By Jeffrey the Barak
Music belongs to the world. In every country and every society there is music, good and bad. This music is categorized, and bundled into pigeonholes so that someone such as yourself can say, “Hey I like Free-Jazz, so I want to hear music that sounds like some of the Free-Jazz that I’ve already heard”.
Free-Jazz could be the worst example for this illustration, but you know what is the perfect example? Pop Music. Someone who wants to write a successful pop song has to make it sound like, feel-like, and groove like, existing pop music, because if they don’t, it won’t be pop music.
Pop music could be defined as something that is simple, pleasant, easy to listen to, easy to understand, and has a simple beat.
These characteristics mean that no future pop music can stray too far from these criteria. And so here comes the big point. It is inevitable that many different examples of pop music will sound similar. They have to sound similar for it to be pop music.
Now take 1980’s heavy metal. If you have never heard this before, then you could be forgiven for thinking an hour of this stuff was all by one artist and one songwriter. That’s just the nature of having a genre.
A genre is a collection of similar-sounding music.
And that is why in 2015 two outrageously incorrect and unjust judgements have been decided by courts of law.
In March 2015, it was decided that a pop song called “Blurred Lines” (2013) was so similar to a pop song called “Got To Give It Up” (1977) that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had to pay the estate of the late Marvin Gaye 7.3 million dollars.
A couple of months earlier Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” (2014) was supposedly so similar to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” (1989) that Smith had to share all his royalties with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn and two other writers.
Both cases are complete nonsense. You could take a thousand pop songs and group them together into a small group of similar sounding songs and keep the courts busy for a century. The whole point of stupid simple pop songs is they sound just like other stupid simple pop songs. Patterns repeat not just within that song, but in countless other songs.
That is why it is a genre. There is no Avante Garde composer trying to make each note and/or interval totally new and unexpected. Quite the opposite.
Pop sounds like pop. Blues sounds like blues. Each song is supposed to sound a lot like a hundred other tunes. If it didn’t it would be unpopular and not within the genre.
Pharrell, Thicke and Smith need to get their money back.