Multiple acts have covered Lorde‘s megahit “Royals,” from Walk Off the Earth to Ed Sheeran, putting their own stamp on it — like Pentatonix‘s beatboxed multi-harmonies and Bruce Springsteen‘s earnest hymn. But songwriter/poet/author/singer Otep hasn’t just covered the multi-platinum tune: She’s completely flipped it on its head, turning it into an explosive declaration of blue-collar pride.
“Our intention was to honor Lorde and the brilliant song she had written but also to make it our own and something that can be relatable to our fans,” explains Otep of why she covered the song on Generation Doom (arriving April 15 on Napalm Records). “I think she’s a lyrical genius, and I think she’s absolutely brilliant at what she does.”
Billboard is streaming Generation Doom in its entirety today. Listen to “Royals” and the rest of the album below:
With her music rooted in aggressive metal, Otep’s rendition only mimics Lorde’s in that they are females chanting the verses against sparse production. When Otep reaches the chorus, the track detonates into a throat-bursting scream and scalding guitars. “I related to that song because I was a poor kid at one time who lived that song, and there was pride in that we weren’t born rich and that we were going to make it on our own,” says Otep. She doesn’t know if Lorde has heard it: “I’ve reached out through social media and so have a lot of our fans, but I’ve not heard from her. But if she does hear it, I certainly hope that she likes it.”
Generation Doom is a welcome return by Otep. Having struck out as a musician on a whim in 2000 after seeing a lame band perform at a festival — “‘If they can be that terrible. I can be that terrible,’” she remembers thinking — she announced her retirement from recording after 2013’s Hydra due to burnout. Making a living as a touring band was difficult, and she says labels tried to pigeonhole her music. “I’ve never been someone who considers genre that important to me. I write all different kind of songs: I’ve written piano ballads, rap songs, rock songs, heavy songs. But they’ll still come to me and say, ‘Oh, that’s not an Otep song.’ Because it’s not heavy enough or something, and I get really frustrated by that.” She no longer felt inspired, and she “didn’t want to fake it. I didn’t want to take money from a label and put out a record that would disappoint the fans, because the fans mean everything to me.”
She remained creatively employed by doing voiceover work in video games and such movies as in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and she wrote a book of short stories called Movies in My Head. After finishing its Victory contract, her band began touring for the love of it. “We were rekindling that spiritual intercourse between ourselves and the fans. Through all of that, we had tried to find out what we were going to do next, and at that time was when I had [a] breakup. It was really devastating for me.”
The painful split led Otep to write, her longtime outlet for channeling her emotions. She wrote a poem that contained the line “Something’s wrong with me for thinking something’s right with you,” and she transformed it into the song “In Cold Blood” that turned out to be the catalyst for her return to writing music. “Once I’d written ‘In Cold Blood,’ there were no more obstacles,” she says. “I reopened the gates, and music just started pouring from me.” (A video for the track is forthcoming.)
Album title Generation Doom refers to the possible annihilation of mankind. This nihilism is part and parcel of Otep’s oeuvre, but the title also insinuates the possibility that the course can be righted. “We are at a place now where we can either forever go backward and maybe we will never get back up again, or we can continue to move forward and truly fix this planet that we live on,” says Otep. “So it’s our choice whether we will be Generation Doom, meaning we will be doomed, or we will be the doom of those plotting our doom. We are the generation that can change everything. It just depends on if we care enough about it or not.”
Even though the issues that trouble the world are grim, Otep finds her fans’ response to her activism to be encouraging. She recalls how when she wrote the song “Warhead” on 2004’s House of Secrets that attacked then-President George W. Bush, some of her peers told her she was making a mistake by being political, but there were military personnel who thanked her for her vocalism and even gave her medals they had earned during their service. She recounts how she heard about a soldier who died in combat while listening to her music.
“That changed me in many ways. It was extremely sad, of course, but it fortified my belief that it doesn’t matter what anybody else is afraid of … because the people that really matter are the people that are in combat. Those are the ones who are actually doing something. Not a band who are afraid they’re going to lose a couple of sales if they speak out.”
Otep has never shied from speaking out, and “Equal Rights, Equal Lefts,” which was musically inspired by Nicki Minaj‘s “Only” and Drake‘s “Energy,” is an autobiographical tale of one such instance. Otep, who has always been open to the press that she is a lesbian, dubs the track “a call to gay people to unite, to unify, to come together as a powerful voting block” against discrimination. According to Otep, it stems from when a homophobic man confronted her and her then-partner when he saw them vacationing together in Hawaii.
“He came directly to us. Put up his right fist, and said, ‘Do you believe in equal rights?’ And I said, ‘I do,’” she recalls. “And then he said, ‘What about equal lefts?’ And he put up his other fist and took up a fighting stance.”
Since the track opens with the line “He called me a dyke/I called him an ambulance,” we asked if the standoff came to blows. “Well, no. My attorney advised me not to speak on the song,” says Otep. “But everything you need to know is in [there].
“I’m not one of those people who will [just walk away from such attitudes] because I don’t feel like it’s their right to impose upon my peace of mind, to infringe upon me as a citizen of the United States, as a human being,” she adds. “I will try my best to walk away if I can. I will do my best to leave the situation, but if they keep on, it’s like, ‘Don’t tease the tiger.’”
But Otep also observes that, due to her gender, her fervid enthusiasm — for equality, for music, for staying true to what she believes in — is sometimes misconstrued as hysteria.
“I think that’s the thing that bothered me the most, growing up in the public eye, and people’s perception of me — that I’m always angry about something. I just care a lot, and maybe it comes off wrong,” she says. “This is my feminist spiel, but when men are speak about something, they’re passionate, but when women do it, they’re angry. Nobody tells Bernie Sanders to smile, but they constantly tell Hillary Clinton to smile.”
She adds, “I want people to stand up for themselves, and I want people to fight for what they deserve, [but] I hope people realize that I am a happy person. I do find a lot of joy in creating and inspiring others, and [urging] people out of their comfort zones.”