As the story goes, Dolly Parton wrote “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You” both on the same day. That’s the kind of music trivia that makes the rounds on Twitter every few months 1) because it’s fascinating, and 2) because the song itself contains multitudes and sounds like it must’ve been labored over for longer than an afternoon. But nearly 50 years after first being recorded, it remains singular, even as it’s likely one of the most-covered popular songs by contemporary artists.
Much like “Jolene,” Lil Nas X is also everywhere. It makes sense that he’d cover the song, as he did for BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge, because both entities are extremely strong cultural forces at the moment. When they come together, it sounds pretty good!
As he sings delicately and carefully in a deep baritone infused with a subtle twang, Lil Nas X stands at a florally arranged mic stand gripping a sparkling mic and looking directly in the camera. It’s a comparatively low-key affair compared to his usual choreo-heavy, visionary performances (see both the 2021 and 2019 VMAs, plus his music videos). But it’s one more facet of the artist’s personality and seems quite intentional — “Look, I can do gentle ballads, too.”
There’s a lot of subtext here as well. In addition to being an American standard, “Jolene” is a country song. In 2019, Lil Nas X rose to prominence thanks to his own country song, “Old Town Road,” which quickly caused a torrent of controversy that LNX persevered through to become a cultural icon. One of the best “Jolene” covers, also, is by Parton’s goddaughter Miley Cyrus — who, naturally, appears on Montero, the great debut album from Lil Nas X that dropped last week.
Apart from all that, it’s just a nice song, and LNX sounds good covering it. Check out Lil Nas X’s brief yet moody “Jolene” cover above.
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