The best cover versions are cocktails. The original spirit of the song, with a twist of something new. New and personal.
Here’s RAYE with one of her own songs: Shhh. If you’re interested in words, listen for the word leave. It appears 14 times, mapping her growing certainty. Shhh is about the push and pull of a powerful but unhealthy relationship. It’s about RAYE finally managing to pull herself out of it. And about the fight to get there. You can hear the struggle in the way RAYE sings the word leave and how she changes leave’s depth and feeling through the song. There’s a point where she wants him to leave. Up to that point she’s just testing the idea. Listen hard and you’ll hear the shift:
If English isn’t your first language: be sure to get a copy of RAYE’s lyrics if you want to sing her songs. Listen to her first, get a feel for the sound, but don’t try to sing Shhh by ear alone. You’ll miss or mistake at least a couple of words. Every word is important. Each syllable has its place, either landing exactly on a beat or stretching to express emotion.
- It’s not easy to hear every word first time, but RAYE’s singing every single one. You need to sing every word too. Get an official lyric sheet.
- You need to end each word. Final consonants matter. That’s crucial. Like Amy Winehouse, RAYE ghosts the consonants at the end of some words. But every word has an end.
- RAYE’s not slurring her words, she’s moulding them to her music. Don’t sing Shhh as a mush of sound. It isn’t.
- Don’t over emphasise the words that jump out of Shhh. As an English learner, it’s tempting to think that a serious word like hell is super important. So you sing it loudly. That’s a mistake. RAYE’s playing with words. The idea of giving somebody hell is an expression that already exists in English. RAYE sings ‘you give me hell/you give me heaven and she’s created something new. You won’t find You give me heaven in an English dictionary. Coupled with you give me hell, we understand that RAYE’s talking about her own shifting experience in the relationship. One minute it’s heaven, one minute it’s hell. Over sing hell and you destroy the meaning. Overdo heaven and you’ll wreck the pace of the song. They’re like emotions on a seesaw. In perpetual motion. Don’t linger on either, until you need to (listen to the subtle difference between RAYE’s singing of hell in you give me hell and I’ll give you hell).
- You need to understand RAYE’s intentions and her word choices to cover Shhh. Respect her, then make your own choices.
Watch RAYE singing You Don’t Know Me, with Jax Jones. This video gives you a chance to see her technique up close. Hmm, see your iPhone camera flashin’/Please step back, it’s my style you’re crampin’: