Whether You're High or Low
January 9, 2014 1:03 PM   Subscribe

CHVRCHES (previously) covers "Tightrope" by Janelle Monáe (previously). At the Billboard Women in Music 2013 event. With Janelle Monáe in attendance. No pressure. [SLYT]
posted by Mothlight (67 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
i'm going to watch this
posted by Quart at 1:05 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh man I was concerned that it was going to be awful and funkless like when a dude with an acoustic guitar sings a rap song but they really made it their own in a way that works. Nice job, CHVRCHES.
posted by troika at 1:09 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like CHVRCHES, I love Janelle Monáe, and my love for weird covers (especially from one genre of music to another) knows no bounds, but that was painful to listen to. Probably the first cover song I haven't liked in ages.
posted by mathowie at 1:09 PM on January 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

I am amazed that the singer for CHVRCHES has a law degree and masters in journalism.
posted by shothotbot at 1:11 PM on January 9, 2014

Wow. Love this.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:12 PM on January 9, 2014

The original music video danced around the meaning of the lyrics of that song. Tightrope is a beautiful comment on (female) stardom and pop music, and CHVRCHES put it in an excellent context by performing it live at a Billboard event.

They did their own thing to one of my favorite funky grooves, but they did their thing good.
posted by carsonb at 1:16 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I keep trying to write a comment about how much I love Janelle Monáe, but then I get so excited I just start pounding the keyboard and oi;cfrw4o;ksfd;jlk vasdzc 9oiasd f;lkasdf9asdf ;lkja dcl;kadsf9pawerl;k adsl;nkasdf jiawerouasdf l;kna dfs9uwerl;k a dsu...
posted by jph at 1:16 PM on January 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

posted by Kitteh at 1:18 PM on January 9, 2014

omg I swear that there's some sort of conspiracy to make the most plodding music possible and then see who in the band can move the least
posted by Benjy at 1:19 PM on January 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm in mathowie's boat. That was kinda uninspired and dirgey. Seems like it lost Janelle's spark of genius.
posted by zsazsa at 1:19 PM on January 9, 2014

Is that singer generally regarded as a good singer? Such bland vocals.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:21 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

It just feels like they sucked out everything that makes Tightrope so ridiculously good.

And you just know if their version had come out first, it would've been all over the place and used for moody pan shots in shitty teen drama and...aarrrgh.

(This is all because I am just like jph and am barely refraining from smashing the keyboard in glee over Janelle. Because fdksa;fjdsaflksdjfiogjfanv 093r5jsof)
posted by Katemonkey at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

What there is, is a conspiracy to make CHVRCHES happen.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't love it as much as I thought I might based on the description, which only means I think it is very, very interesting and good at it what it was. (I forgot that I "appreciate" CHVRCHES more than I actually like them.)

But I can totally get behind the idea that Janelle Monáe should be covered and adored at any and all times -- and especially events celebrating women in music.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:24 PM on January 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm going to watch this in a minute, when I get back from grabbing lunch, but I will say I'm a little afraid. Of watching it, not lunch.

But whatever. She put on the best show I have seen in years and nothing can change that.
posted by rtha at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2014

... guys, over to the right, there's a link to a Mary Lambert performance of "Body Love" and it is amazing.
posted by grabbingsand at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Listening to their live version of The Mother We Share from the same evening, I think it just suffers from not being able to be as tightly put together. There's always some disconnect in going from the studio to a version you can produce live, and there you have it.

The Bones Of What You Believe was a great album, and this Tightrope cover is sincere. The original is much more fun, but shamefully I'd never gotten the meaning until I saw the above.

You could write lots of essays on why North Atlantic White Culture by and large doesn't seem to be capable of coping with funk, but to pin all of that on a single twee yet very good scottish band I think is a bit much ;).
posted by pmv at 1:33 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I didn't think it was bad, and I kind of like how the slower tempo emphasizes the lyrics. But I totally went back and listened to Janelle Monae's version right afterwards.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:35 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh! Wait! This is my chance to show y'all this amazing Janelle performance on Jools Holland.

That's how to do it.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oof. They took an amazingly powerful funk song and turned it something that sounds like a Coldplay song. Not a fan.

