My sugarboo, I’m not plagiarizing

Ryan Hill, Contributing Writer

We tend to think of music pretty subjectively as a society; each one of us picking our own favorite genres and artists while still being open to explore and hear about other people’s tastes in music. But when it comes to listening to music, it’s clear that a good amount of popular songs nowadays can sound similar to each other. Sometimes the melodies have the same notes, or the chord progressions are identical, but chances are you can find at least some similarities between many songs nowadays. Keeping this in mind, is it really possible to own music? Recently in news headlines, there have been discussions about how Dua Lipa’s song “Levitating” has a striking resemblance to the reggae band Artikal Sound System’s 2017 song “Live Your Life.” If you haven’t heard it, go listen for yourself. Even to the untrained ear, there’s no denying that these songs clearly have a striking resemblance to each other, especially leading up to the choruses. So what does this mean? Did Dua Lipa directly and purposefully steal from Artikal Sound System, and do they have a right to sue her for the profits “Levitating” made? I don’t believe so, and it has to do with how popular music is made.

A little bit of basic musical knowledge for those unaware: in Western musical culture, there are only 12 notes. Now, musicians and composers are absolutely able to make a lot of different and unique kinds of harmonies, but only so many of them are gonna sound good when you put them together. Because of that, there are only so many chord progressions that Western musicians will use, simply because the average ear is more comfortable with hearing more common chord progressions. The same goes for melodies as well. Singing a bunch of notes that don’t go together isn’t going to make a good melody, there are guidelines to work within in order to fit what most people would enjoy. Keeping all of this in mind helps to put Dua Lipa’s situation into context. “Live Your Life” and “Levitating” do feature the same descending sounding melody at the beginning of the song’s verses, along with the same chords underneath that melody. However, musical coincidence does exist, and I doubt that Dua Lipa took inspiration from a reggae band that wasn’t widely known until this lawsuit came to be.

If you wanted to, you can cherry-pick any two songs and find identical melodies, harmonies, tones, etc. Admittedly, while Dua Lipa’s situation does certainly sound incriminating, I don’t believe it actually is. Music is an artistic expression, and Dua Lipa’s song certainly has original components to it outside of the similarities to Artikal Sound System’s song. I don’t believe they have a right to have ownership over chord progressions and melodies that have been used many times before they even made “Live Your Life.” This kind of story comes up every couple of years or so; not too long ago Ed Sheeran had his own copyright dilemma for his song “Shape of You.” In my opinion, unless a song is just an exact carbon copy of another song or something close to that, chances are it isn’t ground for a lawsuit. I’m a musician and have been for well over a decade at this point. The way I see it, music is best created and experienced through collaboration and inspiration from other genres and artists. Others may disagree, but as long as you’re respectful and considerate to other musicians and artists who inspire you to create and write music, then there’s no harm done. So I’ll continue to appreciate “Levitating” and “Live Your Life” as their own unique songs that happen to have some commonalities; I’m sure Dua Lipa wouldn’t mind.

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