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This is One Thing, a column with tips on how to live.
I first learned about “bardcore” music while playing Risk. My friends are pretty intense about the strategy board game, and will often cue up something on Spotify to set the tone, especially when two players are battling it out with the dice. The music selection is typically from some generic “medieval battle” playlist, or from the Game of Thrones soundtrack.
But one afternoon this past summer, the songs in the background of our game session sounded very familiar, in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then, a few verses into a mélange of flute, lute, and something tambourine-y, I realized: We were listening to a cover of Lil Nas X’s “Industry Baby.” The whole playlist, in fact, was medieval takes on modern hits. I was transfixed. You may have heard one such cover bouncing around on TikTok: a version of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” featuring harps and lutes in place of drums and guitars.
Bardcore was popularized early in the pandemic by Stanley Yong, an engineer who makes music for iPhone games on the side. After the wild success of his Shakira rendition, he started making more instrumental medieval-style covers of chart hits. Over the past three years, he’s posted over 100 on his YouTube channel. Recent tracks include a cover of Doja Cat’s latest, “Paint the Town Red,” and Ryan Gosling’s power ballad from the Barbie movie, “I’m Just Ken.” Other YouTubers and musicians have followed suit with their own bardcore takes on Top 10 hits, and while not every song is available on Spotify, the ones that are amount to a nearly 10-hour playlist. There is a truly wide range of tracks available: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” even a medieval take on “WAP.” They are a total delight to listen to—and (mostly) sans raunchy lyrics, they are family-friendly.
So, for the moment when you are tasked with playing music for any kind of gathering, I recommend bardcore. Since that game of Risk, it’s been a go-to of mine for social situations that need a little ambience. (When I put it on, it reliably elicits some confused-but-amused looks.) The 10-hour megaplaylist is great fodder for a guessing game to pass time with friends, especially on long road trips. Also, the medieval sounds are soothing when you’re trying to get work done, and mostly contain no distracting lyrics. No surprise: bardcore was playing as I wrote this article.