Behind the Scenes at the Cover the World Global Music Challenge
By Katy Henriksen
Music is a universal language. It transcends boundaries and resonates across the globe, penetrating to the core of our humanity, uniting us all as one.
It’s with that in mind that Chevy launched the Cover the World Global Music Challenge. Presented by Chevy Spark and MTV Iggy, the contest tasked four of the world’s hottest breaking bands with covering Cyndi Lauper’s iconic hit “True Colors,” picked by online voters over seven other classic pop tunes. The four talents performing the song include 26-year-old Gyptian, a soulful Reggae musician from Jamaica who’s reinventing the genre by imbuing it with a 21st-century R&B twist; the four Maryland boys of America’s energetic pop punk group All Time Low; a melancholy Aussie folk troubadour named Angus Stone; and Wonder Girls, a five-member girl group from South Korea.
Though the acts span the globe and are wildly diverse musically, there’s a uniting theme in “True Colors,” as the Wonder Girls attest.
“Everyone can relate to this song,” says one member of the group. “People sometimes hide their true colors, their true selves, when they’re lost and in trouble. This song teaches us the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who will accept us as we are…. When we heard the song together for the first time we really fell in love with it.”
Two of the ladies in the group are wonderful rappers, so that put a distinct twist on this ’80s classic: “We thought adding rap would make the song a little more rhythmical, more Wonder Girls style.”
As Alex Gaskarth, lead vocalist of All Time Low, notes, “Music has a way of reaching deeper than many other mediums, because it’s an outside force that relates to very internal, private feelings. That in itself can create a really strong bond between song and listener.”
“Music transcends the written word. Obviously, within this genre, lyrical content is a big piece of the puzzle, but in many cases it's the melody and the implementation of a ‘hook’ that captivates people. I also think that with many countries adopting English as a second or third language, what we write about in words has a chance to translate to fans who may initially be grabbed by a catchy melody and then go on to investigate further. How else do you explain ‘Gangnam Style’?” Gaskarth adds with a smile.
And it’s easier than ever for musicians to gain a global audience, thanks in large part to the Internet and the power of social media. “Technology has made it possible to get the message out faster,” says Gyptian, whose soothing, infectious reggae sounds were born in Jamaica but whose stylings have come a long way since Burning Spear. “With YouTube and Facebook, our audience can keep up with the music.”
So what were the biggest obstacles he had to overcome to achieve global popularity? “I thought the language barrier would be an obstacle, but I was wrong. In Japan a lot of people at the concerts couldn’t understand English, but they responded very well to patois [Jamaican slang], so once the music starts we’re all on the same page.”
Sometimes it’s in the darkest hours that music resonates, says Angus Stone, reflecting on a story a fan told him after one of his concerts: “There was a man standing there with his son and he stopped me to tell me that one day he needed to rush him to the hospital so he got a car. His son wasn’t breathing or moving. He remembered saying to him, ‘Don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright. We’re going to get there.’ And at that moment, he said, one of my songs came on the radio and he knew, just knew everything was going to be okay. They got to the hospital and the doctors resuscitated the boy. There they were standing in front of me. ‘I’d like to thank you for that,’ he said. Sometimes people share with you how the music has connected with their lives, and it’s really special.”
To hear more, watch behind-the-scenes videos of all four bands covering “True Colors” at www.covertheworld.com.
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Katy Henriksen is Music Editor of The Rumpus and hosts the classical music show "Of Note with Katy Henriksen" on NPR’s KUAF 91.3 FM, where she's also an arts producer. Keep up with her pie baking, book making, music devouring and more via Twitter or Tumblr.