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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal?

Media & Culture

Sariah Manning

Sat, 25 May 2019 08:33 GMT

“Good artists copy; great artists steal, ” said Pablo Picasso, and he should know. But chances are he stole this quip from T.S. Eliot.

Earlier this month Taylor Swift came under some scrutiny after her Billboard Music Award performance came under some scrutiny for copying Beyoncé’s Coachella Homecoming performance.   

Singing her new single "ME!" with a drumline and dressed like a majorette, some on social media pointed out that Swift's production looked a lot like Beyoncé's instantly iconic 2018 Coachella show. 

Some fans took to Twitter after the performance, accusing the artist of stealing ideas. But this is not the first time the artist has been accused of stealing Beyoncé. In 2017, Swift came under fire for the similarities between her “Look What You Made Me Do” video and Beyoncé’s “Formation.”

But, like all artistic endeavours, the cycle of imitation runs deep.

Both Swift and Beyoncé’s performances are definitely not the first time that drumlines have been used by popular artists. Destiny’s Child used a drumline back in 1999 for “Bug a Boo.”  

You can look at Beyoncé’s formation, and Taylor Swift’s “Look What You made Me Do” and compare the formation to Britney Spears “Oops, I did it again.”  

Halsey has recently been accused of her music video to Nightmare only to have another artist Brooke Candy calling out Halsey for similar scenes using Shibari bondage.

Loren Gray has recently come under fire for copying Billie Eilish, the 17-year-old who has become a viral sensation after the release of her song, “Ocean Eyes.“

So, the big question is: is this a trend? Or are we just looking for an excuse to claim people are copying, because of the money and influence involved here?  

While we may look at these examples, and think that copying a proven formula is a bad thing, many have come to embrace it.  

It can be argued that those who may have come to embrace Picasso’s formula (or was it T.S. Eliot’s?) can lead more successful lives.  

You may think: Copying? Stealing? Surely these are Bad Things.  

Many of our favourite things bear a strong resemblance to one another. So, who copied who? And was it copying? Was it stealing? Or was it just being inspired as to what is a current trend?  

But this just doesn’t happen in the music industry. Take a look at the IT industry. The entire industry is riddled with examples of someone copying someone else.  

• Facebook is an improved copy of Myspace, which in turn was a copy of Friendster

• Telegram is almost identical to WhatsApp and Viber

• Vimeo and Wistia are basically clones of YouTube

Here’s the thing: if you have a good idea, people are going to copy you.

So, when it happens, what do we do? While everyone is up- in- arms and accusing artists of this, the artists themselves have stayed quiet throughout these issues. They know they had a good idea, or something worked, and that it’s human nature to copy each other and build on each other’s idea.   

When Shakespeare died some 401 years ago, he’d pretty much told every tale there was to tell. But, has that stopped the past five centuries of storytellers using these same ideas over and over again? Look at the film, ‘10 Things I hate about you,’ which is based on Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew.’ It is the same story, just told in modern teenage times (and by modern I mean over 20 years old).  

You can look at popular literature, “Twilight” came out and was extremely popular, the market soon became flooded with Vampire movies, TV shows and books. After the Vampire craze died down, it soon became all about the dystopian era with “The Hunger Games” and “The Divergent” series.

It is only with the rise of social media that society is quick to notice and point out similarities between another artists’ work. However, copying one another is not a new concept. By copying, they can see a formula that works and build on it for success. Like Picasso, or T.S. Eliot said: ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’ Creating work that is almost the same as another, does it make them great? Possibly. They are cashing in on what is already a proven formula, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the show.  


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