Miley Cyrus covered Journey recently in a live performance at Chateau Marmont, a luxury celeb-filled hotel located in West Hollywood. During the performance, Cyrus did bare-bones versions of “Faithfully” as well as her own hit “Flowers.” Whereas the original Frontiers version of “Faithfully” is a slow-burn ballad that morphs into an epic song, this iteration of the song keeps things more calm and melancholy. As the silhouette of her gloved hand reaches out emotively, contrasted again with the yellow vintage-style light, the voice and piano cover begins to blossom.
Al Green — Perfect Day (Lou Reed cover)
It’s been 15 years since the last Al Green album. Does “Perfect Day” signal the beginning of his comeback? Unclear — I thought so after his last single, another cover, and that was five years ago. But we can hope. “I loved Lou’s original ‘Perfect Day’—the song immediately puts you in a good mood,” Green explained. “We wanted to preserve that spirit, while adding our own sauce and style.”
At Cover Me, our goal is to share great covers, whether they comes from artists with ten fans or ten million. But I am always vaguely curious what cover songs break out, which among the thousands we hear each year become genuine hits.
I was reminded of this when a recent Country Now headline crossed my Google Alerts: “Luke Combs’ ‘Fast Car’ Cover Is A Streaming Giant.” After only a month, the country star’s fairly faithful take on Tracy Chapman’s 1988 classic has racked up 33 million streams in the U.S. alone. Covers by famous singers come and go, but this one clearly has staying power.
So I decided to try to figure out which other covers from the 21st century have reached this level of breakout success. I’m not privy to Billboard‘s deep-dive chart data, so I used an easy metric available to an amateur like myself: Seeing how many plays something has on Spotify. As good a measure for “a popular song” as you can probably get these days, albeit still imperfect.
I found twenty-four 21st-century covers with over 100 million U.S. streams as of this writing (April 2023). Some very popular covers didn’t quite make the 100m+ threshold: Weezer’s “Africa” (75 million), Iron & Wine’s “Such Great Heights” (76 million), Fall Out Boy and John Mayer’s “Beat It” (89 million). Ryan Adams’ “Wonderwall” only just crossed the 100 million streams mark in the past couple months. And while older covers obviously have an advantage in more time to rack up plays, number one — by a lot! — came out only a few years ago.
Here’s the list of 24. No commentary since, for once, we’re not unearthing buried treasures here. Let’s count down the 24 most-streamed covers on Spotify, with the year of release and number of streams as of this writing. (And it’s possible, even likely, I missed a few, so feel free to suggest additions in the comments — if they qualify, I’ll add ’em.)
Whether you are an auto-tune fan or not, I think we can agree that T-Pain is not afraid to innovate. He popularized the use of auto-tune in songs like “Buy You a Drank” and “Bartender,” mixed singing and rapping into one flow (“Hard&B”), and was a fan-favorite featuring artist on a variety of other work such as Flo Rida’s “Low” and Lil Wayne’s “Got Money.” However, in the Netflix series This Is Pop, T-Pain gets real about his struggles during the backlash of auto-tune, recounting a conversation with Usher that kicked off depression. A turning point in the conversation of the love-hate relationship between musicians, audiences, and auto-tune was T-Pain’s acoustic Tiny Desk performance in 2014, where he showed off that he does not need auto-tune to sound good. Indeed, he has a strong voice all on his own.
Still, there was a sense that T-Pain had something to prove, perhaps motivating him to join the first cast of The Masked Singer in 2019, a television show where celebrities hide their identities behind costumes and sing, only revealing who they are when they are eliminated or when they win. T-Pain ended up revealing himself at the very end, by winning, and surprising the judges. One of his star performances during the season was of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” and that song actually makes another appearance on his new cover album On Top of the Covers.
Brandi Carlile – If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow cover)
This month, Austin City Limits held its eighth annual ACL Hall of Fame ceremony. The inductees were Joe Ely and Sheryl Crow. The latter was covered by, among others, Brandi Carlile, who also delivered Crow’s induction speech. It will surprise no one who’s ever seen Carlile perform on an award show before that she crushes it. (Find another Crow cover from the ceremony, by Jason Isbell, in the Best of the Rest below.)
Has the world finally remembered Journey had hits beyond “Don’t Stop Believin’?” The song wasn’t even their biggest single at the time (at least in the US), but, judging by Spotify play counts, it has now eclipsed any of their other hits. But in the cover world, at least, the great “Separate Ways” is making a comeback. Karine Hannah covered it in February, and now that gets followed up with a killer version by hard-rock band Eva Under Fire.