The slowed-down cover of a happy song has been a staple of film and television for the better part of the new millennium, and Famous In Love uses the device to chilling affect in its pilot episode. Any pop music fan won't be surprised to learn who sings the cover of 'California Dreamin'" in Famous In Love, as the foreboding version of the 60's classic fits nicely with the rest of her catalog of depressing, but danceable, music.
The original "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & The Papas is an upbeat, if melancholy, song about wishing to escape to Los Angeles. The cover of "California Dreamin'" featured at the beginning and the end of the first episode of Famous In Love sounds more like a funeral dirge than a pop song until the thumping drums come in during the chorus. The cover itself is performed by chart-topping singer and songwriter Sia, who has built a career out of performing music that balances fun pop sensibilities with some emotionally heart-wrenching lyrics, such as her smash single "Chandelier."
Sia's cover of "California Dreamin'" is the perfect way to introduce Famous In Love, in an episode that starts with someone wishing for new opportunities in the world of Hollywood but ends by reminding protagonist, Paige Townsen, that she (and everyone) should be careful what they wish for.
Sia's version substitutes the folksy guitars, soft snares, and vocal harmonizing of the The Mamas & The Papas version for a somber piano, expansive orchestra, and a haunting choral arrangement. Fitting the apocalyptic tone of her cover, Sia's "California Dreamin'" was originally recorded for the disaster film San Andreas. The context of the film, detailing a massive earthquake that ravishes L.A. and San Francisco, flips the meaning of the original song from wishing about a future on the coast to missing a California that wasn't devastated by natural disaster.
While the stakes in Famous In Love aren't as high as "An earthquake is about to swallow us whole and only Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson can save us," it isn't long before the dream of California becomes tainted for Paige Townsen. Paige may have been thinking of the optimistic original version of "California Dreamin'" when she first steps onto the set of Locked, the movie she's starring in, but soon the dread of Sia's version becomes the perfect soundtrack to the seedy underbelly of fame that Paige witnesses firsthand.
Depressing, soundtrack-to-the-apocalypse covers of pop songs are nothing new, and some may argue that they are being overdone. Be it Lorde's cover of "Everybody Wants To Rule The World", Lana Del Rey doing the Disney classic "Once Upon A Dream", or Beyoncé's slowed-down cover of her own "Crazy In Love", there's no shortage of pop stars taking classic songs and cranking the eeriness up to 10.
In Famous In Love, the song captures the feeling that it's just Paige's world that is coming to an end – which it is. Her old world is ending, and she's embarking on a whole new journey in an overwhelming new environment. While she's bringing a hopeful attitude with her to Hollywood, it's likely Paige won't be "California Dreamin'" after facing the hardships of fame face-on.