Taylor Swift vs. Right Said Fred

The row over “plagiarism” gets sillier with each passing month. I remain in a state of high dudgeon about the Robin Thicke/Marvin Gaye case, and today sees a fresh bout of insanity, which sees Taylor Swift crediting – of all people – Right Said Fred for part of the chorus of her latest song.

See if you can spot the chorus of I’m Too Sexy in here.

What’s that? You can’t? That’s because you have a functioning pair of ears. The passage in question is the chorus, which is a sort of chanty, more-rhythm-than-melody bit of doggerel along the lines of ‘the goose drank wine’ section of Hey Mickey.

By that, I mean it has a playground sort of feel to it: it’s the sort of thing that kids would sing while dancing around a tree. I’m not putting that down as a means of expression at all – those things stick in our head for a reason – but they are not particularly melodic. Think of something like the “bananas – B A N A N A S!” bit from Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl for another example.

And yet, the chorus of I’m Too Sexy is actually melodic. Annoyingly so! So what has driven this bizarre bit of accreditation? All that two passage share is, perhaps, the rhythm of the words. There is no shared melody. There are no shared words.

In short, it is being driven by two things – and a possible third, if you’re a cynic (spoiler: I am).

Firstly, the Blurred Lines debacle has set a new precedent where having a vaguely similar drum pattern can be constituted as theft. In those instances, better be safe than sorry and credit anything that sounds distantly related.

Secondly, there is no money in recorded music. A download is worth nothing. A stream worth even less. Effectively, it costs Taylor Swift nothing to give credit where it isn’t due. At her level all the music is there to do is to give her a reason to tour and sell merchandise. One stadium show probably generates three times the money that the single itself will ever generate. Right Said Fred will be getting approximately 1/5th of nothing (which, to be fair, is probably what they get playing nostalgia gigs right now).

And finally, the possible third reason? Publicity. This has only come to my attention because it is a wacky story on the BBC, and Right Said Fred are enjoying a brief moment back in the spotlight.

In truth, they’ve contributed nothing to this track at all, but if you consider the track to be a PR exercise for an artist and an upcoming tour rather than a piece of music, it suddenly becomes brilliant. Swift and her producers have next to zero interest in crafting a song at all, but have a certain diabolical genius for PR.

Welcome to the final death throes of popular music.