Olivia Rodrigo Breaks Her Silence on Plagiarism Accusations: “Nothing In Music Is Ever New”

Olivia Rodrigo

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Television / CC by 2.0

Earlier this year, some criticized Olivia Rodrigo over the perceived similarities between her hit single “Brutal” and Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” (1978) – before Rodrigo quietly added Taylor Swift and Paramore as co-writers on different tracks yet. Now, the 18-year-old Sour creator has broken her silence on the plagiarism accusations that she’s faced.

Elvis Costello personally responded to claims that the guitar riff in “Brutal” had been lifted from that in “Pump It Up,” replying to one fan’s concerns: “This is fine by me, Billy. It’s how rock and roll works. You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy. That’s what I did. #subterreaneanhomesickblues #toomuchmonkeybusiness.”

Then, Olivia Rodrigo in July added Taylor Swift (as well as songwriter and producer Jack Antonoff and creator St. Vincent) as a songwriter on “Déjà Vu” – albeit without commenting publicly on the development. Lastly, August saw Murrieta, California-born Rodrigo ink a global deal with Sony Music Publishing and list Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams and former bandmember Josh Farro as “Good 4 U” songwriters – additions that Warner Chappell celebrated on social media.

As initially mentioned, Olivia Rodrigo has addressed the plagiarism accusations, disclosing her thoughts on the subject in a new Teen Vogue interview, with the author having acknowledged the “Driver’s License” singer-songwriter’s “careful” choice of words.

“It’s tricky,” Rodrigo indicated. “Writing songs about how I feel has always been easy and fun for me, and I think the business side of music has been something I’ve had a harder time learning.

“I’ve been sort of growing through that this year, but I’ve just been trying to remember that I write songs because I love them. I feel lucky I get to do that and be a songwriter and a performer for a living,” she continued. “At the end of the day, I feel it doesn’t have too much to do with me.

“What’s so beautiful about music is that it can be so inspired by music that’s come out in the past,” she specified. “Every single artist is inspired by artists who have come before them. It’s sort of a fun, beautiful sharing process. Nothing in music is ever new. There’s four chords in every song. That’s the fun part – trying to make that your own.”

However, the High School Musical: The Musical: The Series actress followed up on her statements in a phone call after the initial sit down, relaying: “I was thinking a lot about some of the interpolation questions you asked, and I feel like I didn’t answer them as truthfully as I could have. … I think it’s disappointing to see people take things out of context and discredit any young woman’s work.

“But at the end of the day I’m just really proud and happy to say that my job is being a songwriter,” proceeded Rodrigo. “All music is inspired by each other. Obviously, I write all of my lyrics from my heart and my life first.”

Interestingly, James Taylor in a recent interview with Guitar World appeared to echo the sentiment expressed by Rodrigo, responding specifically to a question about George Harrison’s using the title of “Something in the Way She Moves” as the opening line (and overarching inspiration) for “Something.”

“I felt hugely flattered,” said 73-year-old James Taylor. “I had played this song for George and Paul as my audition and I think it had just sort of stuck in his mind. But he didn’t realize that. I think all music is reiteration. I think we just pick stuff up and use it again. I mean, there are just 12 notes.”

More broadly, Olivia Rodrigo has been open about her admiration for Taylor Swift – as well as the influence that Swift’s work has had on her own creative process – in interviews, and these statements preceded the songwriter additions on “Déjà Vu.”

It’s possible that the far-reaching effects of public comments (in coordination with the contemporary music-copyright space’s decidedly litigious terrain) could prompt artists to be more selective and cautious with their words moving forward. On this front, Pharrell Williams in February was cleared of perjury allegations (and a demand for millions in additional damages) levied by the Marvin Gaye estate, concerning remarks that Williams made during a GQ interview.

4 Responses

  1. Charlie Sanders

    In an age in which copyright infringement litigation is considered a revenue stream, a bit more sophisticated view between what constitutes “theft” as opposed to “homage” or “influence” is necessary than what is demonstrated by the views she is expressing. I imagine her attorneys are stocking up on Pepto Bismol on a fairly regular basis at this point. In any event, someone should tell her there are less expensive ways to learn about the legal aspects of music creation than how she is currently going about it.