I've seen some of the stuff that CHVRCHES has said & written, and all that's pretty rad, but I can't get behind their music. Nope.
posted by entropone at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

no love for 'murrica on that Jools Holland video. does not work.
posted by GrapeApiary at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2014

okay, i watched it
posted by Quart at 1:40 PM on January 9, 2014

Okay, look, this is a weird thing for a white person to say, but I feel really weird about someone taking this really powerful, mobilizing song and turning it into a sad indie white girl song. Tightrope really, really reads to me as a song that is about the power of racism, not just some generic oppression by "The Man". I know there are lots and lots of readings of any given song, but the video emphasizes mental "health"-as-white-supremacy, resistance within institutions, and the power of African-American cultural resistance. (I don't think there's one white person in that video, and it has a LOT of crowd scenes.) "Whiteness" is pretty much present in the shape of the scary-mirror-faces and in the nurse dressed all in white (in sharp contrast to everyone else). I don't think that's the sole theme of the album, but it's kind of a big one. And when you look at all Janelle Monae's videos, they really are about centering young women of color and centering cultural production by people of color. Both Electric Lady and The Archandroid are these albums of joyful resistance and radical leadership and collectivity ("so you think I'm alone, because alone's the only way to be!!!" - that is, like, one of the best radical declarations of community in a song ever - it's like, in your face, radical individualist consumer capitalism.)

The woman from Chvrches seems like a smart person with some decent politics and I'm not saying that white people should never cover songs by black artists, but I feel like this is a less-good choice. I think that white women have a history of seeing powerful and joyful cultural production by black women and instead of being supportive audiences trying to elbow their way in.

Also it's a weird cover. And not, to my mind, in a great way, but in a flattening way that actually takes out the joyful resistance in the song.

The thing is, some people have talked about me like they know all about me, etc, but my experience as a white social outcast isn't the same.
posted by Frowner at 1:42 PM on January 9, 2014 [18 favorites]

i'd no prior knowledge of Janelle Monáe, and i'm digging the original version, but i just can't get into CHVRCHES in general or this cover in particular. the music just sounds so... sterile? to my ears.
posted by echocollate at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nice effort, weak cover. That girl just can't sing.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

@echocollate: Janelle Monae is extremely worth getting into! Seek out "The Archandroid. " I envy you the first listen that awaits.
posted by erlking at 1:45 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I liked it, but maybe not loved it. One of the reasons I dig CHRVCHES is the contrast between the sort of jaggedness of electronic sounds and the saccharine, rounded quality of Lauren Mayberry's voice. It's the same sort of textural variation that I think draws me to groups like Sleigh Bells and Crystal Castles (though they employ a different contrast in texture, it's still the contrast that I like). I've never seen CHRVCHES live though I've seen some live recordings, and I think their music suffers a bit from the limitations to the amount of sound 3 people can put out in a live setting (versus a studio album), and I wonder if that is why some people don't like this. Interestingly, I've seen Sleigh Bells live, and they don't have this kind of problem at all, though I imagine they're exhausted by the end of a tour. Come to think of it, I think this might be because the CHRVCHES album material is pretty heavily layered in a way that it's hard to reproduce live.
posted by axiom at 1:47 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

By damn, I shall then!
posted by echocollate at 1:50 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Also see this post, echocollate, and this one and - well, just click the janellemonae tag in this post.

I did not love this, but I thought it was an interesting cover/reinterpretation. I might have loved it if I didn't know of the original? But Ms. Monae seemed to enjoy it, so okay.
posted by rtha at 1:56 PM on January 9, 2014

I liked it, even if it did strip the song from its political tones as Frowner argues, as always liked that sort of remade eighties gothic sound, but yeah, this is not a song CHRVCHES needs to bring out as a single or something. As a homage it works, anything beyond that and it becomes uncomfortable.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:57 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, it's flatter and different than the insanely awesome Monae tune, but a good cover should be its own thing. CHVRCHES owns it as their own when they play it, so bully for them. Better? No, different. What I appreciate about it is that if you remove all the funky radonkulousnous of the original, it holds up as a pretty good song.

See also: Cowboy Junkies flat and different cover of Velvet Underground's Sweet Jane, Tori Amos doing a flat and different Smells Like Teen Spirit.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

FYI, one can currently see that amazing Janelle performance on Jools Holland over here
posted by jazon at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this.
posted by DynamiteToast at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2014

So I'm going to be that asshole who seems like he is bragging by telling a story remotely on topic but I don't care because it's that important to me. Imagine the Jools Holland performance but on a stage about a third the size and imagine being closer to Monáe than her feedback speakers were. And imagine 100 minutes of it.

That was my experience of her performance at the Vic in Chicago this October. I hadn't been that excited by an experience (at least in a positive, sober way) in many, many years, and even watching the similar video of the experience right now triggers a weird flashback of the feeling such that my heart starts to race and my knees get a little weak.

And yes, I'm prone to textual hyperbole. But this was the real deal The show was a Monday night and I was exhausted going in and I had to take the next day off work -- not because I was out late but because I went home after wards and could not possibly sleep.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:31 PM on January 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

I like them both separately but this is not a combination that worked, unfortunately.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:35 PM on January 9, 2014

I liked it alright. It does change the tone and message of the song, but that's massively helped by what she said at the beginning: that she talked with Janelle about it and Janelle asked them to play it. And I think "cold and clinical and a bit mournful" is no less valid an aesthetic choice than "joyful and defiant", and I've always been on board with the Dylan take that there's no real "definitive" version of a song, so... yeah. Decent cover!
posted by jason_steakums at 2:36 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

As a fan of both Monae and Chvrches, I liked it, but didn't love it. They definitely did their own thing with it, which is what a good cover should do. And as for the political part, agreed that the fact that Monae asked them to play it makes it less appropriative.

