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So you’re watching Love Island USA Season 4 on Peacock, and Brazilian hunk Felipe is putting the moves on single hottie Courtney — and she is reciprocating every single one of those moves. They just had a steamy moment during a kissing game and it looks like things are heating up again. The two get closer and closer as a seductive piano tune plays. And as these two gorgeous people finally lock lips after a a week of tension, you realize… you know this song. Oh my god, you know this song!
Yeah — it’s a sultry cover of “Sex & Candy,” Marcy Playground’s infamous nugget of jangly, non sequitur rock. And instead of focusing on what Love Island wants you to focus on (sexy people doing sexy things, especially sexy things that maybe they shouldn’t be doing), you spend the rest of this makeout sesh trying to rid your brain of the image of that nerdy lead singer poking his head out of a Beetlejuice landscape as a tarantula meanders about.
Such is the curse of being an old millennial watching Love Island USA!
Most of Love Island’s needle drops are fine. Hell, some of them are great! Lizzo and Kim Petras? That’s the perfect summer soundtrack to a summer series. The majority of the songs are the kind of generic club bops and sensitive ballads (meaning affordable) that you hear nonstop on shows like Selling Sunset. And then, usually once an episode, there’s a song cue that’s so baffling that it makes every single recoupling decision seem sane by comparison. Deb: why are you still with Jesse? He’s never going to put you first!
Take, for example, the repurposing of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” for Episode 9’s recap.
This version from German composer duo known as 2WEI slows down one of Britney’s best bops and runs it through what I can only describe as a vampire filter. That’s also how I describe that “Sex & Candy” cover, too. Both of those songs sound as if they’re being sung by Drusilla from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, perhaps in a mausoleum illuminated only by dragon-shaped candles.
The vampire filter gets applied to “Ready or Not” by the Fugees (or the Delfonics, a cover of a cover), also in Episode 9.
The arrival of studs Bryce and Jeff is scored by a dark, aggressive version of the R&B classic that makes it sound like the singer Esthero is out for blood (which would make sense, because vampires).
But not every ’90s song is reimagined as a slow dance moment for Blade’s vampire nightclub. Look at this getting-ready montage from Episode 2. Shots of the islanders prepping for a night of drinking and iffy decisions with…
… a hypnotic dance cover of “Lovefool” by The Cardigans. This sugary ballad from Swedish rock group (and I’m using the term “rock” generously) is almost unrecognizable in this form. It sounds like the kind of song that would be played in a club that the members of the Cardigans would never go to, primarily because they’re all in bed by 9 p.m.
But of all of these covers, there’s only one that matches “Sex & Candy’s” WTF-ness. After a shocking recoupling, Mady’s trying to reckon with the fact that Andy ditched her out of nowhere to pair up with Sydney. The other girls are trying to comfort Mady and, just like in the last three minutes of every episode of Full House, some sensitive piano music comes in. But this isn’t just any sensitive piano music. No, it’s the intro to a cover of…
… Ace of Base’s irresistible Europop uptempo earworm “The Sign.” As sung by Katie Boeck, this take on “The Sign” comes close to Sarah McLachlan levels of sensitive sentimentality. Like I said earlier, I don’t need to be reminded of Ace of Base during this moment. I want to feel what Mady is feeling in this moment, not spend the entire scene struggling to remember what the hell the two guys from Ace of Base even did (other than gesticulate during music videos).
The problem is that I tune into Love Island USA to not think a single thought, but I’m overcome with way too many thoughts every single time the show unleashes one of these reimagined ’90s tunes. Does the show think they’re fooling me into thinking “Sex & Candy” is actually a sexy song? Are they saving tons of money on licensing by opting for the doom and gloom version of “Toxic”? Do the kids even know who Ace of Base is? Am I old? I’m old!
I know that last part is true because a number of the YouTube videos for these covers have millions of views. In a way they’re as popular as the originals were with a chunk of this generation, and my old ass is five years late to the party and only hearing the song on Love Island USA. I know I’m old, Love Island. I don’t need the music cues to remind me of that, not when literally everything else about the show already does! I’m old and I’m spending my adulthood watching 20-somethings in bathing suits kiss everything with a pulse on Love Island. Oh my god.
But, y’know, whatever — these moments of audio incongruity (with a dash of existential panic) add a layer of bizarre surprise to every episode of Love Island USA, and I’m fine with that. Now I just wonder which cover I’ll hear next, a party rock remix of Hootie’s “Let Her Cry” or a sexy, sexy rendition of Deadeye Dick’s “New Age Girl.”