Getting a cover right is a tricky thing. Stay too faithful to the original, and it can border on karaoke that pales in comparison; too radical a departure, and you’re sometimes just left longing for the real deal. It’s a balance that LA’s very own Phoebe Bridgers has mastered to perfection – along with her two solo records ‘Punisher’ and ‘Stranger in the Alps’ and her collaborations boygenius (with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus) and Better Oblivion Community Center (with Conor Oberst), she has released a shedload of great covers.
The very best thing about virtually any cover by Phoebe Bridgers is her effortless knack for taking on any song, no matter how ubiquitous it is – and once she’s finished, it’s like she wrote the thing herself. Listen to some of her best spins on existing songs below.
Sheryl Crow, ‘If It Makes You Happy’
Playing at West Hollywood’s Troubadour two years ago, Phoebe Bridgers took on a titan-level anthem by country-pop icon Sheryl Crow; a song that reflects on the pressures of a rapidly rising star and the alienation of playing for mosquito-like crowds “a long way from here”. When those thumping drums power into life after the first verse gets the melancholy Bridgers treatment, it’s a proper lighters-in-the air-moment. All together now: “If it makes you haaaaaappppyyyy…”
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, ‘Shallow’
There can be a hundred people in the room, and 99 of them could never dream of reaching the high notes of ‘Shallow’ without the help of helium – but luckily one of them is Phoebe Bridgers. With her Better Oblivion Community Center bandmate – Bright Eyes’ very own Conor Oberst – taking on Bradley Cooper’s duet role, Bridgers belted out Lady Gaga’s infamous warble live at Brooklyn Steel, with a bonus Nick Zinner guitar solo. Move over Ally; a new star is born.
The 1975, ‘Girls’
Bridgers sings harmonies and vocals on four songs from The 1975’s new record; you can arguably hear the influence of her second album ‘Punisher’ in certain pockets of ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’. And earlier this year, the musician covered their 2013 song ‘Girls’ for The Faces’s ‘75 tribute concert.
Wheatus, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’
Take the sort of scrappy classic that’s usually begging to be roared along to at a grubby pub’s indie disco night, and make it desperately, devastatingly sad?
“No problem at all” – Phoebe Bridgers, 2014.
Neutral Milk Hotel, ‘Two-Headed Boy (Part 2)’
Appearing on Amsterdam’s 2 Meter Sessions, Bridgers covered Neutral Milk Hotel’s beautifully manic closer from ‘In An Aeroplane over the Sea’. Taking Jeff Magnum’s anguished rasp to a softer, more reflective place, she somehow succeeds in making ‘Two Headed Boy (Part Two) sound even bleaker.
Tom Waits, ‘Georgia Lee’
As part of a Tom Waits tribute album released last year, the LA artist took on ‘Georgia Lee’. The sorrowful song talks of racial inequality and ‘missing white woman syndrome’ – when the media gives far more extensive press coverage to missing cases involving white women. ‘Georgia Lee’ is named after a 12-year-old black girl named Georgia Lee Moses, who was murdered four years after a white child called Polly Klaas was killed in the same neighbourhood. Klaas’ death was met with national mourning, tributes, and a foundation set up in her name; Moses’ death wasn’t widely acknowledged. “Georgia Lee did not get any real attention,” Waits told LA Weekly in 1999, “and I wanted to write a song about it.”
The Killers, ‘Read My Mind’
In 2018, boygenius covered this stone-cold banger from The Killers’ second album ‘Sam’s Town’ during a session for KCRW, complete with a stripped-back interpretation and bewitching harmonies. She’s a big Killers fan, it turns out – she’s also covered ‘Human’ with her other band Better Oblivion Community Center.
Though ‘Torn’ was popularised by Natalie Imbruglia, her well-known version is actually a cover in the first place – originally by the US rock band Ednaswap. It’s this grunge-flecked version that Bridgers pays tribute to in her own spin on one of pop music’s best known covers.
Bright Eyes, ‘Bad Blood’
It’s no secret that Phoebe Bridgers loves Bright Eyes – long before teaming up with Conor Oberst as a creative collaborator, she was an avowed fan of his band. And so it follows that she’s covered a whole bunch of Bright Eyes and Conor Oberst songs over the years – including ‘First Day of my Life’, ‘Lua’ and ‘Mamah Borthwick (A Sketch)’. Her version of Bright Eyes deep cut ‘Bad Blood’ is possibly the best of all.
Daniel Johnston, ‘Peek-a-Boo’
Lo-fi cult hero Daniel Johnston first gained wider prominence when he moved to Austin, and at gigs in the Texan city, Bridgers frequently covers ‘Peek-a-Boo’ from the late musician’s third cassette ‘The What of Whom’.
Sinead O’Connor, ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’
During a lockdown Zoom session for Banquet Records, Bridgers told fans about her love of Sinead O’Connor, an artist well “before her time”. Delving into the Irish artist’s back catalogue, Bridgers plucked out ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’ – a political song written following the death of the black British man Colin Roach. Though the lyrics don’t reference Roach directly, the song addresses police brutality, and O’Connor dedicated her album ‘I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got’ to his family.
John Prine, ‘Summer’s End’
The influence of US folk-country singer’ John Prine’s twisted and often humourous music is clear to see in Phoebe Bridgers’ own lyricism – particularly the darkest moments of ‘Punisher’ – and this cover of the late country singer’s ‘Summer’s End’ is up there with her best.
Bruce Springsteen, ‘I’m On Fire’
Back in 2013, Phoebe Bridgers posted a magical take on Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ cut on her Soundcloud, recorded during a live show at the LA venue Echoplex. An intimate song that speaks to a deep-rooted pang of desire, it’s one of his most understated classics. And elsewhere in the depths of Soundcloud, Bridgers has also shared a version of Japandroids’ ‘The House that Heaven Built’.
The Cure, ‘Friday I’m In Love’
Remember when different days of the week signified different things, rather than the yearly calendar just existing as one large amorphous mush? Remember when people used to call Wednesday ‘hump day’ – a tradition best left in the past, perhaps? Anyway, let this Cure cover of take you back to a more structured place.