It seems that whenever we browse online or within apps these days, there is a common thread that runs throughout each of them. Publishers and users are creating similar content that appeals to the popular mainstream. These people observe what is relevant in today’s culture, and comment on it by creating content that people will respond to. Similarly, artists will often hear a sound that is appealing to them and an audience and repeat it in their own music—whether they know it or not. Depending on a person’s knowledge of a vast amount of music, it is easy to hear similarities between new songs and old.
In January 2014, the American DJ duo, The Chainsmokers, released the song #SELFIE. This song was a commentary on what people, especially girls, say when they go out, and especially when they’re taking “selfies.” The duo wanted to create a song that was relatable, and they succeeded. In an interview with The Phoenix New Times, the duo explains that the song took on a life of its own:
“Honestly, “Selfie” is kind of a phenomenon for us. We made it and thought it was funny and put it out as an edit. Then Dim Mak wanted to buy it, and they bought it from us and put it out officially and we made a video for it. This was all just because we thought it was fun. And then the song just kind of took on a life of its own. Which is honestly really great because it’s brought in a new audience of people that listen to music that we’ve made that we’re more passionate about”
The song essentially went viral, with various Vine, Instagram, and YouTube users creating videos that poked fun at the excessive nature of selfies currently. This is a perfect example of people using preexisting content to create their own. Using a popular song with such a relevant message results in major attention, especially considering the recent cultural phenomenon of selfies.
The music video alone uses other people’s content—their selfies—to comment on this phenomenon and send the message home.
#SELFIE and its resulting attention and use in content act as both a critique and celebration of this recent development in media. The duo essentially remixes what happens in the every day life of anyone who takes a selfie (their daily content) and creates a song. That song then generated attention and aided in the creation of other content (whether it be positive or negative) by Vine, Instagram and YouTube users alike. #SELFIE was made as an art form imitating life, and now, with all the videos that have been created, life is now imitating art. The song was created based on social context and ended up aiding to the creation of content.
Recently, various sources, including Under The Gun, have posted a Flo Rida song entitled “Photobomb” that attempts to comment on recent cultural phenomenon, just as The Chainsmokers did in #SELFIE. Unfortunately, I am hoping this is a hoax, as the song essentially Photobombed. The song can be described as the “ultimate bro” pausing his own conversations to unsuspectingly get into other people’s photos—the ever-so-popular “photobomb.” The two songs are eerily similar, leading one to wonder…is this a blatant example of remix culture? Could one perhaps refer to this as a derivative work? I’ll give you a hint: YES.
Haven’t I Heard This Before?
It is not uncommon to be listening to the radio and think you hear your favorite song. A few seconds go by, and you realize that it’s not the song you thought it was. They sound exactly the same! Is that even legal?
In 1990, rapper Vanilla Ice in collaboration with DJ Earthquake released the ever so popular “Ice Ice Baby,” and stirred up controversy. The bassline of the song sounds eerily similar to that of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” released in 1981. Ice Ice Baby’s hook deliberately samples the bassline of Under Pressure, for which Queen and David Bowie initially received no credit or royalties. In the below interview, Vanilla Ice explains that the two songs are not the same, based on and additional note that he and DJ Earthquake had added.
“It doesn’t sound anything like Under Pressure. The only thing that sounds like Under Pressure is the hook. We sampled it from them, but it’s not the same bassline.”
In this interview, Ice adamantly claims that the two songs are vastly different. In future interviews, however, Ice would explain that his claims in the interview above were said in a joking manor, and that he and DJ Earthquake did in fact sample Under Pressure. Queen and David Bowie were subsequently paid for the sample, and given credit for songwriting.
Sampling has become more and more popular, more recently resulting in Buzzfeed articles addressing songs with similar sounds. With such space in time between songs of a particular generation, people these days may not even notice that a recent popular song sounds like one from another time.
Bruno Mars vs. the Police
There are numerous similarities between Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” and the Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” and even their hit “Roxanne.” Bruno Mars does not deny that ‘Heaven’ resemble that of the Police. In an interview with MTV, he explains himself:
“I don’t think it initially tried to sound like anybody else, but I picked up the guitar and just started playing [the song’s opening chords],” he explained. “That’s how it normally works; I’ll pick up a guitar and I’ll start humming a melody, and I started singing that, and I was up there in Sting-ville, in that register, so that’s what you get … I tend to listen to a lot of guys with higher registers — Sting being one of them, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder — because I’ve got a high voice.”
He explains that the comparisons do not bother him; in fact, he encourages being compared to the classics. Having personally grown up in a household that loved Sting, there was no question that the songs shared a parallel sound. What do you think?
On A Lighter Note…
While remixes can fuel controversy, they often bring more positivity than negativity. Jimmy Fallon, for example, has been known to change the sound of some popular hits with his barbershop quartet, The Ragtime Gals. Their lighthearted versions of the various songs are welcomed with open arms and smiling faces.
R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”
Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”
Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack” (feat. Justin Timberlake)