The year 2020 shares similarities with the Middle Ages, not just because of the ongoing worldwide pandemic, but because of the development of a shared musical culture.
This summer has given many of us time to explore similarities between the present and what we learned in middle school world history about the bubonic plague that took over Europe in the 1300s. Though we may not be nostalgic for the horrific suffering of thousands, medieval culture is making a comeback in the form of ”bardcore” music. Hundreds and thousands of people on the internet have fallen for this genre that can only be described as, well, “throwback.”
The bardcore genre (with bard referring to a medieval poet or storyteller like William Shakespeare), also known as “tavernwave” or simply medieval covers, is a gift from the internet gods. It’s a genre in which online content creators revamp modern songs on their computers using medieval-era instruments and rhythms. Some creators have also gone as far as to rewrite the lyrics to songs in a medieval fashion, mimicking Shakespearean language.
Take, for example, Foster the People’s hit song “Pumped Up Kicks,” in which the main verse of the song goes: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks/ You’d better run, better run, outrun my gun.” The bardcore version produced by creator Hildegard von Blingin’ goes, “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots/ Best ye go, best ye go, outrun my bow.” It’s a tribute to von Blingin’s vision of the song in a medieval-style, using the same melody people know, thus transporting you through time — if you’re paying attention.
Even when creators don’t add lyrics to their medievalized hits, fans in the comments section will often assume the role of lyricists. They blast out competing lyrics that will often amass thousands of likes. When creator Marcus Aurelius released their cover of John Denver’s classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” without lyrics, for example, fans rushed to make their own lyrical interpretations, beginning with the famous first lines of the song. “Almost heaven, West Virginia/ Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River/ Life is old there, older than the trees” became “Almost heaven, Western Rome/ Apennine Mountains, Tiber River/ Life was old there, older than the olive trees.”
The lyrics had more than 2,800 likes at the time of publishing. But commenters continued, switching out the namesake lyrics, “Country roads, take me home/ To the place I belong/ West Virginia, mountain mama/ Take me home, country roads” for “Imperial roads, take me home/ To the half I belong/ Western Roman Empire, fallen mama/ Take me home, imperial roads.”
Beyond the frenzy to create lyrics, commenters have taken it upon themselves to role-play a medieval audience, adding snarky or insightful comments to poke fun at or pay homage to life in the Middle Ages. In the same John Denver cover, one comment read, “When you are crusading and miss home :(,“ alluding to the Crusades that occurred in the Middle Ages and bridging history with modern-day internet culture. Which left another user to comment, “The historical accuracy of these comments is frightening.”
Bardcore has medievalized songs from all genres and time periods, from John Williams’ “Cantina Band” on the “Star Wars” soundtrack to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s 2020 hit song “WAP.” You can even “rickroll” your friends with the bardcore version of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The genre has grown since it first gained traction in April of this year and has even expanded beyond YouTube; bardcore music can be found in TikTok videos (where I first fatefully encountered a cover of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie”), in a dedicated Discord server, and even in its own subreddit on Reddit.
For myself, I can say that I have spent the last couple of weeks listening, and I’ll admit, sometimes dancing, to bardcore music. I can’t help myself, especially when Village People’s 1978 disco hit “YMCA” or Los Del Rio’s ‘90s dance-party hit “Macarena” comes on. Connecting with this new genre of music has definitely improved my outlook on the pandemic — an escape from the modern-day. I see people on the internet bonding over random things such as bardcore music and am also inspired to find a new love for old songs I thought I had left behind in the last decade.
But above all else, I think for all of us, this style of music is an opportunity to find some humor during these tough times. Whether by silliness, or the dark irony of relating to a time period when a pandemic ravaged Europe, North Africa, and Eastern Asia over 700 years ago, bardcore has allowed us to transcend the limitations of time and return to the basics: enjoying music, regardless of which century we’re living in. Speaking of time, though, I’m still waiting for a cover of the “Cha Cha Slide” by DJ Casper to dance to.
Top 10 Bardcore Covers:
- “Hips Don’t Lie” — stantough, Originally Performed by Shakira
- “Take Me Home, Country Roads” — Marcus Aurelius, Originally Performed by John Denver
- “YMCA” — Middle Ages, Originally Performed by Village People
- “WAP” — stantough, Originally Performed by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion
- “Livin’ La Vida Loca” — Middle Ages, Originally Performed by Ricky Martin
- “Pumped Up Kicks” — Hildegard von Blingin’, Originally Performed by Foster the People
- “Bad Romance” — Hildegard von Blingin’, Originally Performed by Lady Gaga
- “Cantina Band” — Samuel Kim Studios, Originally Composed by John Williams
- “Old Town Road” — stantough, Originally Performed by Lil Nas X
10. “Macarena” — Middle Ages, Originally Performed by Los Del Rio