From Cat Power to Coldplay: the best, worst and weirdest Rihanna covers

The Last Shadow Puppets turned vampiric, Harry Styles harked back to prog rock and Patti Smith was overcome by nerves … How 15 acts laid down their love for the queen of R&B

Continuing her run of sublime cover versions (there have been two albums of them), the second single from Chan Marshall AKA Cat Power’s new album, Wanderer, is a subtle, reworked version of Rihanna’s Stay. Marshall first heard the song in an ex-boyfriend’s car, but it was a few years later when she became attached to it – once performing it 16 times during a karaoke session.

Cat Power is far from the first to pay homage to the woman responsible for one of the best pop songs ever (that would be Umbrella), with Stay being one of the most popular choices.

Cat Power: Stay – video

Here’s a run down of the best, quirkiest and most unexpected Rihanna covers, in ascending order of greatness.

14. Work (Ariana Grande)

Ariana Grande: Work (Rihanna cover) – video

OK, so this isn’t a real cover – it was part of Grande’s superb impressions skit when she hosted SNL. But I am including it because it still makes me laugh. Incidentally, this whole segment proves how talented Grande is, both in singing and comedy. Prepare to be amazed at her Shakira impression in particular. Watch the whole thing here.

13. Diamonds (Zola Jesus)

Zola Jesus: Diamonds (Rihanna cover) – video

Yes, this does sound like Zola Jesus just going off on one with a drum machine in her bedroom but somehow it works. The vibe is very much: Let’s have fun with this and bang it up on SoundCloud. Jesus almost bellows the chorus like she’s trashed, but that – and the almost cartoon reverb at the end – comes off as kind of endearing, rather than awful.

12. FourFiveSeconds (One Direction)

One Direction: FourFiveSeconds (Rihanna cover) – video

If you’re going to cover a Rihanna song, then picking the one with Paul McCartney and Kanye West is a ballsy move. But that’s the one One Direction plumped for. Debatable whether Louis should have had his mic switched on, but ’twas ever thus.

11. Diamonds (Metallica)

Metallica: Diamonds (Rihanna cover) – video

After professing their love for Beyoncé (“How can you not like Beyoncé?”), Metallica prove themselves Rihanna fans. “We played a show with her … She was awesome. A lot of energy, great band”, says Lars Ulrich, before the band sing along to Diamonds during a segment of Apple’s Carpool Karaoke.

10. Stay (Thirty Seconds to Mars)

Thirty Seconds to Mars: Stay (Rihanna cover) – video

Jared Leto often sounds as if he’s singing through congested sinuses, but here there is enough of a Pixies edge to his vocals to make it work. It’s the rendition that your high-school boyfriend would play, pulling up on a motorcycle with a ghetto blaster secured to the back, before removing his Aviators, kissing you and breaking your heart six months down the line.

9. Love on the Brain (MØ)

MØ: Love on the Brain (Rihanna cover) – video

The Danish singer absolutely smashes a rendition of the doo-wop-inspired Love on the Brain during a session on the BBC’s Live Lounge. Apart from the final note, but let’s not dwell too much on that when the rest of it work, work, work, work, work works.

8. SOS (The Last Shadow Puppets)

The Last Shadow Puppets: SOS (Rihanna cover) – video

Can’t say SOS is the best Rihanna cut (my favourite thing about it is that it knocked Daniel Powter’s Bad Day off the top of the charts), but Alex Turner and Miles Kane transformed it into three minutes of unhinged, vampiric synth-saturation during a Radio 1 Live Lounge outing. The Tainted Love sample here is in the vein of the Marilyn Manson version rather than Soft Cell’s original. As with all the best cross-gender covers, the lyrics aren’t changed.

7. Kiss It Better (Miguel)

Miguel: Kiss It Better (Rihanna cover) – video

Crowds at SXSW in 2016 got treated to a sexy version of Kiss It Better by Miguel. They did have to help out a lot, directed in a call-and-response chorus. It wasn’t great that Miguel got out his phone in the middle of it and started recording himself. But, hey, it’s Instagram’s world now, and we’re all just living in it.

6. Man Down (Leona Lewis)

Leona Lewis: Man Down (Rihanna cover) – video

Man Down is a reggae song from the album Loud, with a protagonist who shoots, well, a man down (“in Central Station / In front of a big ol’ crowd”). Lewis reworked her hit Better in Time with ragga elements before slipping into a rendition of Man Down on a number of live session performances around 2011, and it hits the spot.

5. Wild Thoughts (Harry Styles)

Harry Styles: Wild Thoughts (Rihanna cover) – video

Technically this is a DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna song, but I’m including it. Following the blueprint of his solo debut album, Styles changes Wild Thoughts into a 70s prog-rockish number. Disappointingly, he does not attempt the rap.

4. We Found Love (Coldplay)

Coldplay: We Found Love (Rihanna cover) – video

I should start by saying nothing can top the original. But Coldplay go full Coldplay here, and, though Chris Martin is unsuited to the vocal, the piano intermissions add a different mood. A box drum is involved and it’s a shambles, but a cute one. It also very much sounds as if they listened back to this and then wrote Sky Full of Stars.

3. Diamonds (Sia)

Sia: Diamonds (Rihanna cover) – video

There’s a very simple reason Sia does such a great job on Diamonds, and that’s because she wrote the song (in just 14 minutes). There’s an acoustic version out there and an even earlier sketch, but proper, fleshed-out, choreographed performances have featured in recent shows. In many ways, I think this could have done just as well as Rihanna’s version, but it was written at a time (2012) when Sia was very firm on her wish to be out of the spotlight, and producers Benny Blanco and StarGate had been specifically tasked with creating a song for Rihanna.

2. Love on the Brain (Kelly Clarkson)

Kelly Clarkson: Love on the Brain (Rihanna cover) – video

One of the highlights of Rihanna’s 2016 album Anti, Love on the Brain suits Clarkson’s voice – always one of the best in pop – perfectly. Even better, it seems Clarkson just knocked this out during a quiet moment in the studio.

1. Stay (Patti Smith)

Patti Smith: Stay (Rihanna cover) – video

You might not ordinarily put Patti Smith and Rihanna together, but this is precisely the sort of juxtaposition that often results in the best covers. Smith’s rendition at New York’s Webster Hall works surprisingly well, her lower register adding a jagged edge to Mikky Ekko’s piano melody. Even when Smith messes up (“Oh no! I’m sorry, I’m just nervous … I was doing it so good, too!”) it only speaks to her love of the song. “Rihanna!” she shouts at the end, grinning from ear to ear, like a proper fan.

• This article was amended on 16 October 2018 to correct the nationality of Mø. She is Danish, not Swedish as an earlier version said.


Hannah Jane Parkinson

The GuardianTramp

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