Welcome to Under the Covers, your weekly dose of genre-bending with your favorite WBRU artists & songs! This week, we look at Pale Waves’ cover of a bubblegum-pop classic: Taylor Swift’s “22.”
Maybe everyone needs a coming-of-age song. For some people, that song isn’t sung in the bright pop vocals of Taylor Swift, a star often criticized for placing herself into the center of issues that aren’t hers and oversimplifying many of the complicated issues she talks about. However, Taylor Swift’s “22” is iconic, calling to everyone aging out of teenhood with an energetic passion that almost makes growing up feel less scary. The indie-pop band Pale Waves, it seems, saw the coming-of-age story that could be reclaimed in this song. For a Spotify Single, they released a grungier take of the song, perfectly illustrating the complex, bittersweet nature of growing up.
Their version begins with a sing-song whispering of “22” alongside a back-up instrumental that blends Swift’s pop with the slightly grungier aspects of indie. The song becomes complicated, fitting for those who realize that accepting imperfection is part of aging. Pale Waves lead singer, Heather Baron-Gracie, approaches the song with a voice that’s a tad more sultry than the initial take. This quality grants the age of 22 a bit more sensuality without turning the entire piece into something sexualized.
As the song launches into its chorus, aspects of the pop beat in the song fade away seamlessly to let the electric guitar take over. The shift emphasizes the confusion and intensity that can come with early adulthood when, suddenly, the bright cheer of adolescence is lost. The Pale Wave version, for me at least, serves to acknowledge when “dancing like we’re 22” has a few more layers to it than just letting go and having fun. It makes the concept dirtier and realer, remembering that 22 also means graduating, maturing, and a million other moments; but this intertwinement doesn’t take away the fun. Instead, the song puts the moment in context, granting us a song that is still easily danceable while feeling, at the same time, deeply familiar.
Listen to the Pale Waves version of the song here.