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After 15 years of sad covers, Mad World gets a happy performance

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Sad covers, just one of Donnie Darko’s many lasting contributions

The 1982 Tears for Fears song “Mad World” is not exactly cheery, lyrics-wise, but production-wise it’s kind of a bop. It’s a fun song, with a catchy beat — yet if you think of “Mad World” you probably think of a dreary little drudgefest of a tune and Patrick Swayze crying alone.

That is thanks to the 2001 film Donnie Darko, which is back in theaters this week for a 15th anniversary 4K re-release (thank goodness!). The famous final scene of Donnie Darko features a sparse, somber cover by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews, which inspired several more sparse, somber covers — by American Idol’s Adam Lambert, Jasmine Thompson (for the trailer for American Pastoral), and recent inexplicable phenomenon Twenty One Pilots, to name a few.

The Jules / Andrews version has been used in dozens of TV shows, and a remix of it was also used in the Gears of War trailerextremely dramatic, in my opinion, for a video game in which a human sausage link joyfully pops the heads of monsters like they’re pimples on prom night.

How sad, to have your nice song twisted so. And how sad for the creators of Donnie Darko that they accidentally kicked off the trend of soundtracking trailers and pivotal action movie scenes with moody covers of famous pop and rock songs. It was fun for awhile, and now it is getting maybe a little old? And how sad that, according to my coworker Lizzie Plaugic, the dreary cover of “Mad World” is the worst part of Donnie Darko — an otherwise perfect movie.

Yet, today a YouTuber who often plays sad piano covers of happy songs (calling the feature “Will it Sad?”) has twisted himself and asked “Will it Happy?” for the song “Mad World.” Here’s the answer to the question “will ‘Mad World’ happy?” The answer is yes, because it already did, 35 years ago.

It’s nice, though, to be reminded.

On the other bright side, Donnie Darko also features an un-fiddled-with Tears for Fears song. “Head Over Heels” plays near the beginning of the film as the soundtrack for what is absolutely the best “introduction to a high school” sequence in the history of teen angst film.

How lucky are we that this movie is back in theaters? In my opinion: very!