October 16, 2012

Is The New OneRepublic Song Ripping Off Florence + The Machine?

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America, the dog days aren’t over after all. If you’re a big fan of the Florence + the Machine song on which this pun is based, you can rejoice in the news that producer/ frontman Ryan Tedder has brought it back. If you’ve listened to Tedder’s new single with OneRepublic, “Feel Again,” it’s like it never left. You can rest easy.

Released last month, “Feel Again” is just beginning to gain wide radio airplay, and Tedder’s earworm single has “hit” written all over it — because it sounds exactly like a song America already loves. Originally released in the UK back in 2008, “Dog Days Are Over” became a surprise smash in the U.S., even before Glee‘s Ryan Murphy got his auto-tuning paws all over it. (Note: Florence Welch should stay away from all people named Ryan. Flo, if you see Paul Ryan, just run.) Everyone in the known universe adored it, even your great-grandmother you didn’t think could still hear busted out her tambourine and flowy skirts to jam along.

So, when I heard that same tambourine rhythm in “Feel Again,” I experienced a feeling that was equal parts déjà vu and “Oh, no she did not!” Judging from the critical responses to the track, I wasn’t alone in seeing that one of these things was exactly like the other. Not only does Tedder gun for the same four-quadrant inspirational uplift that’s a hallmark of F+TM’s music (see: “Dog Days,” “Never Let Me Go“), Scott Shetler of Pop Crush noted that “its urgent hand-clapping and swelling vocal hooks…[sound] so similar to “Dog Days Are Over” that the band might as well add a ‘Featuring Florence + the Machine’ credit.” While Christina Lee of Idolator also cited their similarities in drum beats, vocal tones, style and composition, Bill Lamb of About sensed an equally strong influence from The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done.” I personally would have welcomed the use of a psychedelic gospel-choir breakdown during the bridge, but Tedder probably consulted his high school plagiarism guide and felt that would have been too much. None for you, Brandon Flowers.

Because “Feel Again” is one of the band’s better songs, a lot of critics gave Tedder a pass for the song’s numerous parallels to “Dog Days” — rationalizing that it’s hardly the first time two songs in pop music sounded alike. “Born This Way” sounded so much like “Express Yourself” that Madonna felt she could get in the game by releasing the best song Katy Perry never recorded with “Give Me All Your Luvin‘.” The Black Eyed PeasAvril Lavigne and Coldplay have come under fire for “borrowing” other peoples’ songs. The Gods of Pitchfork themselves, Radiohead, were accused of ripping off The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” for “Creep,” and a court once ruled that George Harrison “subconsciously” copied The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.” If a Beatle and The King of Limbs can do it, no one’s safe.

The problem is that, although “un”-intentional copying happens all the time in music (remember what Perez Hilton used to call the “Beyonce Recycling Factory?”), Ryan Tedder lands in hot water for it at an alarming rate. A Ryan Tedder track leaked back in May, “DJ Is My Lover,” sounds almost identical to the song “Shooting Stars,” a catchy electro-pop number from the awkwardly named house duo Bag Raiders. (They’re big in Australia.) When I played “DJ Is My Lover” to compare it to the Bag Raiders track, I thought I accidentally played “Shooting Stars” again. It wasn’t until I heard Tedder’s curiously homoerotic lyrics over the Bag Raiders’ composition that I realized what was going on. Tedder was getting his Thomas Crown on — and could get away with it, because no one in the U.S. knows the Bag Raiders are even a thing.

More famously, Ryan Tedder was accused of ripping off himself, when Kelly Clarkson realized that the song she recorded with Tedder, “Already Gone,” used the exact same backing track he created for Beyonce on “Halo.” (Remember in undergrad when you would save a paper you knew was really good to use for another class? It’s like that — and it was wrong then, too.) Although Clarkson made a huge stink about it, lashing out at Tedder and the record executives who let Tedder recycle material, Jordin Sparks didn’t raise a fuss when her “Battlefield” (again produced by Ryan Tedder) used similar hand-me-down production techniques, as if Ryan Tedder were a one-man Salvation Army. As Nick Levine of Digital Spy suggests, the song is like “Halo,” but “it’s more bombastic, more overblown and, well, just plain better.”

In addition to being reminiscent of “Bleeding Love” (another track he produced), Tedder pulled a plagiarism hat trick with “Battlefield” by also ripping off Pat Benatar, twice. With repurposing Benatar’s love is war analogy in “Love is a Battlefield,” the New York Times wrote that Tedder and Sparks appear “undaunted by the copyright interests of Pat Benatar, who preferred her battlefield metaphors in declarative form.” Joanna Hunkin of the New Zealand Herald also criticized the song for lyrical plagiarism, directly calling the duo out for not citing Pat Benatar as an influence, and Sal Cinemanqui of Slant Magazine also noticed a Benatar influence in the production. The song’s arrangement parallels the 1984 Pat Benatar anthem “We Belong,” because Tedder goes big or goes home when he “borrows.” If he doesn’t watch out, he’s going to become the Urban Outfitters of music.

Although few in the audience likely care that much about Ryan Tedder or OneRepublic — which is one of those bands that manages be enormously successful without anyone ever talking about them — Tedder’s rampant recycling sends a bad message about what it takes to be successful in the music industry. No one would credit Top 40 for being innovative, but there’s a difference between “everything on the radio sounds the same” and “beyotch stole my track.” As one of the most successful producers in the business, Ryan Tedder has a great ear for music and for what will end up being popular on the radio. When he’s churning out his next hit, Tedder should just make sure he has an ear for original material. TC Mark

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