So did G-Dragon plagiarize or not?
*This was written by the music critic Kang Myungsuk, who’s the same guy that wrote G-Dragon’s 10 Line report and the in-depth article about Lies and Bigbang.
Law, original author, original work, trend, healthy music market, self-conscience and plagiarism. Right now in Korea’s music industry the word ‘plagiarism’ doesn’t only function as the word’s genuine meaning. The plagiarism dispute that started from G-Dragon’s solo album is being connected to the creativity of all Korea’s mainstream music.
On the Internet there were many plagiarism disputes about many of the singers who were making a comeback, and mass media is bringing up the problems about the creation process of Korea’s mainstream music. It’s been a long time since the problems about ‘referencing’ another musician’s song to make their own song has been brought up in Korean music related articles.
So to rephrase that, Korea’s music industry has been putting aside the problems about the ‘creations’ in our mainstream music. There is not even a standard for ‘creation’ that the creator, the media, nor the public has agreed on and there is no discussion about ‘what is original work in our music industry’. So because of that, plagiarism disputes happen – like popularity votes on the Internet and they decide on everything depending on the majority of the comments; after that storm, it becomes quiet like nothing has happened. If there are no standards for creation or plagiarism that the public can at least tolerate, these kinds of instances will keep happening again and again. This planned report is one of the perspectives about that standard, and continuing on to <10 Asia>’s composer special from a few months ago, it is an attempt to deepen the understanding between the creator and the public.
1) Problems about the plagiarism standards: No songs that were plagiarized in Korea
Actually everyone knows what the standards of ‘plagiarism’ are. If there is a song that receives a plagiarism suspicion, then the original author of the song states it was plagiarized and you just need to wait for the law’s judgment. It does not only take a whole bunch of time for the law suit for plagiarism, but the UK-US-Japan authors, especially the famous ones, tend to not start a complicated law suit to earn a petty amount of money from the small Korean music market. Instead, when Lee Seungchul’s ‘Sorichu (Shout out)’ got winded into a plagiarism dispute, he gave a portion of the copyright to the original song’s copyright holder and stated “It was not plagiarized”. If we argue it like this, then there are no songs that were plagiarized in Korea. So the judgments that the media and public make become even more important in Korea. In Korea, the worst punishment for a plagiarizing musician would be the media and public barging into this situation and making the plagiarizing musician give a portion of the related profits to the original author.
However, the problem is the standards of ‘plagiarism’. Flo-rida’s ‘Right Round’ which had plagiarism disputes with G-Dragon’s ‘Heartbreaker’ and Oasis’ ‘She’s Electric’ which is known to have some similar melody parts as ‘Butterfly’ have their copyright held by Sony ATV. Sony ATV has officially stated their opinions through ‘a normal perspective on plagiarism’. “When the public and experts say song A has plagiarized song B, it is because we were reminded of song B’s special characteristic.”
Sony ATV’s opinion is very right. No one will be able to object to this. But the problem is that the standards for this ‘special characteristic’ could be different for everyone. There is a large possibility that the standards for a rock maniac and ballad fan listening to the same rock song could differ; there could be a difference for the standards between a person that buys three or four albums a year and a person that buys ten albums every week. For example, there was a plagiarism dispute between Seo Taiji and Boys’ ‘Come Back Home’ and Cypress Hill’s ‘Insane in the Brain’. ‘Come Back Home’ was a song that couldn’t have been made without ‘Insane in the Brain’. Then was this song plagiarized? Then listen to these again right now. Then you’ll probably realize that ‘Come Back Home’ did not plagiarize Cypress Hill.
2) Problems about the creation concept: Sampling and sound idea
So for plagiarism standards, except for the basic condition that it “sounds the same”, it is obvious that everyone has their own standards. It’s the same for this article too. But it provides more room for you to think about creation and plagiarism. At some point in time you could make songs by making the melody, and when the arrangement only had real instruments, it was incomplete, but it was possible. There is a limited range of instruments you can choose from so we judged the musician’s creativeness by the new melody and new arrangement.
But right now creations are made by many imaginary sounds, the concept of composing and arranging has become vague. The hip-hop classics in the beginning were completed by adding a beat and rap on an existing song. But these songs were made at the time when there was no solid concept of sampling copyright’; but it is a question if we could say those songs aren’t classics because they did not get permission from the original author. In addition, these days a special sound idea is more important than making the melody in songs. If Usher’s ‘Yeah’ didn’t have the ‘Bbabambbambbam’ four synthesizer notes in the beginning, would that song made that big of a hit? In this case, it is more important that they made of the tone of the sound like that than the fact that they composed these simple four notes. So if someone applies this idea, could we say that they plagiarized? After ‘Yeah’, in the states, many dance songs whose beginnings had ‘sounds’ like “Yeah’ came out, and Chris Brown’s ‘Run it’ made a big hit. Then does this mean that these songs aren’t even worth listening to? When Se7en came out with ‘Passion’ there was a plagiarism dispute with ‘Yeah’. But listen to ‘Passion’ again now. Was that a song that even needed to have plagiarism suspicions?
