It’s the start of a new Kpopalypse series! This series looks at plagiarism accusations, one by one, so you can know for sure how much the netizens who make these accusations are completely full of shit morons who should be thrown under a bus! Yay!
This first episode is going to look at recent plagiarism accusations surrounding Mamamoo. Read on and enjoy!
A SHORT INTRODUCTION – WHY AM I STILL WRITING ABOUT THIS FUCKING BULLSHIT?
I’ve resisted for years making posts exactly like this one. When I first noticed k-pop fans obsessing about plagiarism like a bunch of inbred twits, I made a helpful post to clarify why I didn’t care, and why other people shouldn’t care either. Of course, this post just generated more questions for people than it answered, so I made a second post which tied up many of the loose ends that the original post missed, so finally people would have their answers about how plagiarism is nothing to be concerned about and to stop caring about such an incredible non-issue. Satisfied that I had explained myself fully, I waited a couple years for the post to spread around the Internet and for people to actually fucking get over themselves and stop worrying about this shit, but alas, k-pop fans’ crazy morbid and juvenile obsession with plagiarism only grew. Reluctantly, I shat out a third post that looked at some of the more recent accusations and put them in the broader context of how plagiarism works (or as in these cases, doesn’t work), in a last-ditch and ultimately completely futile attempt to allow people to discern the bullshit for themselves and see the light. Needless to say, it didn’t help, and if anything inquiries that I received about plagiarism grew even more still.
In retrospect, this was all naively optimistic. In my incredible arrogance and determination to force my view of the world down everyone’s throats for the sake of blogging fun times, I forgot something very important – many motherfuckers are tone deaf. Tone deafness means that you have trouble discerning distinct pitches and the differences between them (relative pitch) and it’s nothing to be ashamed of – it’s actually really really normal for people who don’t sing or play an instrument to suffer from tone deafness, and even some people who DO play instruments or sing really struggle. (Some singing teachers will tell you that there’s no such thing as tone deafness, but that’s because they’re singing teachers who make money out of you going to singing lessons, and the more tone-deaf you are the more lessons you will need to learn anything and thus the more money they will make. No singing teacher will ever tell you that you can’t learn to sing no matter how beyond hope you are, that’s why people with years of singing training wind up on X-Factor, sound like shit and get laughed out of auditions.) If you’re curious about your own level of tone-deafness you can try a basic and quite functional test here, but my point is that if many people struggle to tell the difference even between basic pitches then it makes sense that determining similarities and differences in a larger group of notes or on a complex multi-tracked recording might be a little bit beyond them and they could use some assistance. Also even those who can hear music okay might still struggle to understand some of the legal quirks of the music business and plagiarism, quirks I’ve had to navigate myself for years but which I can see might be confusing to others.
So therefore I’ve admitted my previous folly in expecting people to work out this fucking shit on their own, and have now grudgingly resolved to start this new series. This series will be semi-irregular and will pop up whenever people start asking me a ton of questions about a particular plagiarism case in k-pop that is highlighted somewhere on the Internet. I’m only going to cover new cases in this series, I’m not going to go into k-pop history and talk about stuff from years ago (except where relevant), and the posts I linked two paragraphs above cover off the main k-pop “plagiarism” cases over the past few years anyway.
Before I start “defending” Mamamoo, let’s get one thing fucking straight – I’m no fan of this group. For me, Mamamoo are one of the most disappointing newer groups in k-pop, even despite the fact that like all other groups I expected absolutely nothing from them. Apart from the excellent “Piano Man“, almost everything else I’ve heard them do is an absolute bucket of bland R&B dogshit, purely designed as self-indulgent jerkoff material to showcase the girls’ voices and with the actual song quality seemingly a hazy afterthought. So when I read about their recent plagiarism accusations, my initial reaction was the usual large amount of complete disinterest that I have regarding this topic as a general rule, multiplied by how much I don’t give a shit about Mamamoo. However, as usual lots of people started asking questions about what I thought of it. Asian Junkie was one of them, so I broke down how I felt quickly in a series of tweets for him to use in an article, but people had a few questions about this so I’m going to go into the same information here in a little more detail.
Plagiarism accusation #1: Mamamoo’s “You’re The Best” at 1:06 sounds like Aqua’s “Happy Boys And Girls” at 0:50.
