On the most surface level, it’s obvious why Beyoncé sings “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” in the trailer for September 20 HBO concert special with husband Jay Z (watch it below). A sample of Nancy Sinatra‘s rendition of the song was part of their live show; it segued into “Part II (On the Run),” the couple’s duet from last year’s Jay Z album, Magna Carta… Holy Grail; the HBO special, like the tour, is titled On the Run. Bang bang.
It’s also easy to see why the song’s imagery would suit the Jay-Bey pairing. When she sings that “he wore black, and I wore white,” she dramatizes the media caricature of the tough-talking rapper and the angelic pop royal, the former drug dealer and the former beauty queen. Murder ballads have a rich history in pop, and yet there’s enough ambiguity here — in the original, by the third verse, the narrator still appears to be very much alive — to make it come across as the logical end point for ’60s girl-group songs in the tradition of the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Beyoncé and Jay Z are no strangers to that type of imagery in their lyrics — setting aside Beyoncé’s Fifty Shades of Grey connection, there was much discussion of the allusion to an abusive relationship on the couple’s “Drunk in Love,” from last year’s Beyoncé. And the use of the Nancy Sinatra version’s tremolo guitars, combined with the presence of Jay Z, allows Beyoncé to reclaim, definitively, Lana Del Rey‘s self-applied title of “gangster Nancy Sinatra.”
And yet what might be most interesting about this Nancy Sinatra cover is that, despite all the headlines to the contrary, it’s not technically a Nancy Sinatra cover at all. Frank‘s daughter — best not to think too hard about how many times Jay Z has compared himself to the father here — recorded the song in 1966, but it was a hit first for Cher, written by her then-husband Sonny Bono. Nancy Sinatra’s recording featured in Quentin Tarantino‘s 2003 film Kill Bill Volume 1, and her take took off from there, with samples appearing on a 2005 U.K. hit by London electronic duo Audio Bullys and on various rap songs, including by Kardinal Offishall and Lil Wayne; Jack White regularly performed “Bang Bang” live with the Raconteurs; a Lady Gaga-Tony Bennett cover is reportedly in the works. “Bang bang, that awful sound”: It’s Beyoncé’s now.