Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” seems to sum up 2020 and its aftermath perfectly with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s no surprise that two recent covers — on Demi Lovato’s just-released Dancing With the Devil album and on Kelly Clarkson’s talk show — have reinvigorated interest in the 1982 hit.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the synth-pop song has resurfaced since its original release: It was also transformed into a somber ballad when Gary Jules and Michael Andrews performed it for the soundtrack of the 2001 psychological thriller Donnie Darko.
Even though Tears for Fears’ original version never charted, “Mad World” has lived on for nearly 40 years thanks to various covers. Below, Billboard rounds up some of the best interpretations of “Mad World,” starting with the most recent.
Demi Lovato (2021)
Lovato included her cover of “Mad World” in her seventh studio album Dancing With the Devil… The Art of Starting Over after rediscovering it during a Big Bear, Calif. trip. “I saw this song in Donnie Darko when I was 14 and have listened to it over and over,” she said in the album’s editor notes on Apple Music. Her subdued cover feels like the perfect B-side to her 2008 song “La La Land,” which speaks to working in the Hollywood “machine” and simultaneously dealing with the pressures of fame.
Kelly Clarkson (2021)
For one of her Kellyoke covers on The Kelly Clarkson Show, the singer/host took the best of both mad worlds, mixing the the slowed-down tempo of Jules and Andrews’ version with heavy drums and guitars that harken back to the peppier, synth-pop original by Tears for Fears.
The a cappella group greeted fans with five familiar faces against a pitch-black background, but the shadowy figures behind them underscored the song’s lyric about aimlessly running in circles.
Brandi Carlile (2020)
Just one day before Pentatonix released their version, Carlile covered “Mad World” with a twinkly light-decorated, stirring piano performance during her livestream re-imagining of her 2009 album Give Up the Ghost, which shed a glimmer of hope at the end regarding the 2020 presidential election. “It’s a mad world, but we’re in this together,” she concluded and finally instructed: “Vote.”
Ally Brooke (2017)
The former Fifth Harmony member cozied up next to the fireplace for her soulful, acoustic take on the eerie Jules and Andrews version of the song. Rather than showing “no expression,” Brooke let her hands do the talking for her emotive-yet-laidback performance.
Adam Lambert (2009)
Of course, Clarkson isn’t the only famous American Idol alum who covered the ballad. Lambert’s out-of-left-field high notes and ending wail perfectly captured the troubling emotions of the ballad — and even earned a standing ovation from Simon Cowell. He’s since performed his rendition multiple times, including at Global Pride 2020.
Jules and Andrews’ somber ballad from Donnie Darko changed the game on the Tears for Fears’ classic. Their rendition became a radio hit, topping Billboard’s Adult Alternative Airplay chart in 2004.