Bruce Springsteen Covers Lorde's 'Royals', "The Boss" Becomes "King Bee"
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Bruce Springsteen paid Lorde a huge compliment on Saturday. Sixty-four year old rock legend Bruce Spingsteen covered Lorde's "Royals" at a concert in Aukland, New Zealand. Springsteen played it as the first song of the night, and New Zealanders went nuts for their fellow Kiwi's hit song.
Springsteen has spoken to the working class for years; in "Born in the USA" he opens with, "Born down in a dead man town/ The first kick I took was when I hit the ground." The sentiment connects nicely with Lorde's, "I'm not proud of my address/ In a torn-up town, no post code envy." The down-and-out, working class vibe connects these two musicians across the forty-seven years that separate them. Then again, Lorde was raised in suburban New Zealand (Devonport, Auckland, to be exact) and signed with Universal when she was thirteen. She is the daughter of a civil engineer and a prize-winning poet. Springsteen, who received his first guitar at thirteen and played to audiences at a trailer park in New Jersey, had a decidedly grittier path into the music industry. Perhaps, then, Springsteen unwittingly claimed a song that has more intrinsic meaning for him than for its composer.
When we study his performance, however, it's regrettable that Springsteen didn't take more time to learn the song before adding his own touches. He plays freely with the melody and pacing, sometimes jamming words into slightly uncomfortable runs. Jet planes, islands, and tigers on a gold leash in particular suffer at his hands. He adds, "Long ago I was the next big thing/ Now I'm in love with being king." This self-referential addition, while it accurately encapsulates Springsteen's long musical career and garners cheers from the crowd, directly conflicts with the message of the song. It's a wink to the audience, a playful salute to his own fame, and a departure from the down-and-out, wistful aesthetic. This is a problem, however, that every older musician faces. At some point you transition from underdog to upperdog, and your youthful songs don't have the same bite. And, of course, Springsteen isn't trying to take over and own "Royals." He's using it to further connect with his audience, and there's no shame in that.
I would love, meanwhile, to see Lorde take on a Springsteen song. Perhaps she could slow "Glory Days" down to a darker croon, singing, "Glory days, well they'll pass you by/ Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye." After all, there have been some notable other inter-generational covers that take on new meaning with each rendition. I was amazed when I realized that Johnny Cash's "Hurt" was actually a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song. The song fits him like an old leather glove.
I also thought that Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" did full justice to the Dylan song. Then again, Adele. She could sing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and wring tears out of Simon Cowell.
Finally, and speaking of Dylan, this might be one of my favorite hoaxes ever. I listened to Rebecca Black's "Friday" covered by a Dylan impersonator, and the song suddenly exploded from one-dimensional to five-dimensional. Never has "Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal/ Seein' everything, the time is goin'/ Tickin' on and on, everybody's rushin'" had such countercultural symbolism. Give it a go, and get ready to feel the feelings. The comments section on YouTube is also entirely hilarious, as listeners recall their experiences with this song in Vietnam and the 60s in general.
While the Lorde and Springsteen tour and album may be months if not years away, we can still appreciate these mash-ups of youth and experience as musicians are tied together by the songs they compose or cover. Without Rebecca Black and (fake) Bob Dylan, we would never recognize the existential truth to the forty-hour workweek. "Everybody… looking forward to the weekend. Partyin', partyin'… yeah."