I f you’re at all an indie music fan, I’ll bet you’ve seen the “Bon Joviver” video that hit the internet this weekend. It’s a killer parody by chamber pop group Miracles of Modern Science that mixes frat boy fave “You Give Love a Bad Name” with the unmistakable sound of Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon. Give it a listen if you haven’t already:
Yeah, it’s awesome. (The ridiculous winter hats and candlelit wooden furniture are perfect.) The Internet media was dazzled: the MOMS boys got mentions from the likes of the Washington Post and the Atlantic Wire; in just one day, the view count on the video shot up by more than 50,000. And it totally makes sense – what’s not to love? People like Bon Jovi, people like Bon Iver, so it seems natural we’d like them together.
But as it goes with viral videos, the intense focus of internet attention will wane and completely cease by Monday or so. Before it fades from memory, though, I’d like to answer an interesting question posited by the A.V. Club’s writeup.
Q: “Is the Bon Iver thing really this easy to pull off?” (Or, as my roommate put it, could this be done with any song?)
A: Yes! That is, it is if you’re willing to significantly change the song to be more Bon Iver-like.
Though it’s being billed as a cover, this isn’t a direct translation. As it turns out, there’s more to Bon Iverizing a song than aping the atmospheric guitar picking and dreamy vocal harmonies – it helps, too, to borrow Bon Iver’s harmonic tendencies. The Miracles of Modern Science make some major adjustments to the melody and harmony to get it to sound like Bon Iver. Take a listen to the original “You Give Love a Bad Name” – the video will start on the chorus, the part that’s redone by MOMS.
Here’s the original melody, with numbers indicating scale degree:
3 4 2 3
Shot through the heart, and you're to-o blame
3 2 6 1 6
You give lo-ve a ba-ad name
3 4 5 2 3
I play my part, and you play yo-ur game
3 2 6 1 6
You give lo-ve a ba-ad name
By the way, I’m using scale degrees here because the three songs are in two different keys, so using note names would be confusing. The numbers represent notes of the scale, in order. You can pretend that all these songs are in C major, where 1 = C, 2 = D, 3 = E, and so forth.
Here’s the Bon Joviver version:
6 5 3 2 3
Shot through the he-art, and you're to-o blame
6 5 3 2 1
You gi-ve lo-ve a ba-ad name
6 5 6 8 2 3
I play my pa-a-rt, and you play yo-ur game
6 5 3 2 1
You gi-ve lo-ve a bad name
The two versions have some content that is melodically the same – namely, the “and you’re too late” and “you play your game” are unchanged. Also, there’s a similar melodic rise in the third line (though one comes on “you” while the other comes on “part”). But the two versions differ in three related ways:
- Bon Jovi’s original song toys with a minor key, while the Bon Joviver version is irrefutably in a major key.
- The sixth scale degree (which, in the key of C, would be A) appears in both melodies, but operates in completely different ways. In Bon Jovi’s original, the sixth operates as a nod to the relative minor key, but in the redo, it’s the peak of a IV chord that slides down to the tonic.
- Because it’s in a major key, the cadence in the Bon Joviver moves stepwise from 3 down to 1 in “you gave love a bad name,” rather than ending deceptively on the relative minor as it does in the original.
A lot of Bon Iver’s music sounds similar to the Bon Joviver tune, but there’s (at least) one song that could easily be the variable in the algebra that is “You Give Love a Bad Name” + x = Bon Joviver. It’s called “Holocene,” and it’s arguably the biggest track off of last year’s indomitable Bon Iver.1 Take a listen to the lines “jagged vacance thick with ice / I could see for miles, miles, miles”:
Besides the obvious fingerpicking and lush vocal overdubs, the music in “Holocene” is much more in line with the Bon Joviver cover. Here’s the melody:
6 5 3 4 3 2
Jagged va-cance thick with i-i-i-ice
5 3 2 1
I could see for miles, miles, miles
Right off the bat, we clear up the major/minor key problem; “Holocene,” like many of Vernon’s songs, is in a major key (however sad and reflective it may be). Second: like the Bon Joviver version, this melody from “Holocene” starts on the 6th scale degree as part of a IV chord, and moves down to the tonic with the 5th and 3rd scale degrees both represented. And lastly, the cadence in “you give love a bad name,” which moves 6-5-3-2-1, is damn close to the 5-3-2-1 cadence of “I could see for miles, miles miles.”
So… yes, A.V. Club, it is that easy.
– Becky Sullivan
1 Pitchfork called it the second-best song of the year, it’s featured in the new movie We Bought a Zoo, it’s been nominated for a Grammy for Song of the Year, its official video is closing in on two million views, and it recorded nearly 21,000 listens on Last.fm last week. NBD ↑
- Miracles of Modern Science, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” © 2012. Recording information unknown. Lyrics by Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora.
- Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” performed by Jon Bon Jovi on Slippery When Wet, © 1986 by Mercury Records, 830 264-1.
- Bon Iver, “Holocene,” Bon Iver, © 2011 by Jagjaguwar Records, JAG135.