happy birthday to me today :\
lots of #hip young music writers getting their panties in a bunch on Social Media right now. thanks for the entertainment on the sunday night before i have to go back to work, Ott.
new 2ne1 is a total grower. took me like, what, a week (?) to finally get into it.
also, does anyone know if Emile Haynie produced this? because that would be wild.
The Saturdays are a U.K. girl group that debuted back in 2007. Their fourth album, Living for the Weekend, came out in October, but I’ve only had the chance to listen to it this week.
The record opens up with “What About Us,” a song featuring forgotten dancehall and reggae musician, Sean Paul. It was a single released last year and does a fine job of introducing the album, telling us what we’re in for, for the next 44-minutes: It’s an inoffensive pop record that has a few jams, more clunkers but at its worst, uninspired and saturated pop. These type of fluffy records are in ample supply — especially in 2013 — but what makes the Saturdays’ Living for the Weekend, somewhat interesting is the eighth song on the LP, "Anywhere With You."
The conspicuously buried track isn’t awful, actually, quite the opposite — it’s actually pretty good. But I was so taken aback the first time i heard the song, I had to hit pause and make sure iTunes didn’t mess up and play what I thought I was hearing. And what I thought I was hearing was a blend of Katy Perry’s two most popular songs, "California Gurls" and “Teenage Dream.”
"Anywhere With You" starts off with a plinking synth and acceptable harmonies; nothing groundbreaking, noting revolting. But when the song erupts into the chorus, the five women who make up the Saturdays, morph into a carbon-copy-Perry, singing the lyrics: "This day feels like it’s never gonna end / So sick of these dreams that I been walking in / All I wanna do is be anywhere with you right now woooah / Take me sky high we’re jumping on a plane / Don’t care where we land, to me it’s all the same / All I wanna do is be anywhere with you right now wooooah."
Googling “‘The Saturdays’ ‘Anywhere With You’ ‘Katy Perry’” did not yield any results as to whether or not the group hacked Katy’s jams — all I could find were a few commenters on Last.fm who were hearing the same thing as me. Maybe it’s because the Saturdays are far away from pop royalty (Living for the Weekend charted at No. 10 in the U.K. and as far as I can tell it did not make a dent in the U.S.) or maybe because they’re from across the pond but no one has made any kind of fuss over the similarities between “Anywhere With You” and Katy’s songs.
Even if they did, the usual reply by someone accused of plagiarism is: “We love her and wanted to honor her sound in a song,” or “We recorded that song way before” (though, I doubt anyone would buy that in this case). Time and time again, musicians come under fire because their music sounds too close to someone else’s work and even Katy was slammed with melody thievery. Around the release of “Roar,” people connected the dots between the mid-tempo empowering pop song to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” which was released months before “Roar.” Critics and fans charged Katy and her crew (the usual suspects: producers Dr. Luke, Max Martin and songwriter Bonnie McKee) of plagiarism, since the song shared some of the same elements, like that tiny tinker-toy piano that balances out both tracks and the feel-good-you-can-do-it!!! lyrics.
“Katy’s a friend of mine and we’ve known each other a really long time, so she even texted me about it and we went back and forth,” Bareilles told ABC News. “The shame that I feel that’s happened is that it’s become a drama. It’s putting this negative spin on two artists that are choosing to share positive messages.”
Responding to the criticism, Dr. Luke tweeted about the controversy as well: ”Roar was written and recorded before Brave came out,” he said.
But nothing came of it and Bareilles, her team or her record label didn’t sue. (It should be noted, however, that “Brave” did see a boost in the charts)
Bruno Mars, who put out Unorthodox Jukebox last year (some poptimists have called his latest record one of the best albums of the decade), has pulled off the same questionable “homages” as Katy and (possibly) the Saturdays. The crooner’s first single was the mega-successful "Locked Out of Heaven." The 2012 song scanned like something out of the Police/Sting’s playbook thanks to signature guitar plinks, yelps and thick bass, which conjured up images and #feels of Sting grooving to “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” or better yet, "I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight." But did Mars swagger jack Sting and Co.? Or is this just him paying tribute to the rock icons? Reading reviews, critics seem to congratulate Mars for his homage but through my ears, it sounds like a lawyer was needed in the room during the recording process — “Locked Out of Heaven” is just different enough for it to (legally) pass and is just above the line of sounding original for Mars to get a high-five from the media and even Sting himself.
