019 to play tours and (in some cases) even release new music. In the era of the #MeToo movement, increasing abortion restrictions, and the struggles of the LGBTQ community to find acceptance, riot grrrls sense that they are needed, and they’re coming back. The riot grrrl movement was a punk musical movement, but it was also a political movement; lyrics took on weighty topics, promoted feminism, and unabashedly commented on politics. This week we celebrate riot grrls, and thank them for speaking up and pushing for equality through their music.
It only seems right to kick off a week of riot grrrl posts with Bikini Kill, often considered the founding band of the movement. Founded in Olympia, Washington, home to the early riot grrrl scene, in 1990, the band is made up of singer Kathleen Hanna, drummer Toby Vail, guitarist Billy Karren, and bassist Kathi Wilcox. Before disbanding in 1997, Bikini Kill recorded five albums, demanding “girls to the front” at their shows. Afterwards, the members went on to other musical projects. Most notably, Hanna became part of Le Tigre, the rock band known for its liberal political statements. Ironically, Hillary Clinton’s campaign tried to use “Rebel Girl” in a campaign video, but Vail requested that it be removed.
In 2006, when Rolling Stone picked the best songs of each year since 1967, Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” was deemed the best of 1993. But this song is not just a song for the ’90s (not to mention a refreshing break from heteronormative lyrics), it’s an emblem, an anthem for everyone fighting injustice in this world.
When she talks, I hear the revolution
In her hips, there’s revolution
When she walks, the revolution’s coming
In her kiss, I taste the revolution
These covers span the spectrum from screaming to singing, and they choose a variety of tempos marked by a steady metronomic drum beat.
Well, it has been quite a week in politics. President Trump got sworn in Friday, then on Saturday hundreds of thousands of protesters marched across the country. We don’t need to go into the many (many) controversies and debates the first few days of the Trump administration have already brought us. You know them, and that’s not really our beat anyway.
What is our beat is cover songs, and a whole lot of politically-minded covers came out in the past week. Some are explicitly covers of songs with political lyrics, like Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs covering Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power” and OK Go covering Morrissey’s “Interesting Drug” (opening lines: “There are some bad people on the rise / They’re saving their own skins by ruining other people’s lives”).
Other covers are only political in the sense that they were released to raise money for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union or Planned Parenthood. Barsuk Records put out a covers comp featuring Nada Surf, David Bazan, Mates of State, The Long Winters (wonderfully titled Sad!). Members of the Philadelphia punk scene came together for a 35-song set of covers by the likes of Laura Stevenson and Jeff Rosenstock, which range from the covers of political artists like Against Me! and Bikini Kill to a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” which would be difficult to find a political take on.