Who knew that Aqua actually had other songs besides “Barbie Girl“? Probably not Mamamoo’s songwriters, the similarity of the two melodies is certainly there but it’s only a small portion and is probably not deliberate as it’s actually a fairly common melody line in pop. I remember almost this exact phrase being used in a certain slow-paced 80s pop song (the name of which unfortunately escapes me at the moment, I’ll add it here later if I remember). It’s too small a section anyway, for a melody to be deemed plagiaristic it has to be the same for eight quick bars, or four slow bars.. or at least a bit longer than this, with the same chords under it as well. The two melodies differ slightly at the end of the phrase, and they also go from the root chord to two different chords. Also, strange as it may seem, the lyrics aren’t the same and you’d be amazed how much lyrics make a difference when determining plagiarism.
Plagiarism accusation #2: Mamamoo’s “Taller Than You (Pride of 1cm)” has the same instrumental riff as Eminem’s “Under The Influence”.
Yes, it does! However, not plagiarism, for two reasons:
- You can’t copyright a riff. If you could copyright riffs, new bands in riff-heavy styles like heavy metal and blues could no longer legally write any songs at all.
- The song is clearly satire, with Mamamoo deploying a deliberately fake-ass “hip-hop” image and the use of Eminem’s riff is also deliberate and designed to highlight this in broad brush strokes. Copyright contains “fair use” rules for the purpose of satire, these are the same type of rules that allow Weird Al Yankovic to do stuff like “Eat It” and “Like A Surgeon” and copy everything down to the last detail. To listen to this song and think “oh my god they ripped off Eminem, how dare they” is to massively miss the point of what Mamamoo are doing – you’re supposed to notice the similarity, because that’s part of the joke. I guess pathological bullies like Korean netizens can’t understand any jokes that aren’t able to be used by them to bully others.
Plagiarism accusation #3: Mamamoo’s “Taller Than You (Pride of 1cm)” has the same instrumental sounds as various Dr. Dre songs.
Yes it does! However, once again:
- Once again, deliberate and obviously a key component of the satire.
- You can’t copyright a sound, obviously! Imagine what the world of music would be like if it was possible to copyright a sound! Every musical instrument in the world would have to be destroyed because playing them at all would be copyright infringement and therefore illegal! Netizens really one-upped themselves in the extreme stupidity stakes here, and that’s quite an achievement given how fucking stupid they are usually.
Plagiarism accusation #4: Mamamoo’s “1cm” album jacket looks like Kim Eun Joo’s “1cm” book art.
Even though it’s non-musical I’ll throw this one in too, as it came up. Actually the two logos don’t look all that similar, yes there are some similarities (there is a red shoe, and some words substituted for the heel) but also some key differences (orientation of the words, different words used, presence of a leg, shape of the shoe is different). Unless Kim Eun Joo trademarked that particular image, Mamamoo’s similar (and honestly, much better looking) logo is legal, and even if Kim Eun Joo did trademark it, I still don’t know if she’d win a court case against them.
If you want to look at a “logo plagiarism” that actually is definitely legally actionable, so you can get a feel for exactly how similar things need to be, try GD&TOP’s use of the Playboy bunny logo:
The designs here are much, much closer, and if you’re wondering why GD&TOP changed their box art from this to something else, or why you can’t find the official videos for “High High” and “Knock Out” on the BigBang YouTube channel anymore, now you know – Playboy served YG Entertainment a “stop using our damn logo” notice, and YG complied. You won’t see netizens bring this particular plagiarism case up much though, because BigBang are not mildly-successful young female idols, but extremely successful older male idols, so therefore in the eyes of bully netizens who only ever pick on the weak (as all bullies do) BigBang are not an attractive target.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BLURRED LINES CASE? DIDN’T THAT SET A PRECEDENT WHERE PEOPLE CAN BE SUED FOR ANYTHING NOW?”
Just quickly, because I know if I don’t cover this someone will ask me – despite the fears of many, including Pharrel, that case hasn’t really changed shit. Thicke and Pharrel lost what should have been an easily-won case mainly due to Thicke assassinating his own wafer-thin credibility in the courtroom, and also due to the judge generally being an incompetent idiot and misleading the jury. Other articles go into greater detail and this is a k-pop blog anyway not “shithouseflaccidfunksoulbullshitnobodycaresaboutpocalypse” so I won’t cover it here, but rest assured that case’s outcome was ridiculed globally and didn’t really change anything.
That’s it for the first episode of Kpopalypse Plagiarism Fun Times! Hopefully you had as much fun reading this as I did writing it!