• Amelia Betancourt

Adventures in Interpolation and Exploitation with Olivia Rodrigo

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

If there’s anything I’ve learned from some of my favorite women in music, it’s that the music industry is, in fact, brutal. The reality that women are constantly fighting for success in the industry is made evident by the fact that Taylor Swift is re-recording most of her discography, all to account for the greediness of Scooter Braun. In 2019, a V Magazine interview with acclaimed producer Pharrell Williams Billie Eilish spoke about her earliest experiences with executives in the music industry. Eilish explained how, at 13-years-old, they blatantly told her to expect to be manipulated and used throughout her career.

It’s completely clear that there is a lot of pressure to excel as a young woman in music, and rising pop-star Olivia Rodrigo is one of the newest faces in the limelight. Her debut album SOUR has been topping charts globally since its release. She’s been invited to prestigious events and award shows, and interviewed by some of the most high-status fashion/lifestyle magazines. However, Rodrigo is quickly becoming the target of reproach from fans and critics alike.

This isn’t atypical by any means. With so much fame comes so much attention, and thus criticism. It is, in fact, brutal out there. The primary topic Rodrigo has been being called out for recently is the distinct familiarity in the chords, rhythms, and content of her songs.

In August of 2021, popular alt-rock band Paramore had two members credited as co-writers on Rodrigo’s viral song “good 4 u”. The song was released as a single in mid-May 2021, prior to SOUR’s release. Paramore fans had noticed similarities between good 4 u and the band’s own song “Misery Business”; social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram were flooded with posts regarding the similarities. In one video posted by @danielswall_, Daniel isolated the chorus from good 4 u and overlayed it with the guitar riff from Misery Business. The video highlights just how similar the two songs sound.

Admittedly, I thought it seemed a little strange for Rodrigo’s team to only give credit after receiving backlash from fans online, especially considering Rodrigo has been open about Paramore’s influence on her recent album time and time again.

The same situation occurred with Rodrigo’s song “déjà vu,” which was recently updated to credit Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, and St. Vincent as co-writers, since déjà vu has (minor) similarity to Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” Again, it’s public knowledge that Rodrigo idolizes and looks up to Swift – don’t we all? – so it’s odd, more than anything else, that she did not credit Swift and her co-writers from the beginning. Nevertheless, the question is is it acceptable to do what Olivia Rodrigo did by using other artists' music in her own songs?

Short answer: yes! What Rodrigo did is called musical interpolation, and it is 100% acceptable and legal. Interpolation differs from sampling because in interpolation, an artist re-records the piece of music they want to use in their own song. Sampling is – more or less – copy and pasting part of a song into a new one. Other examples of musical interpolation can be found in Ariana Grande’s 7 rings, Juice Wrld’s Lucid Dreams, and Olivia O’Brien’s NOW. These pieces interpolate songs from The Sound of Music, Sting, and Akon, respectively. These other artists and their labels have had to give large percentages of the profits made from these songs (80-85% in the cases of Grande and Juice Wrld) to the original labels or artists whose songs they pulled from.

What’s troubling in Rodrigo’s case is that her record label and management did not give due credit from the beginning. In all fairness, I have not read or heard anything about Hayley Williams or Taylor Swift having any negative feelings towards Olivia for interpolating their songs. Taylor Swift has praised Rodrigo’s album and essentially given her seal of approval, so there’s no drama where that’s concerned. But all of this does continue to show how young female artists will be used – however minorly – for an easy profit in the music industry.

Despite the fact that Spotify features Rodgrio on a handful of “indie” playlists, she is not an independent artist. Her record label, Geffen Records, is an offshoot of Interscope records. Geffen and Interscope are collectively associated with huge names in music, such as: Nirvana, Elton John, John Lennon, Weezer, Tay Money… the list goes on. These labels are well-established; they should know what they’re doing. More importantly, Rodrigo’s record label and producers, as the people overseeing her releases – should be making sure Rodrigo credits any inspiration, not just to avoid backlash, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Rodrigo is an 18-year-old young woman with a bubbly personality and aesthetic that pulls in a large demographic of passionate fans. I don’t like to assume the worst, but I do have to wonder if other members of Rodrigo’s team would have credited Paramore and Swift had they not received backlash from people online. In the V Magazine interview, Eilish says that when executives told her to prepare herself to be used, her response was “…Y’all are the people that would use me in the situation you are talking about. So, I don’t know what that is supposed to mean.”

Even though labels and other people in the industry should be helping their signees do things the right way, it’s clear that they often don’t. They may not even feel remorse about it . It is entirely possible that her label just didn’t catch the similarities between songs, but Olivia herself even saw them during production. She pointed out the specific parts of déjà vu that sound vaguely like Cruel Summer in a Rolling Stone interview about the song; the interview was released in July 2021, prior to SOUR’s release, and prior to credit being given to Swift.

Rodrigo also states in this interview that her “A&R guy” must have listened to the demo for “déjà vu” hundreds of times. A&R – short for “artists and repertoire'' – is the part of the record label that oversees the development of the labels recording artists. Rodrigo has an A&R guy, a manager, and undoubtedly a number of other talented people helping her succeed. The fact that none of them planned to credit the artists, who Rodrigo continually said were inspiring this album, is a problem.

So, is using another artist’s music acceptable? Short answer: yes! Long answer: yes, but the music industry is ridden with sleazy people looking to make as much money as they can. They don’t want to sign away close to 90 percent of their profits to other labels and artists. However, it’s the right thing to do, and I hope that Rodrigo learns from this and pushes her team for proper credits being given on future records.

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