But things are even more suspect with Mars’ third single “Treasure,” a disco-y funkafied dance cut that also dominated around the world. When I first heard “Treasure,” a bell went off in my head and I swore I heard it before. After doing a little memory jogging, I realized it sounded like French electro artist Breakbot’s “Baby I’m Yours” (though I only heard the Siriusmo remix of the song at the time). "Baby I’m Yours" came out in 2010, fittingly on Ed Banger records, a French electro record label responsible for acts like Justice, Uffie, Sebastian and more.
The beats and structure of the two tracks are so incredibly similar it sounds like Mars attempted a cover. Mars’ song, however, did not initally sit well with Breakbot, aka Thibaut Berland, who tweeted in December: “hey @BrunoMars ! seriously ?” He later added, “Haha great now i’ve got all the bruno fans mad at me ! this is serious, they might throw their hats at me.”
In May, Berland told Tiny Mix Tapes in an interview that he was told Mars really did want to cover his song but, “At the time, I was really busy finishing my album, so it did not happen,” Berland said. ”And he made this song called ‘Treasure,’ which is actually kind of a rip-off of ‘Baby I’m Yours.’ But I’m cool with it — I have many influences myself, with lots of bits taken from here and there. You know, it’s alright.” He goes on to say that he and Mars had lunch after the song, calling the pop star “a sweet guy.” Even Ed Banger owner Busy P said he was fine with “Treasure” during a Reddit AMA session.
Though both Bareilles and Berland are cool with big pop acts using/homaging their music, not everyone feels that way. The Chicago Tribune reported in September that Nicki Minaj was being sued for copyright infringement by a relatively unknown electronic musician Clive Tanaka, claiming her pop banger “Starships” was lifted from a song of his called “Neu Chicago.” The suit also names producer Red One and co-writers co-writers Carl Falk, Wayne Hector, and Rami Yacoub. Tanaka says that Minaj and her team probably knew about his song because it was used on several TV ads in Sweden and received a number of plays online.
This summer, another similar incident occurred; this time between Abel Tesfaye, the R&B star behind the Weeknd, and Geoff Barrow of Portishead. The track in question was "Belong to the World," off his debut studio album, the horrendous Kiss Land. The song sounds like it samples the drums from the band’s track "Machine Gun," but Barrow said he denied Tesfaye the rights to use the sample.
"When someone asks to sample you and you refuse they should have the respect as a fellow artist to not use it," Barrow said.
Around the same time”Belong to the World” was released, and the same time Barrow made his comments, Complex (via Stereogum) published an interview with Tesfaye — the singer’s first interview with any publication.
“Yeah, that was the inspiration behind that,” Tesfaye said. ”I wrote a letter to the producers of Portishead and let them know this album is inspired by them.”
Barrow wasn’t happy and took to Twitter: “We usually give sample clearance to tunes we like. its got fuk all to do with money! As most of them are hiphop artist that are skint.” He later said, “Feels like I’m being used to promote the track now… I’ll shut up now. I don’t wanna get paid… I just want my beat back.”
"Seems @theweeknd have said there is no sample used or enough likeness to Machine Gun to warrant any infringement….or credit," Barrow added.
Again, another case of “changing the source material just enough to avoid spending the next 5-years in court.”
Though it is unclear if Barrow really did pursue any legal action, one of the most litigious cases involves one of the biggest songs of 2013, Robin Thicke’s summer hit, "Blurred Lines." As Pitchfork recently reported, Marvin Gaye’s family alleged that the controversial song rips off the iconic singer’s "Got to Give It Up." But in a preemptive move to protect themselves, Thicke, producer/co-writer Pharrell and featured rapper T.I., filed a suit against Gaye’s family, in hopes it would prove the song is simply paying an homage to Gaye. In a counter-suit, Gaye’s family says Thicke and Co. lifted a number of the late singer’s music and blended it together to make “Blurred Lines.”
The clincher, however, is a GQ article the Gaye family cites in the lawsuit, where Thicke mentions that he was inspired by “Got to Give It Up.”
"Pharrell and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up,’" Thicke told the magazine. "I was like, ‘Damn, we should make something like that, something with that groove.’ Then he started playing a little something and we literally wrote the song in about a half hour and recorded it."