It does make me wonder what the experience of seeing them do their own material live will be. On the other hand, I once thought the same thing about Depeche Mode, and how wrong I was.
posted by immlass at 2:42 PM on January 9, 2014

I wasn't exactly blown away by it as a cover. It lacks the emotive power of the original which isn't necessarily a bad thing but if you are going to choose to do a cover I think you need to be careful as to how you reinterpret a piece.

Chvrches is a strange group, in many ways they have a sterility that is kinda troubling. Lauren's voice is strong in a lot of ways but there is just a lack of emotive quality that seems to work in some of their technopop studio work but just leaves me wanting something more when I see them perform live. I know that not every singer really wants to leave their hearts upon on the stage but there is just something that is just so guarded about her performances that leaves me kinda cold.
posted by vuron at 2:48 PM on January 9, 2014

MCMikeNamara, I think I might hate you. We saw her at the Warfield, which is kinda big.

BUT! When she started crowdsurfing? And was swimming across all the people who had floor tickets? It was like the whole building somehow filled up with even more love and joy and happiness than there was when she started the show, and it was amazing. Just amazing.
posted by rtha at 2:51 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

No hate allowed. That Warfield show was transformative. I floated for days.

I liked this cover. But I liked the hugging best.
posted by feckless at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow. They managed to rob the song of any of the energy or fun that Monae brings, so . . . yay?

I got no time for Chvrches. Way too thin (especially but not exclusively the singer's voice). Not enough going on.

But Monae, man. She's the real damn deal.
posted by uberchet at 3:40 PM on January 9, 2014

I love Tightrope, I love CHVRCHES, I loved watching Janelle Monae's Coachella set last year, I love Lauren Mayberry's singing in this, but... oh dear. It's a valid reinterpretation but it feels like it's lost everything that makes both artists great. Like the thing I feel both of them share in common is an energy, a verve, that's totally lacking here. Maybe if they spent more time with it, though, it could be a lot better—it feels very skeletal at the moment.

Whatever. I still love both of them.
posted by chrominance at 3:56 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

How much of a class act is Janelle Monae, standing throughout and making such a show of really loving it. Love the idea of her as cool big sister to a bunch of younger musicians.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Watching Monáe's version for the nth time. I like watching her use her mutant power to turn the ground under her feet into a frictionless surface.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:14 PM on January 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't like how their cover sounds (if it weren't for the words, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't recognize the song), but I really like what's going in that video. I love everything I see of Janelle Monáe.
posted by straight at 4:25 PM on January 9, 2014

Janelle Monae and CHVRCHES were on the same episode of Later...with Jools Holland back in September 2013. So maybe that's the genesis of this.
posted by larrybob at 4:35 PM on January 9, 2014

Haters gonna hate. I loved this. The change in mood really allowed for the lyrics to shine in a different context and take on a new layer of meaning. I'm really glad you posted this. Thank you.
posted by hippybear at 4:48 PM on January 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think it's unfair to compare the energy levels between the two performances simply because CHVRCHES isn't looking to hit the same mark. I like the fact that it's nothing like the original in a way that focuses on aspects of the song other than Monáe's distaff JB performance. And Lauren Mayberry is clearly nervous through the first verse.

One thing I will say is that I appreciate Mayberry's honest nervousness over Monáe's opacity. The most recent Wax Poetics featured the latter on the cover and in an interview that contained more quotes from her collaborators than from her. If she wants people to focus on her work and public persona rather than on herself, that's fine, but by being so "mysterious," as the magazine characterized Monáe, it inevitably pulls focus back to Janelle Monáe and away from Cindi Mayweather.
posted by the sobsister at 4:53 PM on January 9, 2014

I am a heathen who does not know Janelle Monáe at all (beyond the name and the love many friends have for her), but I was front row at the CHRVCHES show here in Chicago a few months back.

CHRVCHES were remarkably substantial and engaging in performance--more than I was expecting, given the apparently lack of depth in the music. But Mayberry is drawing on an actual canon of deliberately sterile, but undeniably just short of histrionic, performance, such as you get in early Banshees and bands like Joy Division, and she is well aware of what she is borrowing from. There's an intelligence to the entire band that belies the slick vacuousness of their songs. It's a particular energy that, I suppose, belongs to a middle class British-American youth culture. It certainly calls to mind the sort of adolescent experiences I had, which is what I want from catching pop music. Finely crafted and highly produced, but with a different connection between the musicians and the song than you see with pop princesses (like Katy Perry), and very self-aware.

