So Lady Gaga’s new song “Born This Way” came out a few days ago. After my first listen, I got a bit teary-eyed by the end of the song. It is a very empowering song and its relevance to the recent wave of gay teen suicides struck an emotional nerve for me. How I wish that this song was available back in my teenage years when I was struggling to accept my sexuality. After that first listen, I read through the comments made by listeners and a large number of them complained that the song is a rip-off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself.” Yes, you can definitely hear similarities between the two but guess what, musical imitation has been happening for hundreds if not thousands of years.
I get tired of hearing people complain that nothing is original anymore. What’s there to complain about? It’s true! It’s nothing new! Get over it! A lot of these complainers also seem to think that this is such a recent phenomenon that only affects today’s pop stars. This is so not true. Even classical composers borrowed and stole from their peers.
In the “classical” era it was necessary for composition students to study and imitate the styles of their predecessors. Bach studied and imitated Palestrina, Beethoven and Mozart did the same with Haydn, and so on. Musicologists have written countless papers and books detailing how composers borrowed or stole specific melodies and motifs. An example would be Beethoven borrowing Pachelbel’s Canon in D for use in his Piano Sonata. Classical composers are also notorious for taking folk melodies and incorporating them into their works. Today’s film composers also freely borrow classical music without acknowledging them. When I saw the movie “Gladiator” years ago, I immediately recognized Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer of War” from “The Planets” being used in the score. It wasn’t subtle usage either as it sounded like the entire score was lifted and placed in the movie as-is.
Musical imitation is inescapable and probably has existed since the dawn of music making. If you think about it, imitation is how whole genres of music come into being. How else will a country songwriter write a country song without imitating the country style? The way I see it, nothing is original. Nothing ever truly was… Well maybe the first song created by our ancient ancestor…. that’s original but everything else after that just stemmed from it. So in closing, I say just enjoy the music and stop complaining. If you don’t like it, then don’t listen to it. Obviously Gaga has done something right here because the song already has close to 3 million hits in a few days. Like Picasso says “good artists copy, great artists steal.”