When I research for articles, I often come across odd tidbits that are tangentially related to the topic and sometimes more interesting in their own right. In my recent article on Starship’s 1985 hit, “We Built This City,” I discovered a couple of these bits and pieces of knowledge that didn’t fit into the narrative of the post.
In 1989 I attended the opening of San Diego’s new waterfront convention center with my father. My most vivid memory from that event was hearing Starship’s 1985 single, “We Built This City,” play as the fireworks danced in the sky over San Diego Bay. Since I was nine at the time, I didn’t know Starship’s song and I didn’t remember when it hit the charts in 1985. What I do remember was feeling how appropriate the song was to the event: a celebration of a building being built, and an exciting fireworks show.
For the week ending September 20, 2014, Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass” hit number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song was cited by the New York Times as one of several new hits that utilizes the theme of body image, and Trainor mentioned in an interview with Billboard that the song is “about loving your body…and your booty.” On the other hand, the song (and its music video) have been criticized for not actually being body positive; author and blogger Jenny Trout even cogently asked, “If this song is promoting body positivity, then why does it define a specific body type as being more desirable, and place all of a woman’s value on her fuckability to heterosexual men?”
Those criticisms aside, the song is quite catchy, and since its release back in June it has become a memorable hit of the summer (and a welcome change from last summer’s dance craze). However, what intrigued me about the song was not its body image theme, but rather how other performing artists appropriated Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish’s song, and covered it in different ways.
A little over a year ago I wrote an article about Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ track “Blurred Lines,” and the allegations by the estate of Marvin Gaye that Thicke and Williams had copied Gaye’s 1977 hit, “Got to Give it Up.” The two songs have striking similarities, in particular the falsetto singing and percussion groove, but “Blurred Lines” is not plagiarism. In fact, if Thicke and Williams had truly copied “Got to Give it Up,” “Blurred Lines” would have been a much more interesting track.
More often then I like to admit, I’m surprised by my lack of awareness of pop culture and pop music. About a week ago I saw an article on the BBC that was about Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and Clifford Harris Jr.’s recent single, “Blurred Lines,” and the claims of copying from the estate of Marvin Gaye. In brief, the article addressed issues of music authorship and ownership, and it raised in my mind the question about what constitutes copying, and what constitutes an original work.