Artists covering other artists can sometimes be a Divine Comedy of narcissism and celebrities fluffing other celebrities, punctuated by a nauseating stream of Instagram shout outs and internet puff pieces swooning over their efforts (see: Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s 1989). For musicians early in their careers, however, covering another artist can be a way to reveal influences and show versatility. And boy did The Voice contestant Taylor Alexander do that this week during the show’s blind auditions, when he absolutely murdered Cher’s “Believe.”
When I say murdered, I mean he killed it. He destroyed it. (Wait—why have we taken so many negative words to mean positive things? I think it has to do with what men like to say they do to pussy). Let me be more clear: He ripped Cher’s platinum record off the wall and beat it to death with his acoustic guitar, then tipped his cowboy hat.
It’s understandable how someone may not realize the cultural implications of the cover, but that doesn’t make them disappear. “Believe” was, and still is, a gay anthem. In 1998, critics not only heralded the song as Cher’s comeback, making her the oldest woman to top Billboard’s Hot 100, but the modern disco earworm also took over radios across the country—and the raging late 1990’s club scene.
That may not sound revolutionary to some, but the flourishing gay club scene in cities like New York and San Francisco in the 1990’s was a symbol of the gay community’s refusal to disappear and die as the U.S. government stood by and watched the AIDS epidemic ravage its victims. Gay clubs encapsulated the spirit of love, revolution and a freedom to exist that is still synonymous with today’s fight for LGBT rights. And “Believe’s” lyrics about never losing hope in life and love, coming from an already gay icon like Cher (remember her appearance on Will & Grace?), reinforced that message.
I’m sure Alexander didn’t mean to step on any gay toes, but for a straight white man to appropriate a gay anthem for his own gain and reset it into the country genre—defined by an industry that has systematically excluded gay individuals from its radio stations—is insulting to “Believe”’s permanence. Leading into the first chorus, Alexander even changed Cher’s “Oh” to “Girl,” instantly making the song heteronormative when it was originally ambiguous.
Of course, Adam Levine ate it up and flipped his chair with gusto, saying “I felt like I solved the puzzle on Wheel of Fortune,“ because he is a walking Ed Hardy hat. Alicia Keys’s face was rightfully confused before and after she realized what was going on. Blake Shelton offered some sage advice, which was that Alexander should stick to his BR549 roots, a reference which hilariously none of the other judges knew. And Gwen, no stranger to creating queer anthems, knew to stay out of it.
The Voice has had some great moments over time, but it also is notorious for throwing in some cheap fluff. They exploit contestants’ sob stories for ratings and it took them 11 seasons to have two female judges—so we don’t necessarily expect a collection of songs for the resistance. But “Believe” doesn’t deserve to be bastardized like that on national television. By the way, there’s been no word yet on Cher’s reaction to the cover, which might say enough, given she served as a guest coach on the show in 2013.
Watch the performance here: