Hot on the heels of being accused of plagiarizing an album cover from Courtney Love’s band Hole, Olivia Rodrigo has been accused of copying an Elvis Costello song. According to some, Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal” sounds suspiciously similar to the beloved 1978 hit “Pump it Up” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. But Costello disagrees.
Replying to a fan on Twitter, Costello said that the similarity was “fine by me.” Explaining that this is “how rock and roll works,” he added that he did exactly the same thing in his own career: borrowing influences from earlier artists and making them his own.
In the hashtags for his reply, Costello namechecked Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” (1957) and Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965). Listening to the two songs together, there are some very obvious similarities. But people rarely accuse Bob Dylan of plagiarism because, well, he’s Bob Dylan.
This kind of situation is why pop music plagiarism lawsuits can be so complicated. Along with artists using direct samples from other musicians, some iconic songs—for instance Radiohead’s “Creep” or Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”—seem to borrow major elements from other tracks that came before. But that doesn’t always mean they were plagiarized. These artists are working with similar musical ingredients in similar genres, playing around with the same influences. So it’s basically inevitable for there to be some overlap.
As a mainstream pop artist who wears her influences on her sleeve, Olivia Rodrigo makes a lot of music that sounds similar to other popular songs. But that’s one of her strengths as an artist, and at 18 years old, she has plenty of time to develop a more specific sound of her own. Elvis Costello seems to understand this—and let’s be real here, Rodrigo isn’t really competing with the same market as a 66-year-old rockstar who released his breakout album in the 1970s.
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