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(Un)covered: Once Upon A Dream

“Once Upon a Dream”
Writer(s): Jack Lawrence, Jimmy Fain
Original Release Date: January 29, 1959

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream…” Classic words from a classic movie, and I’m sure you all recognize this one—“Once Upon a Dream” from the 1959 animated Disney film, Sleeping Beauty. This is the part where Sleeping Beauty a.k.a. Princess Aurora a.k.a. Briar Rose is living (with her three fairy godmothers), hiding from the wicked Maleficent, who put a curse on her sixteenth birthday. Aurora goes walking in the woods and meets the handsome Prince Phillip, and since this is a Disney movie, the two break out in song.

Originally performed as a duet with Mary Costa and Bill Shirley perfectly complementing each other as Aurora and Philip, the theme is a bright and happy orchestral composition that encompasses the style of the era, as well as the imaginative romance created by the story. In a word: lovely. A sweeping melody and choir add to this song, making it picture perfect. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a Disney classic, which is why Lana Del Rey’s creepy cover of the song is such a drastic departure from the original—but that’s also why we’re completely obsessed with it.

So there’s this trick where if you put a happy sounding song (actually any song, I think) into minor key, it comes out sounding all creepy and haunted. I’ve heard a few renditions like that and it throws me off every time because those songs aren’t supposed to sound like that.

Lana Del Rey’s take on Sleeping Beauty’s “Once Upon a Dream” sounds like that—bone-chilling and haunting—except for one, tiny detail: it’s not in a minor key. Yet this song still gives me crazy goosebumps! It’s a special talent of Lana’s to add a sense of uneasiness to her music. Even when she’s singing about summertime sadness and the radio remix is about 90x faster/poppier/more upbeat than the original, there’s something in her voice that’s just sad. It sort of reminds me of dark chocolate—still smooth and velvety, like chocolate should be, but you can’t shake that bitterness off your tongue. This cover especially grabs a hold of that tragic feeling, but more than that, it’s simply sinister. Come on, this is the villain’s movie, right? This theme doesn’t belong to Aurora anymore, and Lana Del Rey perfectly captures a villainous quality of music to add tension, drama, and darkness, absolutely stripping the song of its original frivol and romantic aspects.

The cover originally premiered as part of the Maleficent movie soundtrack in 2014, and was used heavily in promotional material for the movie, which retold the classic Sleeping Beauty story from the perspective of the “villain”. According to the Daily Mail, the film’s lead actress, Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), allegedly picked Lana Del Rey herself for the song. I have to applaud the decision, because honestly, I can’t get enough of this version. And while Halloween is over, there’s always room for a tantalizing and different rendition of Disney songs on my playlist all year round.

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