In this clip, Mayberry seems far less sure of herself than she has seen in any other CHRVCHES performance that I've seen (live or recorded), so I take her "I spoke to Janelle the other day and she was very nice, but I feel like I should have just said 'Don't hate it.'" at face value--that she's aware that most reactions will be along the lines of those I'm seeing in this thread.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:59 PM on January 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think I've heard of either CHVRCHES or that other lady. Tightrope was an ELO song. Get off my lawn!
posted by Chuffy at 5:00 PM on January 9, 2014

You don't own the lawn anymore, it is her's by the right of conquest
posted by The Whelk at 5:22 PM on January 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

Is this the thread where I mention I'm going to see Janelle Monae on Saturday? Because I am. On Saturday. Janelle Monae. squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaal that is assuming I don't explode with glee before then
posted by WidgetAlley at 6:16 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like the cover's downtempo, triphoppy vibe more than the original's squeaky clean efficient pop production.
posted by signal at 7:42 PM on January 9, 2014

I think the thing to keep in mind about this cover is WHERE it was being performed and WHO the audience was before we start we start kvetching about "It doesn't have a good beat and I can't dance to it." This was at the 2013 Billboard Women in Music Event, an event presumably attended by a large number of Music Industry executives and VIPs. These are the same people who create the tensions in female pop music stardom that Monae's lyrics in Tightrope are examining.

As one of the honorees at the event, I think it was very telling that Monae asked CHVRCHES to cover Tightrope. The one thing about their cover that stood out was that it put the lyrics front and center without the excitement and visual energy we've come to associate with Janelle Monae. Those executives were being forced to LISTEN to Tightrope without being able to beg off any awareness of the political content of the song by claiming to be "distracted" or "overwhelmed . Monae & Mayberry essentially told a room full of people who could make or break their careers "You still don't get it, do you? We'll break it down nice and easy and slow for you so that MAYBE it will sink into your dull minds that what you're doing is WRONG."
posted by KingEdRa at 9:54 PM on January 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

Bleh. I'm not a huge fan of Chvrches as is, but this doesn't even do what they do well well. Janelle Monáe trying SO HARD to dance to them is really cute and charitable though.
posted by threeants at 11:26 PM on January 9, 2014

Musically speaking I'm a major not-fan of covers that take out everything distinctive about the original and then don't replace it with anything.
posted by threeants at 11:29 PM on January 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I dunno, I guess I feel like there's just kind of no there there? There's nothing to really critique because it sounds like Janelle Monáe told them they were going to be covering Tightrope fifteen minutes before the curtains went up and they went "oh shit" and pulled something together.
posted by threeants at 11:31 PM on January 9, 2014

what could more accurately be described as "I like watching her uncanny, flawless James Brown tribute."

That was an education. It's eerie.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:50 PM on January 9, 2014

There is an uncanny, flawless James Brown tribute there, granted, but that's only one piece of the puzzle, much like the uncanny, flawless James Brown tribute within what Prince does. There is so much more as well in Monae's performances, like Afro-Futurism, and the way she engages critically but playfully with race and gender.

KingEdRa's contextualization of the event made the cover make a lot more sense to me. I was in mathowie's camp on this one until I read that.
posted by umbú at 10:02 AM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

As one of the honorees at the event, I think it was very telling that Monae asked CHVRCHES to cover Tightrope. The one thing about their cover that stood out was that it put the lyrics front and center without the excitement and visual energy we've come to associate with Janelle Monae. Those executives were being forced to LISTEN to Tightrope without being able to beg off any awareness of the political content of the song by claiming to be "distracted" or "overwhelmed . Monae & Mayberry essentially told a room full of people who could make or break their careers "You still don't get it, do you? We'll break it down nice and easy and slow for you so that MAYBE it will sink into your dull minds that what you're doing is WRONG."

So actually upthread I was totally wrong to critique this cover for political reasons!!!! Totally wrong!!! Which just goes to show that "as a white person" as I always say, I should maybe run my mouth (or fingers) a little less.

And on that note, since everyone else that Janelle Monae has chosen to collaborate with (whose work I heard or seen) is brilliant on their own terms, I will have to revisit CHVRCHES.
posted by Frowner at 10:34 AM on January 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Man, I would be freaking out if Janelle Monae was anywhere near me while I was doing ANYTHING. She is fierce.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

how are there scores of scummy indie dudes sending this girl sexually charged fanmail. she looks like a baby and even janelle monae dwarfs her. what the fuck man.
posted by Quart at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

posted by womandad at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2014

CHVRCHES - Bela Lugosi's Dead (Bauhaus Cover)
Well that's more like it.
posted by shothotbot at 6:17 AM on January 28, 2014

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