Ultimately, the problem of this trend is that creators cannot make music without paying attention to other people’s music. In the past, when a style of song was a big hit, similar songs poured out. However, these days this tendency is getting even stronger. The more that ‘content’ spreads out with no restriction on the Internet, the more this phenomenon will worsen. Recently, it shows how Korea’s dance music trend affected all the creators. As ‘Lies’ that had combined mainstream music in electronic music and ‘Tell Me’ which repeated the hook repetitively made a big hit, in 2008 Son Dambi’s ‘Crazy’ and Brown Eyed Girls’ ‘Uhjjuda’ that seemed like a combination of the two songs (Lies & Tell Me) appeared with an ear attracting melody which eventually brought up the term ‘hook song’. In 2009, Girls Generation’s ‘Gee’ which had repeating lyrics such as ‘so so’ and ‘shining shining’ came out. Now we have songs like Brown Eyed Girls’ ‘Abracadabra’ and Super Junior’s ‘Sorry Sorry’ where they split up the first verse even more like ‘I I I go crazy’ (from ‘Abracadabra’). Personally when I listen to ‘Abracadabra’ I thought of ‘Sorry Sorry’ and I think the latter had the idea of the former in mind. But ‘Abracadabra’ did not plagiarize; neither did they do a bad job of making the song. But on the other hand, some people may not like the latter, and some others may not even know the similarities between these two songs.
3) Problems of creation methods: How are the songs that the public likes made?
So in other words, this is very similar to how we understand movies. Movies, during the past 100 years, were restlessly made. The technology grew everyday and the market has grown also. So it’s obvious that the creation methods had to change. Like Quentin Tarantino, applying many other movie’s scenes, sometimes getting into plagiarism disputes, people could make their movies like that; or, people could make movies like Steven Spielberg: people could use a lot of man power to make a block-buster movie. Right now our mainstream music is in that transition period. The songs we have to listen to have piled up for hundreds of years and the new technology is making us approach music from a new perspective.
With mainstream music these days, especially if we limit that to songs that have a hip-hop and electronica background, there is no musician that does not have another musician’s idea in mind while composing. For them, creation of music is composing and arranging, but it is also the idea’s creative acceptance and development. America’s hip-hop musician Lil Fate’s ‘Break a Nigga Off’ is very similar to ‘Where is the Love’. But I’ve never heard about this song going through a plagiarism dispute. No wonder, because whether or not they used sampling, they used an idea from ‘Where is the Love’ and applied it in a different way to make a new song. The ‘Time is tickin…’ melody that comes out in Epik High’s ‘One’ has a part that’s the same from LCD Sound System’s ‘Us vs Them’. But this part is also very similar to Beck’s ‘Time Bomb’. So where did Epik High receive the inspiration for this? While the public’s standards are standing still, the concept of our mainstream music is changing rapidly. This isn’t a problem where we could conclude everything like this, “These days no one plagiarizes bluntly by copying the song. They change it around slightly to go around the plagiarism standards”. Of course, there are cases like Buhwal’s Kim Taewon, who doesn’t listen to other musicians’ songs to keep the genuineness of his music. Also, some lazy musicians could abuse this logic. But mostly all the musicians that are in this industry have to bring many ideas from the music they’ve listened to in order to apply it. Right now the songs the public listen to and like are made like this.
4) G-Dragon’s problem: Composer expert in plagiarizing vs Lazy creator
G-Dragon’s plagiarism dispute, which is the start of all these controversies, requires us to look over all these problems. If we followed the “I thought of another song when I listened to this one”, then the standard for this plagiarism dispute for “Heartbreaker’ would be the similar rhythm and rap flow to ‘Right Round’. However, this kind of rhythm pattern came out in Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground’ long ago. Flo-rida made a beat with an electronic sound on this rhythm, and put the rap on top to make a song suitable for 2009. The rap flow also has a similar problem. Brown Eyed Girls’ ‘Moody Night’ expanded the idea from ‘Right Round’ for the whole song. Especially the rap in the end, it would be interesting to compare these three songs together. However ‘Moody Night’s similarity with ‘Right Round’ will give another feeling from ‘Heartbreaker’s.
