The world seems to be getting more self-referential with every passing day — the endlessly meta nature of the Internet means that at times it feels like culture is at risk of devolving into one giant in-joke. Still, with all that said, it’s still notable that two of our favorite songs of recent weeks — Priests’ “Lana” and Speedy Ortiz’s “Taylor Swift” — are inspired to varying extents by mainstream pop stars. This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, mind you; there’s a long-ish tradition of indie bands writing songs that reference their mainstream counterparts, either directly or obliquely. Here are ten of the best.
Priests — “Lana”
Why yes, the titular “Lana” of this song by most excellent Washington-based punks Priests is indeed Lana Del Rey, and honestly, it’s a whole lot better than anything Lizzy Grant herself has recorded. The song (track three on the player embedded above) parodies and questions Del Rey’s it’s-all-for-you aesthetic: “He says he needs me/ He says he loves me ‘cos I told him so.”
Weezer — “Buddy Holly”
It’s not about Buddy Holly per se; apparently it’s about the fact that people used to tease one of Rivers Cuomo’s high school friends, an Asian girl, making fun of her appearance and the sight of her and Cuomo together. Still, Cuomo kinda does look like Buddy Holly — and also, that video is still fantastic.
LCD Soundsystem — “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”
If there were ever any doubt that Daft Punk are pop stars, it was dispelled with the crazy success of “Get Lucky” and Random Access Memories. This song presaged their mega-stardom and, to some extent, help to catalyze it — it’s a pleasant fantasy of what it’d actually be like to book your favorite DJ duo to play your party, and the awesome times that would ensue.
Pink Grease — “Lou Reed”
Much-lamented Sheffield electro-glam rabble-rousers Pink Grease paid tribute to Lou Reed in this song, capturing the ambitions of any number of young bands with the lyrics: “Gonna sound like Lou Reed/ Make my voice real sleazy!”
Super Furry Animals — “The Very Best of Neil Diamond”
The apocalypse, as soundtracked by Neil Diamond. That’s a terrifying thought if ever there was one, seriously.
The Replacements — “Alex Chilton”
Chilton perhaps doesn’t qualify as a full-fledged pop star (at least, not in his post-Box Tops years), but by god, he should have been. Quite how Big Star were never, y’know, big stars, is one of the enduring shames and mysteries of the music industry. In any case, this is a surrealist tribute to the man, and a vision of a world in which he really was a superstar: “Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes round/ They sing, ‘I’m in love! What’s that song?'” Ah, if only.
Mojo Nixon — “Don Henley Must Die”
Well, maybe not die. But it’d be nice if he just stopped making music.
Speedy Ortiz — “Taylor Swift”
It’s a song about being a girl in a band and getting laid a lot, and it’s sarcastically entitled “Taylor Swift.” Round of applause.
Sonic Youth — “Tunic (Song for Karen)”
Karen being Karen Carpenter, who was an object of ongoing fascination for Sonic Youth — they famously covered Delaney and Bonnie’s “Superstar,” which was also recorded by the Carpenters, and this song is an elegy of sorts for Karen, who died of anorexia-related heart failure in 1983. There’s various footage of her in the song’s video (above).
The Brian Jonestown Massacre — “(David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six”