In praise of The Traitors’ terribly brilliant cover songs

Have you been listening closely to The Traitors? If you have, you may have noticed it’s been soundtracked almost exclusively by covers – and pretty awful covers at that. The sort of knock-offs that are awful in a campy, over-the-top way that perfectly sums up the show’s hammy, faux-mystery vibe. These are the most noteworthy…

SYML – ‘Mr. Sandman’

Before The Chordettes turned it into a boppy lullaby, ‘Sandman’ had been both a big band tune and a fingerpicking instrumental under the hands of Chet Atkins. SYML’s addition to the catalogue is a slow croon sung in pained falsetto. It comes across as weirdly earnest for a song about a magical garden gnome – which actually makes it rather fitting for a TV show in which grown adults walk around a castle dressed like homicidal Wee Willie Winkies.

RAVN – ‘I Can See For Miles’

We imagine this made its way into the show solely because of the metaphor of its title, though it’s a pretty perfect accompaniment to shots of contestants quizzically frowning at one another. Listen to the end and you’ll realise it bears such little resemblance to The Who’s original, it’s a wonder RAVN didn’t just substitute the lyrics with another five-word phrase entirely – maybe “Stop being so smug, Paul”?

Damned Anthem – ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’

Damned Anthem have made a career out of transforming pop songs into trailer-worthy scores. But none are quite as on the nose as their cover of The Verve. The idea seemed to be to cut up the main riff, paste it several times over, and forget about the rest of the song. And why not? Give the people what they want, which in this case is a ludicrously melodramatic cover of a Britpop masterpiece.

2WEI, Tommee Profitt & Fleurie – ‘Mad World’

Tears For Fears fans still argue with Donnie Darko lovers if the slow, sentimental cover that appears in Richard Kelly’s cult thriller is better than the facetiously upbeat synth-pop original. 2WEI seemed to have thought to settle the debate by butchering the whole thing with blaring studio effects. You know it’s all very touching because of the delicate singing. Much like how you knew Paul was a traitor because no one can be that charismatic without possessing an ulterior motive.

Ruelle – ‘Walking on the Moon’

You don’t have to listen to many of these covers to figure out their basic recipe: slow down the tempo, add a string pad, and sing everything in a breathy voice. Ruelle’s cover of The Police is a prime example of the form, somehow managing to strip out all the elements that made ‘Walking On The Moon’ so out of time and make it feel more like a bland afterthought. It’s extraordinary, really. And it’ll save you having to listen to Sting imitating a Jamaican accent.

BELLSAINT – ‘Losing My Religion’

Faithfuls losing their religion to become traitors – someone probably had quite the grin on their face when they put this behind the first sequence in the traitor tower (pity the song is actually about forgotten love). Even so, with none of the subtlety of R.E.M.’s original, BELLSAINT’s version is all histrionic grandiosity. Exactly what’s needed from a TV show that’s able to get a bunch of strangers genuinely weeping over ‘murdering’ their friends.

Ursine Vulpine – ‘Wicked Game’

Chris Isaak’s sultry love song has become something of a classic in the 35 years it’s been sweating hearts and jerking tears. David Lynch liked it so much he stuck it in a film, and everyone from Wolf Alice to Grace Carter has had at it. But what make’s Ursine Vulpine’s version so delicious is its placement: crescendoing just as contestant Diane is trapped in a flat-pack coffin while her son watches from the side. A matricide revenge arc for the ages, with all the pomp to match.

Hidden Citizens – ‘Died in Your Arms’

No prize for guessing why this cover made it into the show. Hidden Citizens’ take on the ‘80s power ballad is listed with the helpful subtitle “Epic Trailer Version” on Spotify. You can tell it’s epic because there’s enough percussion to fill a Viking longship and every other measure begins with a riser. It’s kind of brilliant in its ability to get the audience’s heart pumping by sheer volume alone, even if it does drop some of the original’s camp.

Royal Deluxe – ‘Who Can It Be Now?’

Another entry in the ‘picked because of its apt name’ category, Royal Deluxe’s cover of Men At Work takes centre stage in the first episode when Claudia Winkleman answers the song’s title by opening a door, thrusting a wax-sealed letter forward, and declaring directly to camera: “It’s you”. Brilliant. Genius. Unbelievably contrived, and even a little uncomfortable when we’re brought so close to her fringe. This is what we come to see.

Damned Anthem – ‘Uprising’

Can a song about a fictional call to arms with lyrics that are this blunt ever be made more bombastic? Damned Anthem seems to have managed it, meshing Muse’s hit single with all the cliches of modern trailer music in a way that somehow feels both overstretched and cut short. One for the commute? Nah. But to accompany back-to-back sweeping drone shots of the Scottish Highlands between Winkleman stifling a smirk? Perfect. No notes.

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