Pop

The 10 Weirdest Cover Songs in Pop Stars' Repertoires

Selena Gomez performs at Staples Center
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Selena Gomez performs at Staples Center on July 8, 2016 in Los Angeles.

Pop star Selena Gomez is an executive producer of Netflix’s hit series 13 Reasons Why, so it isn’t surprising that a Selena song was picked to score the powerful montage that follows the finale’s climax.

But the track itself is a bit of a curveball: In lieu of belting one of her own ballads, Gomez breathlessly floats over an atmospheric cover of “Only You,” the 1982 single by the British synth-pop duo Yazoo. (You may know them better in North America as Yaz, Vince Clarke’s pit-stop act between Depeche Mode and Erasure.)

Gomez’s version is gorgeous and haunting, but admittedly an odd move for a pop star at the height of her powers. After all, the original “Only You” only peaked at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100, and that was 34 years ago.

It’s certainly the most unexpected cover in Gomez’s canon -- although check back in 30 years to see how well her rendition of Magic!’s “Rude” holds up -- which got us thinking: What other obscure songs have major pop stars covered? Here are ten of the most surprising examples.

1. Katy Perry, "Hackensack" (Fountains Of Wayne)

Katy Perry only had one album to her (new) name -- 2008’s One of the Boys -- when she appeared on MTV Unplugged in ‘09, so she presumably needed to fill her seven-song set without dipping into deep tracks or sneaking in previews of the colossal anthems she’d unleash the following year. Beats us why she chose to put her stamp on Fountains of Wayne’s perfectly pleasant ‘03 album cut “Hackensack,” but the fluttering strings and subtle surf guitar provide a nice comedown from the dated Perry original that precedes it in the special: “Ur So Gay.”

2. Taylor Swift, "White Blank Page" (Mumford and Sons)

This 2011 studio clip from BBC’s Live Lounge is a startling snapshot from Taylor Swift’s pre-Red, pre-bangs, pre-world domination days. The then-curly-haired, then-country superstar had still only dipped her feet into pop waters, which is why she enlisted her band to pluck their way through this folky non-single from Mumford and Sons (also waiting for their own crossover to come) and not an era-appropriate smash like, say, “Super Bass.” A shaky Swift mostly stays out of the way while she lets her crew do the heavy lifting, culminating in a sea of twangy harmonies that would soon make way for Max Martin hooks.

3. Ariana Grande, "Just For Now" (Imogen Heap)

Before Ariana Grande was a globe-conquering, donut-licking diva, she was just a Disney actress with otherworldly lungs who messed around with loops in her dimly lit bedroom and uploaded the lo-fi results to YouTube. Grande puts her acrobatic octaves through a rigorous workout in this surprising Imogen Heap cover—don’t worry, she also flexes on “Hide and Seek,” the British singer’s signature vocoder showcase—and proves the only backup singers she needs are 17 more Ariana Grandes.

4. Lady Gaga, "Bell Bottom Blues" (Derek and the Dominos)

Lady Gaga busted out this slow-burning Eric Clapton cover during her Artpop Ball tour in 2014. While the choice itself was questionable -- if any Monsters in attendance knew a Slowhand jam, it was probably “Layla” or “Tears in Heaven” -- more surprising was Gaga’s decision to play the performance relatively straight. In this clip, Gaga slinks around the stage singing the bluesy ode to unrequited love, relying on her God-given pipes instead of her usual over-the-top theatrics to hammer home the pain.

5. Adele, "Many Shades Of Black" (The Raconteurs)

Adele makes her bones penning blockbuster ballads, and it’s tough to imagine her deviating from the world-beating 25 formula anytime soon. But don’t forget: Sassy still looks good on her, too. On this fun and fierce outtake from the deluxe edition of 2008’s 19, Adele stomps her way all over a forgettable Raconteurs single that stalled out at #37 on the U.S. Alternative Songs chart. Conventional wisdom says if you’re going to cover a song from the short-lived Jack White-led supergroup, it should be their ‘06 hit “Steady As She Goes.” But who are we to doubt the all-knowing Ms. Atkins?

6. Lorde, "Swingin’ Party" (The Replacements)

Replacements leader Paul Westerberg was a brilliant songwriter who crafted some of the stickiest melodies of the ‘80s, but occasionally shrouded them behind sloppy guitars and warbled vocals. Not so on this jazzy highlight from 1985’s seminal Tim, which somehow found its way into the hands of the teenage New Zealand singer-songwriter in 2013. Lorde scattered her scale-climbing verses on top of a sparse kick drum and tacked the finished product onto the extended version of her debut LP, Pure Heroine

7. Miley Cyrus, "Androgynous" (The Replacements)

Not to be outdone, Miley Cyrus also opened the Westerberg songbook in 2015 and landed on this woke piano shuffle from the ‘84 ‘Mats album Let It Be. The pixie-coiffed pop singer teamed up with Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace and rock goddess Joan Jett to tackle the ballad, turning it into a rollicking backyard jam. (Pro tip: Watch Cyrus and a pajama-clad Grande sing the hell out of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” from the same sessions.)

8. Coldplay, "Hunting High and Low" (a-ha)

Chris Martin and co. have covered everyone from Nancy Sinatra to Rammstein, so it’s tough to pick a winner here. But we’ll go with the British band’s take on a track by a-ha that’s miraculously not “Take On Me.” Instead, Coldplay elected to transform the Norwegian new-wavers’ obscure 1986 single, “Hunting High and Low” from a twisty, James Bond-worthy ballad into... well, into a Coldplay song.

9. Ed Sheeran, "Do It Like a Dude" (Jessie J)

Ed Sheeran often puts his coffeehouse spin on classic hip-hop hits to varying degrees of success—“No Diggity” bangs; the less said about “Trap Queen,” the better—but he usually sticks to the more obvious stuff. Venture deeper into the Sheeran cover-verse, however, and you’ll find stranger fare, like his take on this profanity-laden 2010 single from British diva Jessie J that never charted stateside. The clip dates back to well before Sheeran started invading the radio, but his charm and flow are still plenty up to snuff.

10. Alessia Cara, "Wires" (The Neighbourhood)

The Neighbourhood had a surprise hit in the summer of 2013 with the seasonally inappropriate “Sweater Weather,” which reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Before their peak, however, they released a string of EPs, one of which included a modest, moody track called “Wires.” A Canadian teen named Alessia Cara evidently liked it enough to cover it in 2014, laying her smoky, jazzy vocals over simple acoustic strums. Three years later, Cara is a budding superstar who inspires amateur YouTubers to put their own soulful spins on her smashes.