I’ve long admired The Onion AV Club as they’ve consistently offered some of the smartest, most incisive and funniest criticism of movies, music and pop culture around. Some time ago, The Onion AV Club created the Undercover video series. And the concept behind it is pretty interesting – every season, the website’s writers and editors come up with a list of songs that they would love to see contemporary bands and artists cover. The staff then invites bands and artist to stop by their Chicago studios, have that band or artist choose a song from the AV Club list for that season. and then the band records the song live. Once a song is covered, it’s crossed off the list; so, if a band is invited later on in their Undercover season, their choices are much more limited than if they were invited earlier on in the season. Obviously, what this does is prevent having several bands cover the same exact song over a season; but also interestingly enough, this forces artists out of their comfort zone to interesting or just outright strange results – such as They Might Be Giants’ gloriously weird and fun cover of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” and Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater’s collaborative cover of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”
Recently, The Onion AV Club invited New Brunswick, NJ’s Screaming Females into their Chicago studios to record their cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Although, the New Jersey-based trio’s cover is a (mostly) straightforward cover, the band had to alter the arrangement to account for their instrumentation – so the hip-hop-inspired/cheerleader chant-like bridge is replaced by a blistering guitar solo by Paternoster. Interestingly, what makes Screaming Females’ cover compelling to me is that it adds a layer of grit and grunge to a prepackaged, soulless and vapid pop song; it also manages to reveal what countless others have said before me – that Swift has an ability to write a catchy, hook-laden pop song. But perhaps much more important to me, it breathes a new life into a familiar, overblown and overexposed song.