(It should be noted the Gaye family apparently turned down a six-figure settlement)
These types of cases have long been part of the music industry’s past, but it does show there are blurred lines (kekeke) when it comes to inspiration/an homage vs. being a copycat. There’s no protocol or hard and fast rules (except when sampling, like the Weeknd’s case; but things get murky there too and that entire concept can be fleshed out better in a post of its own) for being inspired by something but when you’ve got people jumping down your throat about your tunes sounding too similar (looking at you Lady Gaga) then maybe you want to change things up a bit more. I don’t want to preach but perhaps an open dialog between artists or record labels would avoid situations like the incidents mentioned in this post. A lot of these incidents seem rooted in shifty behavior and finger pointing.
Getting back to Katy Perry vs the Saturdays, I highly doubt she is going to take the girl group to court over the similarities between songs. “Anywhere With You” is evocative of the album, Living for the Weekend: it’s harmless. And with the cases I pointed out, it seems like most people are OK with their music being recycled — as long as the recycler owns up to it: I like you, I respect your music but it’s going in my pop song that will get me millions of dollars, whether you like it or not.
So I’m not sure how often I can write reviews here or whatever; things IRL are really packed and a lot of my free time goes to writing for other places but I have some free time now and think it’s probably a good idea to talk about Lady Gaga’s third album, ARTPOP.
Gaga just came off a big weekend where she hosted and preformed on Saturday Night Live and her album in the U.K. is going to go to No. 1.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Mother Monster. When she first bursted on the scene, and pretty much became a superstar over night, I initially couldn’t get behind her, though I eventually gave into “Paparazzi” (personal side note: this was the first song I heard during the first time I’ve ever been drunk) — still, “Lovegame” set me back (still don’t like it). After coming to terms with my love for “Paparazzi” I struggled with her vocals on The Fame. But that all changed when she released The Fame Monster, 8 incredible tracks of pure pop at it’s ultra-mega-finest. It’s a perfect “album” (mini-album EP? whatever, it’s 10/10). An Internet friend alerted me of “Bad Romance” when it came out about a month before the record and boy oh boy was I ever fucking sold.
Then came Serious Gaga; the young pop star (Gaga is only 27 years old right now) changed the game with The Fame Monster but conquering music wasn’t her only quest: Fashion, LGBT rights, equality of all kind and art were just some of the things she set out to impact — and she did change everything she set out to. But Serious Gaga was a turn off and soon think pieces about the singer came out and suggested that she was using the LGBT community/human rights as the latest accessory to promote her music. For me, it was hard to really tell how sincere she was at the time; I do feel she genuinely cares about equality but let’s just say I’m sure there were plenty of meetings with managers and white straight men in ties about it all, which makes things icky.
Following up The Fame Monster was tough. In February 2011, Gaga released “Born This Way,” which was instantly scrutinized by critics for ripping of Madonna, TLC, Kelly Rowland and god knows who else. This marks the public backlash. Gaga, now free of aiming to please record label execs a la Kanye, made it known THIS IS THE REAL ME NO MORE SUGARY COATED “JUST DANCE” TRACKS. The results? Mixed.
At the time of Born This Way I creamed my pants, calling it the best pop record of the last 5 years, though make no mistake I still championed The Fame Monster. And it is a great record but I do not find myself returning to it as much as The Fame Monster. Gaga’s visceral pre-dubstep (sigh) beats were jarring and a large departure from the Red One slick and worldly sounds crafted out on her previous efforts. Lyrically, it was fine but this streak of Importance and This Is Real Music cut through each song, weighing down the LP and removing the element of carefree fun that shimmered through Gaga’s past discography.
But finally, we’re here at ARTPOP. Like some of the other high-ranking pop divas that released albums this year (Katy Perry, Britney Spears), the promotion and money spent around getting fans excited for the release of the record was toned down than previous years. Sure there were snippets and the live performances and the kooky music video for “Applause” but it all felt really standard; un-Gaga like.
And that’s OK. ARTPOP is not perfect, but it is the record Gaga needed to make. Overall, it’s not terribly exciting and there aren’t many new ideas being flushed out. The production is standard but not disappointing. Gaga and her team aren’t treading new ground but do a fine job at keeping listeners engaged. Those Zedd and DJ White Shadow pre-dubstep zaps and electric shock synths are still rule ARTPOP and Gaga’s lyrics are, at times, abysmal and totally cringe-worthy.
