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Image / Living / Culture

What you need to know about Olivia Rodrigo and that plagiarism backlash


By Jennifer McShane
09th Sep 2021

@PopCrave

What you need to know about Olivia Rodrigo and that plagiarism backlash

After comparisons were made between Rodrigo's music and that of Taylor Swift and Paramore, the 18-year-old offered writing credits, which are – to put it mildly – proving to be costly.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that when it comes to getting credit for what is theirs, women aren’t front and centre when they need to be.

In the music industry, Taylor Swift was one of the first megastars to call out what happens when female creators are not given total ownership of their work – the result was the singer have to re-record years of albums so she would simply have the right to them – without paying a substantial amount to own what was hers in the first place.

In a scathing Tumblr post, Swift expressed anger and disappointment — more specifically, she was “grossed out” — that Braun was now the owner of Big Machine, and by extension, the owner of the masters (the rights to her songs) from her first six albums.

Singer Olivia Rodrigo has apparently given a huge percentage of royalties amounting to millions of dollars to Swift and Hayley Williams, among others, after retroactively giving them credits on some of her most recent songs. Rodrigo’s had a breakout year, which saw her rise to mainstream stardom in January with her debut song Drivers License, as well as anthem Good 4 U and her first album, Sour.

What happened?

Initially, Rodrigo and her producing team had the bulk of the credits on the songs, but fans on social media started to compare her very new catalog to similar-sounding tracks, resulting in a lot of additional credits only now being added.

The drama began several months ago when fans began posting mash-ups of Rodrigo’s single Good 4 u and Paramore’s 2007 song Misery Business. TikTok was quickly full of videos from people pointing out the similarities between the two songs and asking why Paramore hadn’t been credited on Rodrigo’s single.

Example:

However, now Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams and guitarist Josh Farro were both listed as co-writers on the track, though much of the furor is due to the fact that it appears to be retrospective to the song’s release. However, according to reports, both camps were actually in contact before this became public.

Though this wasn’t the first time that Rodrigo had offered writing credits to other artists for their apparent influence on her work — weeks ago it was reported she’d already credited Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, and St. Vincent (AKA Annie Clark) to Deja Vu, another one of her hits.

At it’s more than a few pennies, to say the least; Williams and Farro share $1.2M in royalties so far while Taylor Swift’s writing team was granted $824K.

The argument will always be for originality. Is this what we want from our new artists, borrowing from what has come before?

In June fans began drawing similarities between Rodrigo’s single Brutal and Elvis Costello’s 1978 song Pump It Up, to which Costello responded, but in a positive way, saying that was a natural facet of the industry.

Interpolation versus sampling 

It’s worth noting that the 18-year-old has done what is known as Interpolation. The interpolation of a song basically means that parts of that record’s composition have been rerecorded and turned into something new. It’s different from a sample, which merely lifts a snippet from an original song (Stan by Eminem lifted a snippet from Dido’s Thank You, by way of example).

Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine has taken to Instagram to defend Rodrigo, saying, “I do think that we [should] probably meet this with a little more compassion and understanding.”

“These are tricky things, and anyone who’s ever written a song knows that sometimes you rip something off inadvertently, and it makes it to tape, and then it gets released, and then there’s a lawsuit. It’s a natural thing for it to happen, and sometimes it gets ugly, and sometimes it’s warranted that people take legal action. Sometimes it’s not warranted that people take legal action…”

This seems to be what has happened here, and being very much a case of credit where credit is due, Rodrigo is making sure that happens – even if she was a little late off the mark.