Robin Thicke and Pharrell got sued by Marvin Gaye’s family for allegedly stealing parts of Gaye’s Got To Give It Up for Thicke’s Blurred Lines. As little as I like Blurred Lines, I have to say that Thicke may not really be guilty from a musical standpoint. I’ll admit they share similar tempos and rhythms, but when you look at the broad scope of music out there, there are thousands of songs that share very close similarities to each other. For example, how many pop punk songs share the same double-time rhythm, 1-5-6-4 progression, and key? A huge percentage of blues songs share the same exact 12-bar progressions in a variety of keys with certain motifs, riffs, and licks that are characteristic of the blues. How many hip hop songs out there use actual recordings of other people’s music for their hooks? You’ll hear King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man on Kanye West’s Power along with a whole host of samples in other hip hop songs.
There are certain defining elements that you just can’t get away from using if you are trying to achieve a recognizable sound within a particular genre. I’m sure both Pharrell and Thicke have been influenced heavily by someone as seminal as Marvin Gaye. Perhaps one way to pay respect to a hero is for them to take some of the bits and pieces that stick their ribs and feed their version of the recipe to others. The way I see it is the melody and the hooks are Thicke’s painted on the same type of canvas that Gaye used.
Real estate in the pop music landscape seems to be shrinking quickly, but that is because of the nature of genre. Popular music is supposed to have mass appeal – a memetic quality – which means the music must be simplified in order to not alienate the audience. That means that many musical elements will be repeated, from drum rhythms, to melodies, all the way to actual recorded samples. There are videos on YouTube that demonstrate this extremely well.
Ultimately, it’s difficult these days to create entirely “original” music. It’s all been done before in some way or another. Now, the approach seems to be to take certain influences and create unique combinations of flavors – electro from a rock perspective (Justice). Rap from a blues/roots perspective (Mos Def, the Blacrok project). Some artists simply do it better than others. In the case of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, they may just have not been very subtle about it.
I suppose the question is, how do define plagiarism in music?
- On a side note, I think it’s kinda funny and sad to see Thicke squirm over this whole ordeal. Way to throw your fellow artist under the bus while also destroying all of your personal and artistic credibility. Squirrelly bastard.
Three days of music in a row. It’s been a great (and exhausting) weekend!
The Mars Volta - Goliath
"Do your squats, eat your vegetables, wear red lipstick and don’t let boys be mean to you."
PC: Jacob Wong / @young.dragon
What do you do on a Wednesday night? Oh you know… Just hanging out at Mark’s Garage.
I’m never gonna let these stoned wash jeans go. They’re…
I don’t usually do fashion shoots, but when I do, it’s with my friend Baye.
The best part about working for a food publication is that looking at food porn is basically part of my job description.
The worst part about working for a food publication is being required to look at food porn when I’m hungry.