YouTube covers are a cottage industry unto themselves at this point, but some of the best covers of 2015 still came out of nowhere and took over the Internet organically.
Some of these are gimmicky, some are emotionally devastating and at least two involve banjos (deal with it). At least a few of them involve actual professionals, so we’re not making any promises about this being an amateur-only kind of affair. (We are excluding anything Jimmy Fallon did on The Tonight Show, though, because come on, you’ve seen those enough.)
Lydia Lee, ‘Hello’
Might as well get this one out of the way, so you can dry your eyes and move on. It took a while for the Internet to identify the star of this clip as one Lydia Lee, but her take on “Hello” ensured that we’d be learning her name soon enough. (She also appeared on Ellen, which helped raise her profile and prove her performance wasn’t a fluke.)
Postmodern Jukebox, ‘Creep’
Cover stars Postmodern Jukebox have taken their YouTube act on the road, and this old-timey cover of Radiohead’s perennial downer anthem – starring American Idol‘s Haley Reinhart – really struck a chord, piling up 13.5 million views in April. Catch their live tour when it hits your town.
George Dalton, ‘Trap Queen’
We had to include at least one cringe-tastic cover, and George Dalton’s (he played the deejay in Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer) version of “Trap Queen” was crowned “The Worst ‘Trap Queen’ Cover” by Jezebel. As Twitter personality Desus Nice wrote, Fetty “ain’t lose an eye for this.”
Disclosure and Sam Smith, ‘Hotline Bling’
Two of 2014’s biggest names came together to give us this take on one of 2015’s most inescapable hits. Smith could make the phone book sound melancholy, and his take on Drake’s vocal reveals a heretofore undiscovered depth to a song about the slow death of a booty call-based relationship.
Tina S, ‘Through the Fire and Flames’
There’s nothing wrong with not recognizing either “Through the Fire and Flames,” a shred-happy 2005 cut from “power metal” virtuosos DragonForce, or “Tina S,” the 15-year-old guitar phenom who stars in this video. But 11.6 million views later, you’re probably in the minority at this point.
McKenna Stanchak, ‘I’m Gonna Love You Through It
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Just devastating. Oh, and then this version, where McKenna’s joined by Martina McBride? Take as much time as you need. It’s rough, we know.
Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, ‘The Final Countdown’
Husband-and-wife banjo virtuosos Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn altered their hair appropriately (Fleck used a wig; Washburn just teased hers) for this banjo-centric take on Europe’s enduring “The Final Countdown.” Their version was met with such enthusiasm, they started performing this rendition on tour.
The Warning, ‘Enter Sandman’
While The Warning’s version of “Enter Sandman” was from 2014, it didn’t properly blow up until this year, though we can’t figure out why. The group’s talent is undeniable, yes, but it’s the cognitive dissonance of watching a band of pre-teens rant about “enter night” and “exit light” with adorably put-on metal faces that’s the real draw.
Rob Scallion, ‘Battery’
Okay, this is double dipping, because it’s more banjo and more Metallica. But if you’re not weirdly charmed by the sight of a guy shredding some thrash metal on banjo, we can’t really help you. More than 1.3 million viewers can’t be wrong!