This is not a problem that we should make a judgment on by how similar the rhythm and rap flow is. If it was only that, then as I’ve said many times before, you could make it a little different as much as you want. The important thing is how those musical elements have been affected in what kind of idea, and how it has impacted the song. ‘Heartbreaker’s fundamental problem is that.
First of all, let’s see the part that caused trouble in ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Right Round’. One funny thing about this plagiarism dispute was that no one talked about how the part that got in trouble with ‘Right Round’ was used. This part in ‘Right Round’ was placed in the beginning to change the flow of the song. This part appears in the beginning to catch the eyes and ears of the audience in an instant. He grasped the mainstream music’s trend of which we need to give an impact faster and faster to the public and he expressed this in his own way. But, ‘Heartbreaker’s introduction has the same development as ‘Right Round’s. The start of the song is different, but the part that started the plagiarism dispute is placed in the same place; he was looking for the same effect and explains it as a similar rhythm pattern and rap flow. With the existing standards you cannot say it was plagiarized, but you cannot say it was a genuine creation either.
This is shown even more clearly in ‘Heartbreaker’s lyrics, how it gives a slight variation. In ‘Right Round’, in the beginning of the first verse’s rap, Flo-rida divided the lyrics into sections like “I got place to go”, and in the ending part he changes the rhyme to three syllables’ lyrics like ‘shower’ and ‘ours’ to change the flow of the song. ‘Heartbreaker’ is also like this, “Nado uhdisun ggoliji an ‘uh’ / ajik sseulmanhangul jookjianats ’uh’ / Nu hana ddaemooneh mangajin ‘mom’ / sarajin ggom booltaneun ‘mam’ / Nul wiihaesuramyun ee hanmom ‘nalleo’ / Naega itneun goteeramyun ‘dalleo’”. If we limit the boundaries to ‘Heartbreaker’, G-Dragon is a lazy creator.
However, ‘Heartbreaker’s problem does not prove that G-Dragon is ‘a composing expert in plagiarizing’. ‘Lies’ also had a plagiarism dispute with Free Tempo’s ‘Sky is High’. But ‘Lies’, as it was said before, the piano melody in the beginning was similar, but the development of the song was drastically different. In ‘Lies’ all ‘Sky is High’ inspired is the piano melody idea; the way the song was made was the song structure that G-Dragon built up through producing. ‘Lies’ in verse one, two, the bridge and the end make a climax but the method is different each time. In verse one the rap and vocal melody cross over, in verse two TOP’s rap, and in verse three the vocal’s singing continues on. To make the same effect in a different development each time, the producer has to draw the big picture of the song, and then he needs to go through endless editing processes for the rap, melody and sounds that are suitable. Sometime you could have an argument with the arranger about what rhythm to put in a specific beat, or you could have to think carefully about the texture of the sound. Right now, the mainstream music producers do this kind of work, and the final quality of the song depends on the producer’s capability. This is why ‘Lies’ and ‘Fool’ have different melodies but similar song development.
Heartbreaker’ has not fully shown G-Dragon’s potential as a producer; he joined the mass chunk of idea onto his song. This is saying G-Dragon, as with the modern meaning of hip-hop and electronica music (and the dance music producers who are derived from that), will become one of the standards to judge creativity. It is right that people absorb other musicians’ music. Now, it just depends on how much they take in and how much they develop the idea. If ‘Lies’ is a successful example of that, then ‘Heartbreaker’ is a failure.
5) Public’s problem: Until when are you going to go to keep on saying ‘because it sounds like it’
The public may not have to dig in to this complicated problem that the people actually in the industry can’t even come to a conclusion about. However, the plagiarism dispute related to G-Dragon is not new at all. When there was a plagiarism dispute for Lee Hyori’s ‘Get Ya’, the problems being brought up now were also brought up then. When a popular artist’s song gets winded into a plagiarism dispute, the problem presenting happens in the same way, the standards of plagiarism are discussed about ‘from the beginning’, and then everything ends after damaging the artist. G-Dragon’s plagiarism disputes make us re-examine the creation process of our producers now, but at the same time it makes us think over about how the public treats plagiarism disputes right now. How are these disputes helping us to make better music? Through these plagiarism disputes, we do not only have to think about whether or not it was plagiarized, but over that, we need to think about what kind of help it would be towards making better music. If, all this debate about plagiarism is for us to listen to better music.
Original article written by Kang Myungsuk
Editing by Lee Jihye
Translated by Beau @ bbvipz
Edited by Lucy Miao @ BBVIP, o0hockeys_angel0o @ YG One Love
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