×

Lana Del Rey’s ‘Doin’ Time,’ Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings’: Why Pop Is Loving Classic Broadway

Gwen Stefani's "Rich Girl” and Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" also interpolate iconic, decades-old melodies.

Back in the pre-television era — and before the advent of rock and roll — show tunes from stage musicals were popular music. And these days, you could almost say the same. From Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings,” which interpolates “My Favorite Things” from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music,” to Lana Del Rey’s just-released “Doin’ Time,” a cover of the Sublime hit which borrows its melody from “Summertime” by George Gershwin from the 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess,” classic Broadway is new again.

Sure, these snippets of standards are often taken (way) out of their original context, but at the same time, they offer a new view of some of the most familiar music of the last century.

Case in point: Lana Del Rey’s meta-cover of Sublime’s 1996 song “Doin’ Time” which sounds typically dreamy and chilled-out. Musically speaking, her version is more reminiscent of the ska-punk band’s source material — the aria “Summertime” by George Gershwin from the 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess” that went on to become a beloved jazz standard — than Sublime’s loose SoCal cover. The late Bradley Nowell actually sampled a cover of a cover (Herbie Mann’s bossa nova version of the classic Southern spiritual) and lyrically reframed an African-American folk tale into a story about unfaithful lovers in Long Beach. (Del Rey’s version is featured in the forthcoming documentary “Sublime,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.)

On “7 Rings,” Ariana Grande did some heavy lifting of her own with “My Favorite Things” from the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “The Sound of Music” (so much so that 90% of the publishing for Grande’s song goes to Concord, rights holders for Rodgers and Hammerstein, leaving the more than seven other writers credited to split the remainder). In the original version, the governess character of Maria literally sings the praises “whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens” to ease her mind when times are tough (you know, with the Nazis).

But Grande updated the lyrics to reflect the role retail therapy played following her break-up with SNL’s Pete Davidson, from Tiffany’s rings (“Bought matching diamonds for six of my bitches”) to a faux-ponytail (“I want it, I got it” / “You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it”).

And it’s not just pop stars who have raided the Great American Songbook. Dr. Dre suggested that Gwen Stefani remake Louchie Lou and Michie One’s 1993 song “Rich Girl,” which adapts — and role reverses — “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fidler on the Roof” for her 2004 debut solo album, “Love. Angel. Music. Baby.” But the message of this 1964 musical about a poor Jewish milkman raising five daughters in the shtetl seemed to be lost on artist and producer alike: “Think what that money could bring / I’d buy everything,” Stefani sang. “Clean out Vivienne Westwood / In my Galliano gown … book me first-class to my fancy house in London town.”

Rap has embraced the stage, too. Jay-Z channeled unlikely hood rat “Annie” (as opposed to Daddy Warbucks) for one of his biggest hits, the 1998 anthem “Hard Knock Life,” which samples “It’s the Hard Knock Life” from the 1977 musical about the ginger-haired orphan.

And on the rock end, Metallica proved that even head-bangers can appreciate musical theater when they lifted an eight-bar phrase from “America” — arguably the best known song from 1961’s “West Side Story” — for their patriotic single released 30 years later, “Don’t Tread on Me.” Worth noting: Stephen Sondheim’s source material criticized the U.S. and its anti-immigrant prejudice.

“It’s not really that there is a ‘formula’ for these things, but I have learned over the years that pretty much any successful musical you can name has an ‘I Want’ song for its main character within the first fifteen or so minutes of the show,” said lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell,” “Wicked”), who was recently honored at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Spring Celebration. “I don’t think it’s surprising that [these] songs tend to be among the most recorded — they are often somewhat more liftable than other songs … that is, they make sense outside the framework of the show.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • does self-described "family brands" business Hasbro

    With Hasbro Acquisition, Is eOne Planning to Offload Family-Unfriendly Properties?

    Hasbro’s $4 billion acquisition of eOne in August instantly put the Canadian toy giant in the league of major entertainment and content companies thanks to eOne’s arsenal of IP assets in music, television and film. But does the self-described “family brands” business that’s home to The Game of Life and My Little Pony align with [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Snoop Dogg Weed

    In the Cannabis Business, Not All Star Strains Are Created Equal

    With the cannabis green rush in full swing, many celebrities are jumping into the fray with their own brands, including such well-known stoners as Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Tommy Chong. But as it turns out, not all star strains are created equal, so we assembled a trio of crack experts to put the product [...]

  • The Cars - Ric OcasekThe Cars

    Ric Ocasek's Death Brings Turbo Boost to the Cars' Sales, Streams and Airplay

    For fans of the Cars, relistening to the band’s music was just what they needed in the hours and days following news of band leader Ric Ocasek’s death. The Cars was the artist with the second-highest overall album sales in the two days following Ocasek’s death, according to BuzzAngle Music, with the Sept. 15-16 long-dormant [...]

  • Richard Branson Jason Felts

    Kaaboo Festival Acquired by Virgin Fest Owner Jason Felts

    Kaaboo, which says it has “shifted the music festival paradigm by offering a highly amenitized festival experience for adults,” is now under new ownership. Virgin Fest founder and CEO Jason Felts (pictured above with Virgin founder Richard Branson) has fully acquired all of the festival brand assets through an affiliate of Virgin Fest, the music [...]

  • Live Nation Chief Michael Rapino Talks

    Live Nation-Ticketmaster Chief Michael Rapino Talks Dept. of Justice Inquiries

    Back in August, Senators Richard Blumenthal of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota made the most recent of several requests for an Department of Justice antitrust investigation into competition in the ticketing industry, and it soon became clear that the target of the probe was Live Nation and its 2010 merger with Ticketmaster, which [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content