'Bardcore': a renaissance of modern music

Hear ye! Hear ye! “Bardcore,” modern music’s most intriguing cover genre, has swept the media over the past few years. And, dare I say, it doth make me want to show some ankle and dance the night away.

Despite its Shakespearean title, Bardcore relies on Medieval-era — not Renaissance-era — instruments and musical styles to cover modern songs. Some notable tunes include Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” (my personal favorite) and the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” (both posted by YouTube’s stantough), as well as Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” (posted by YouTube’s Hildegard von Blingin’).

Funnily enough, upon looking up “Bardcore” for this article, I found that I had already listened to a few covers at some point in the past. I can’t quite remember when I watched them, but I remember being pleasantly surprised, both by their quality and how much I genuinely enjoyed them. Despite the mild absurdity of the genre's concept, the music itself is surprisingly good and has a strange beauty to it.

Although the genre peaked in the early-to-mid pandemic years, many creators are still posting Bardcore covers. In case you’re curious, two rather good “Bardcore” YouTube channels are Hildegard von Blingin’ and stantough. Hildegard von Blingin’ — currently with 893k subscribers, 20 videos, and over 54 million views — posts Bardcore covers with vocals. I found that these vocals give each piece an almost hauntingly beautiful quality, making the listening experience that much more enjoyable. Each song sounds strangely authentic, like something people in the Medieval Era really would have listened to. The next channel, stantough, has 369k subscribers, 187 videos, and over 38.5 million views. These covers are detailed and high-quality instrumentals. Each song provides an enjoyable and creative interpretation of its original, adding a good amount of depth and intrigue to the typical songs we hear every day.

One can only wonder what the existence of this genre implies for the present and future of modern music. To some, this cover genre’s popularity might suggest the looming death of originality, a death that is reflected and perpetuated in today’s culture through many sources, not just musical covers (for example, Hollywood’s love of sequels and its shameless, relentless repetition of tropes). Conversely, others could argue that this is a rebirth (or — wait for it — a renaissance) of originality in music, as it covers songs in such an unexpected, creative, and undoubtedly original way. Overall, whatever it may mean as far as originality goes, the genre is definitely an entertaining addition to any music library.

Now we’re left with the only sensible question to ask: Why? Why are people so drawn to this genre in the first place? Why do we continue to listen and enjoy, even when the sound of medieval instruments starts to seem more like an echo than an entirely different song? Honestly, the first answer that comes to mind is the most obvious and least insightful one: because it’s funny. The name of the genre in itself is enough to attain a chuckle from even the most pessimistic of listeners. Likewise, listening to a cover of “Hips Don’t Lie” played on medieval instruments is nothing short of hilarious. In the early-to-mid pandemic years, many people were not only constantly online, but also were just looking for a little bit of humor in an otherwise very dark and scary time. In this way, it makes sense that this genre peaked in popularity during those years. After all, what better way is there to lure viewers and listeners — all trapped in a worrisome reality — than a promise of this medieval comedy-cover Eden?

Besides the draw of the genre’s humor, however, I wonder if peoples’ tendencies to be nostalgic for eras they’ve never lived in (or even eras they know almost nothing about) plays any role in this trend’s popularity. Although this feigned nostalgia normally exists for over-romanticized decades in the 20th century(“Ugh! I was so born in the wrong generation!”), I find it interesting (albeit confusing) to consider that, just maybe, there are some people who daydream about their own over-romanticized version of the Medieval Era, all while listening to YouTube covers of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” on their phone.

Perhaps, though, the reason “Bardcore” continues to thrive years after its peak is that it’s genuinely fun to listen to, and the songs themselves aren’t half bad. There’s a certain art about them, and, composition-wise, they’re interesting to contemplate. Listening to them again, I can see the appeal of not only the gimmicky humor of the genre, but also of the odd beauty in the music itself. Whether you’re a fan of funny covers, or a fan of creative and unique music, “Bardcore” just might be the genre for you.