Welcome to Under the Covers, your weekly dose of genre-bending with your favorite WBRU artists & songs! From the genuinely good to the seriously strange, we’ve got you covered. This week, we look at Japanese Breakfast’s cover of Tears for Fears’ classic “Head Over Heels.”
The voice of Michelle Zauner, the woman behind Japanese Breakfast, never fails to captivate the listener with its unusually high pitch. The synth that begins Japanese Breakfast’s version of “Head Over Heels” feels as if Mitski subtracted the pop from her album Ride the Cowboy and let the simple perfection of indie’s take on electronic music stand for itself. The song simmers there for a while before Zauner’s ethereal vocals and the soft, supporting chimes lift the song to a higher plane, ascending past the ’80s original.
Zauner leads us through the confusion and angst of the lyrics with a calm demeanor. Where Tears for Fear utilized the song as an outlet for their frustration, delirious passion, and, perhaps, anger at their love, Japanese Breakfast more subtly notes a tragic joy in the turbulence. While the lyrics remain the same —”Something happens and I’m head over heels/I never find out till I’m head over heels”—the instrumentals behind Japanese Breakfast’s version never grow flustered or chaotic. Tears for Fears’ original capitalizes on all the best ’80s melodrama that new wave had to offer; synth is abundant, electric guitars momentarily shine in the spotlight, drums provide a steady base, and the vocals proudly demonstrate their full range. This style isn’t bad; the intense levels of emotion depicted in the original version are perfectly at home within their track. However, Japanese Breakfast shows that this emotional turbulence isn’t the only way to navigate a tumultuous love story. Zauner tells us the story matter-of-factly, making the plotline of falling head over heels feel like riding smooth waves instead of a rollercoaster.
Additionally, her cover, released as a single, is doing much more than just revamping an old hit. The single was released with W Hotels W Records to benefit the ACLU. A portion of the streaming profit is donated to the organization, so even if you’re new to Japanese Breakfast, it’s worthwhile to take a listen to the song here.