But what makes the album so good is it’s lightheartedness. It never, ever takes itself too seriously and that is so refreshing coming from Gaga. Even on the ballad “Dope,” the fact that she is up front comparing the love she has for someone to a hard drug is funny. Sure, the motif of being addicted to drugs and love has been used to death (see Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 opener “Pusher Lover Girl”) but the way Gaga delivers her lines is quite different for her. “Venus” sounds like a track Klaus Nomi would have made if he were still alive today and it’s so ridiculous and over-the-top, it works (dat “MY ASS IS FAMOUS” line tho). On tracks like “Do What U Want,” “Swine” and “MANiCURE” we find Gaga over-singing parts and really selling it, sounding like a Xtina parody. But it’s just Gaga being campy, taking knocks at pop music and actually having fun with it all.
Her performances of the new material show that Gaga is enjoying herself; being silly but still coming across as an Artist, letting you know who and what inspires her. The themes on the album don’t stray too far from her other records: fame, sex, drug use, gender roles, art and fashion are all on full displayed here but Gaga get’s her point across better: she’s not talking down/pandering to fans and her thesis (anything can be art once it cycles and is adopted through/by pop culture) isn’t driven into her fans as the try-too-hard “it’s OK to be who you are” anthem, “Born This Way.”
The best thing on ARTPOP is “Gypsy,” which she sang on SNL yesterday (THANK GOD, hope this means it’ll be a single?!?!). I was floored the first time I heard it and it revived the hope in me that Gaga is not just a flash in the pan. It blended the best elements of Gaga: those aggressive beats a la BTW are up front but toned down and the confident glossy pop days of The Fame (Monster). It’s one of the best songs she has ever made and may be one of the best pop songs of the decade, but let’s not tag everything with a hyperbolic milestone label.
The ARTPOP cycle is far from over, but things came full circle on SNL last night. Gaga told the American people, fans and haters, that she’s one of us. She can poke fun of herself, as she did on a few skits — taking jabs at her outrageous outfits and the criticism that she’s a Madonna carbon copy who rips off other artists.
What really hit hard was the final skit of the night, where Gaga played her future self: she’s in her golden years, living in what seems to be a upper-middle class retirement home. Kenan Thompson plays a repair man who Gaga called up to fix a light — but there is no broken light, Gaga just made an excuse to get someone in her room. She goes on to ask Thompson if he remembers her music, playing little snippets of “Poker Face,” “Bad Romance,” and “Applause.” He doesn’t recall any of the mega-hits and just wants to fix the light and be on his way. He does remember “Born This Way,” however, but only from a toilet cleaner commercial. She asks him if he remembers “Telephone” the song she did with Beyonce. Thompson freaks out and says, “You know, Beyonce?! Empress Beyonce?!”
"We were superstars back in the day but everyone forgot about me," she replies.
It’s not the first time she’s opened up about her insecurities. Gaga told the Guardian this summer that she fears she won’t be relevant anymore and she released that promo video calling herself “finished” and “over” etc. It’s still hard to tell how the public is going to receive Gaga in the next five or 10 years. I’ve read that ARTPOP isn’t going to come in at No. 1 in the U.S. and will won’t sell as much as Katy Perry’s Prism.
That may be the best thing we hope happens to Gaga. Though there is no telling, I suspect by the next album Gaga will realized that less is more, realizing self-editing while remaining true to herself and not shoving it down everyone’s throats is the best way to return and say in the public’s warm embrace. Again, take Kanye for an example: each solo record since his debut has sold less and less, but he is still one of the most talked about celebs in the world and his popularity only rises when he drops a new record. I have no doubt Yeezus will dominate the 2013 year-end-lists but it only sold 517,000 copies (I should note it did go to No. 1 as did every single record of his except his debut but the drop offs in sales between each record are high) and “Black Skinhead” only peaked at No. 69 on Billboard.
Lady Gaga wants to be famous but there will come a point where she is over it. A time will come where her Little Monster fan base will have dwindled and she has no one to please but herself and finite set of fans. If BTW is her “dark album” and ARTPOP is her “light album” Gaga’s fourth effort will find her at a medium ground again; totally feeling free to push her boundaries and influences into something tangible and remarkable. If “Gypsy” is any proof, she’s still got the talent and spark that got her where she is today and my guess it’s going to take some setback before Gaga can give what she’s really got.