Earlier this week R’n’B stars Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were ordered by a jury to pay over $7m to the family of Marvin Gaye, after it was ruled that their single ‘Blurred Lines’ was a copy of Gaye’s ‘Got to Give It Up’.
Having listened to both songs one after the other, I can admit that there are similarities between the two. However, to me it seems ridiculous to say that it was a blatant copy. Marvin Gaye and Pharrell Williams aren’t the only two people to have used a similar groove and drum beat - which is where the similarities between the two songs in question ends. Pharrell has made no secret of the fact that he grew up listening to Marvin Gaye, and there are plenty of videos online of him admitting that he took influence from ‘Got to Give It Up’. Pharrell has produced plenty of chart topping songs over the years, and since ‘Blurred Lines’ was released he has produced more - ‘Happy’ is permanently on the radio somewhere - so it’s not like he even needs to plagiarise to create a hit.
Pop artists in the charts today will take influence from artists they grew up listening to, and may want to pay homage to the music that inspires them. But when does it become plagiarism? Bruno Mars’ recent hit ‘Uptown Funk’ has a similar drum groove and guitar part to countless Funk classics, but to suggest that it has copied any song is ludicrous - this style of playing is a key characteristic in the genre. Plenty of other music in the charts now is heavily influenced from old music as well - Meghan Trainor’s singles are essentially Doo-Wop classics repackaged for the modern listener - but it’s hardly plagiarism.
It baffles me how ‘Blurred Lines’ has been deemed a rip-off, when the similarities are only minor, yet over the years there have been genuine copies in the charts that have just been allowed to happen. The introduction to One Direction’s ‘Best Song Ever’ is undeniably the exact same intro as The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’, and the intro to One Direction’s ‘Live While Were Young’ is completely interchangeable with The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, down to the muted guitar strums.
There are other cases in recent memory not unlike the ‘Blurred Lines’ case. Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ is strikingly similar to Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’. Lady Gaga has herself even admitted that one of her biggest influences in music is Madonna, and that is all that’s been said about it - and rightly so. Pharrell has too been open about his love for Marvin Gaye, so why has his case been deemed plagiarism, rather than just an artist taking influence from the artists that inspire them?
I’ve read interviews with Marvin Gaye’s children in relation to the court case, and to me it seems that they are just greedy people, trying to milk this case for all that it’s worth. Nona Gaye, Marvin’s only daughter, claimed that she “Felt free.. free from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke's chains and what they tried to keep from us and the lies that were told.” I feel for Pharrell and Robin - these claims are absurd and it is clear to me that they have decided to honour a musician they felt inspired by, and have been made to suffer because of the greed of his children. Reports are circulating that they are to target Pharrell’s summer hit ‘Happy’ next - is the $7million they’ve already won not enough?
I am on Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s lawyer’s side for this one - after the verdict was given, he said that it “sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward”, which is absolutely true. Now that this case has been ruled as plagiarism, over the next few years more and more similar cases will crop up. Soon, the 12-bar blues won’t even be safe, and most modern rock and pop music will be labelled as ripped-off. If it carries on this path, the next generation of musicians might be too scared to pay tribute to their favourite artists, in fear of a lawsuit. I worry for the future of the industry if this is the way that it’s heading.
I believe the case of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams is a turning point in the music industry - the ears of all the families of deceased music stars from past years probably pricked up upon hearing this verdict, and i’m sure this will be the first of many plagiarism cases. Very little music is truly original these days, and many popular artists are clearly influenced from older music - which is totally fine - but I fear that newer artists creativity will be stunted, and they will no longer feel safe to honour their idols. Where exactly is the boundary between showing appreciation to your influences and outright stealing their sound? I guess the lines are blurred.