ARE YOU A COPYCAT?

I’m no music critic, but I’ve been around long enough to notice how modern artists are influenced by older artists and incorporate their styles and techniques into contemporary music. There’s a big difference between influence and imitation, but where do we draw the line in terms of what is considered as ‘drawing reference from’ or being a plain old copycat?

I’ve seen a number of musicians commit the shameful act of imitation. Some call it ‘sampling’, but I prefer to call it musical plagiarism. Music is a form of art, from producing beats to writing lyrics, each process is an intricate one. It somehow manages to capture a part of the composer or writer, which makes it their own. By stealing or copying these so-called ‘works of art’, artists are committing an act of imitation. If you copy someone else’s work, you automatically fit into the ‘basic bitch’ category.

Do you wanna be a basic bitc? If not, don't copy. Photo Source: masetv.com
Do you wanna be a basic bitch? If not, don’t copy.
Photo Source: masetv.com

There’s a thin line between incorporating a style that has been done before, finding a way to make it your own by putting a personalised twist to it and blatantly copying someone else’s idea. Imitation is not to be confused with influence. Influence is when an artist draws inspiration from another artist, which usually sparks a bright new idea. It’s only natural that artists are influenced by older artists or legends in the music industry because the artist has made some sort of impact on their lives and they hope that their careers will reach the same level of success.

American singer, songwriter and producer, Miguel has been compared to the legendary Prince due to his appearance and vocal ability. Miguel stated in an interview that he has in fact been influenced by Prince, as for people calling Miguel ‘the Prince of our generation’: that is trash-talk. Yes, they both have similar hairstyles, but there is absolutely no copycat syndrome in Miguel’s musical game. “It’s cool for people to pick parts of him that they see in me because he is one of my biggest influences. I think it’s cool that you see it if you do, but I would never compare myself to him. I can’t even try and fill those shoes.” says Miguel.

Miguel performing on stage. Photo Source: vg.no
Miguel performing on stage.
Photo Source: vg.no

 

Beyoncé stated at the screening of her 2014 self-titled album that she hopes to follow in Madonna’s footsteps one day. “I felt like I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Madonna… and to show other women when you get to this point in your career, you don’t have to share your success and money, you can do it yourself.” Beyoncé was referred to as ‘the black Madonna’. In her album, she visually dedicated the song ‘Haunted’ to her and the music video was plainly influenced by the Queen of Pop. Beyoncé channelled her look in the 1992 ‘Erotica’ video by rocking a blonde hairdo, a black tuxedo paired with black high heels and a men’s tie around her neck.

So, in terms of drawing the line between an original and a replica, consider how journalists are expected to be original when writing instead of plagiarising another writer’s work. In the same way, artists should be original and shouldn’t plagiarise musically. People in the music industry shouldn’t get preferential treatment. I think a musician is respected by the audience, if they can recognise that the artist is using another artist’s style, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t portray the artist as a copycat but rather as an admirer.

Imitation, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. Artists who lack originality tend to be copycats. A true artist has no limitation to their creative capabilities. Some musicians copy other singers’ songs without paying a copyright fee.

Rihanna’s song ‘Please Don’t Stop The Music’ sampled Michael Jackson’s track ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. Both Jackson and Rihanna committed copyright infringement. Manu Dibango, a Cameroonian artist, sued the two singers because the line, “Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Ma Coo Sa” was featured in both songs without his consent. Clearly, the court-case didn’t faze Jackson or Rihanna because they both made thousands of dollars from these songs.

Rihanna’s song ‘Please Don’t Stop The Music’ sampled Michael Jackson’s track ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. Both Jackson and Rihanna committed copyright infringement. Manu Dibango, a Cameroonian artist, sued the two singers because the line, “Ma Ma Se, Ma Ma Sa, Ma Ma Ma Coo Sa” was featured in both songs without his consent. Clearly, the court-case didn’t faze Jackson or Rihanna because they both made thousands of dollars from these songs.

I was on my way to town once and I heard a familiar beat. My initial reaction was to sing along to Rob Thomas’ song playing on the radio. “I don’t wanna be lonely no more. I don’t wanna have to pay for thi–.” Nope, wrong. Instead the English boy-band, Rixton decided to change the lyrics to something that sounded a little like this: “All I need is a little love in my life// All I need is a little love in the dark…” You’d expect a low-blow copycat move from a boy-band that no one’s even heard of, huh? Rixton gets absolutely no love from me for sampling a hit song that landed at number six on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

English boy-band, Rixton. Photo Source: seventeen.com
English boy-band, Rixton.
Photo Source: seventeen.com

 

Enough of my Rixton rant… Imitation isn’t only visible in music, but it’s evident in works of art as well. There have been many cases of art forgery. Art forgery is best described as artists who imitate another artist’s artwork and then sell the artwork as an original piece of work just to make a profit.

China is known for imitation of products and its peoples’ understanding of imitation is more of a tradition rather than a rip-off of another artists’ work. In the town of Dafen in China, a local art factory owner, Ruiqi copies famous artists, such as Van Gogh. In May 1990, a Van Gogh painting was sold for $149,5 million at an auction house in New York. Ruiqi sells their painting replicas for $100 apiece. (I don’t know about you but I’d rather buy the imitation product if it was good enough, but that wouldn’t be supporting the point of this article, would it?)

Thankfully, some artists have the gift to distinguish between influence and imitation. Someone needs to remind copycats that it’s not okay to copy someone else’s work, whether it’s intentional or not. A copycat will just be remembered as ‘Oh, so he’s the guy who copied [said-persons] work’.

Prominence is best achieved when original work is produced to make an artist stand out from the rest. Like the legendary Michael Jackson sang, ‘You wanna be startin’ somethin’, you got to be startin’ … your own thing.

 

 

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