Coldplay Can't Stop Covering the Songs of the Recently Deceased

(Photo: Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

After almost two decades together, Coldplay might still be one of the most divisive bands on the planet. Depending on who you ask, the quartet is either the "best band of the 21st century" (Jay-Z recently compared frontman Chris Martin to "a modern-day Shakespeare"), or it makes middle of the road "bedwetters' music" for boring people (Bono once called Chris Martin a "wanker" live on BBC Radio).

In the past few years though, Chris, Will, Jonny, and Guy have started stretching themselves in a rather morbid direction: cover songs for recently deceased famous people. Last week, the band garnered attention for Chris Martin's solo cover of Linkin Park's "Crawling," following the death of frontman Chester Bennington.

Moving though it was, "Crawling" is the latest in an increasingly long line of cover tributes. It started in earnest in 2009, after the death of Michael Jackson. Coldplay spent the rest of the year incorporating a cover of "Billie Jean" into live sets.

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Then, two months after David Bowie's death, Chris Martin got together with Jimmy Fallon and performed a deeply uncomfortable rendition of "Life On Mars?" The problem? Fallon did a hokey Bowie impersonation all the way through.

Shortly afterwards, Coldplay started incorporating "Heroes" into their set on the regular, despite the fact that David Bowie had rejected an offer to collaborate with the band while he was still alive. "One time I sent [Bowie] a song to ask him to sing on it,” Chris Martin told the BBC Music Awards in 2014. “He called me and said, 'It's not one of your best.' He's got very high standards and I appreciate that. It inspires the rest of us to keep our standards high."

Here's the band ignoring Bowie's shade and paying tribute to him anyway:

You'll notice at the beginning of that clip, Martin references not just Bowie, but Prince too. And literally one night after the above Bowie cover, the band got together with the host of The Late, Late Show (and lover of his own singing voice) James Corden to do a rendition of "Nothing Compares 2 U."

It could be argued that bringing a comedian onstage to pay tribute to a recently-deceased megastar, who was notoriously protective of how his music was presented, wasn't particularly sensitive. In life, Prince actively removed even fan-generated videos from the internet, so he may not have appreciated being covered by a chat show host at what was surely a still-solemn time for Prince's family, friends, and fans.

Earlier this year, at the 2017 BRIT Awards, two months after George Michael's death, Coldplay performed Wham!'s "A Different Corner." It started beautifully enough, but, halfway through, unexpectedly turned into a duet with a video of George Michael also performing the song. Martin was visibly and genuinely emotional about the whole thing, but it undoubtedly bordered on the macabre.

It's not just deceased musicians Coldplay pay tribute to either. The day of Gene Wilder's death in 2016, the band worked "Pure Imagination" into the end of "The Scientist" at a concert in Denver.

It's fair to say that the members of Coldplay most probably have their hearts in the right place when they perform these tributes to their fellow fallen musicians. Audiences also often need that moment of catharsis to bid their heroes goodbye in the wake of a tragic death. But when there are this many tributes, and some of them are performed with a veneer of insensitivity, it is occasionally difficult not to question the band's motives. It's also now so unusual for Coldplay to skip a tribute, rightly or wrongly it's hard not to wonder why Chris Cornell, for example, didn't get one.

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In the end, fans must trust that the band really do just want to honor their heroes; it would probably just mean more if they did it less often and with fewer comedians involved.

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