Reinventing Elvis: Are Original Tributes Still Possible?

There are few artists out there today who don’t continue to pay their due tribute to the King. Contemporary music without Elvis Presley would be a very different thing today and it is almost impossible to find a popular artist who hasn’t been either directly or indirectly influenced by his work.

To prove this point conclusively, the global music streaming platform Spotify set up a database called the Elvis Influence. All you need to do is type in the name of any artist you can think of, from Lana del Rey to Nine Inch Nails, and the database will show exactly how their music is the result of Elvis’s discography in one way or another.

His popularity is further evidenced by pure numbers; despite passing away decades ago, his music, image, and merchandise continue to pull in well over $50 million a year according to Forbes, making Elvis one of the highest-earning dead people in history.

While we’re all familiar with the crooning tribute acts that litter the Las Vegas Strip, one thing we’re less familiar with is how the King is being paid tribute to in fresh, artistic, and inventive ways. Is Elvis’s legacy more than just the middle-aged caricatures we see performing on the street today? How are people taking his image and music and creating genuinely noteworthy content with it? Read on to find out.

The Popularity Trap

One major issue with an artist as popular as Elvis Presley is that it’s very difficult to recreate his work in an original way. Popular covers of his most popular songs and movies about his life have been so overdone that people are bored with it. This risk of this is that his genius will be forgotten over time and that people will only be able to remember the shallow simulacra of Elvis that largely lives on today.

Elvis was more than the cartoon figure he is made out to be today. He’s an icon of postwar American culture, a pioneer of rock music, and an artist that did more to influence popular music than anyone else in history. As such, we should expect creative tributes that recognize this.

Elvis in Unexpected Places

Beyond the DJ decks and recording studios, Elvis is still popping up everywhere in some weird and wonderful ways. One particularly haunting and memorable tribute is that of Elvis in the popular True Blood series of novels, where the King lives on as a severely brain-damaged vampire, following a transformation gone wrong. Nonetheless, the author still manages to get in as many iconic Elvis catchphrases as possible, all while reflecting on his troubled personal life.

In the realm of video games is where fans will find some of the most intriguing tributes. One that manages to make a subtle but poignant reference to Elvis’s impact on culture is Fallout: New Vegas, a game which uses a post-apocalyptic setting to reflect on the excesses of American mass culture. Easter egg hunters will find a solemn tribute to the King aboard a crashed spaceship in the Nevada desert, a tribute to his long relationship with Sin City.

Speaking of Viva Las Vegas, Elvis’s association with gambling capital of the world has meant that he continues to live on in the form of slot games. His image and vocals live on in a range of popular slot machines on major e-gambling platforms like Betway, suggesting that no-one has done more to boost the fortunes of the casino industry than Elvis himself.

Perhaps less entertaining is the Elvis board game by Cadaco, in which players quite crassly play their way through the highs and lows of the King’s life and career, stopping on the board to pick up “jail time” and platinum records. The game was, unsurprisingly, not a major hit.

Keeping it Fresh

Fortunately, there have been some creative, innovative and very fun to listen to tributes to Elvis over recent years, as artists young and old rediscover his work. Putting aside the sad cover songs from fading pop stars, some of the best tributes to Elvis have been the moments when his music crosses over into new genres.

One glaring example of Elvis made fresh again is Junkie XL’s remix of A Little Less Conversation, which repackaged Elvis for the late rave era and demonstrated how his instrumentals and captivating vocals are perfect ingredients for dance music floor fillers.

Similarly, many of his greatest hits were repurposed for the emerging digital hardcore genre in the early 90s, when the Berlin band Atari Teenage Riot’s frontman created an LP consisting entirely of experimental remixes of his most famous tracks. The album didn’t sell much at the time but, these days, the records are highly sought-after items.

In a more mainstream but no less inventive way, the Strauss remix of Suspicious Minds remains a thoughtful, considered, and addictive tribute track, with music bible Billboard calling it one of their favourite remixes of all time.

So, is it time to pull the plug on the Elvis franchise and finally let him be fossilized in amber? As some of these creations show, there is still plenty of material for talented artists to gain inspiration from. We look forward to seeing how the King inspires in the years to come.