“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” – Isaac Newton. That saying has been repeated by the greatest thinkers, builders and entertainers but many misuse his words as an excuse for imitation. Such is the case in the music industry and that lack of originality is causing more damage than people understand.
What Newton meant by his famous phrase was that he only accomplished his goals because he built on the work of those brilliant scientists before him. Indeed, he understood that his findings were mere contributions to constantly expanding field of Physics, and his ideas simply stemmed from the foundation laid by his predecessors.
That same reasoning can be applied to other areas, including the music industry, and was strongly supported by the late Michael Jackson. Yes, the King of Pop was one of the greatest artists of our time but as we discussed in our reflective piece marking the anniversary of this death, he was also a student of other men and women who influenced him in many ways.
Unlike Jackson, however, performers from the current generation rarely strive to build on the work of industry leaders and pioneers. Instead, they emulate, copy, mimic, mirror and every other synonym for the word ‘imitate’ greats without adding anything new to the tapestry of music. As a result, the industry has become stagnant; stuck in a limbo with little signs of progression.
To develop a better understanding of this issue, let’s take a look at a few examples of copycats from across the music industry. First on the list is Beyonce but before I starting typing, give me a few seconds to lock my doors, shut my windows and check the locks to ensure that her maniac fans can’t enter my house…
Beyonce is a very talented singer, she has fiery stage presence and she can shimmy with the best of them but nothing she does is original. When the diva isn’t copying Jackson’s stage productions – thanks to the input of “creative” director Frank Gatson – or the videos of countless other acts, she is blatantly stealing routines and costumes from Tina Turner.
That lack of creativity is observable in every sphere of Beyonce’s brand and it has stunted her growth as an artist. Imagine how amazing she would be if she simply took the time to craft her own songs instead of
allegedly purchasing a slot in the credits from real songwriters. Imagine how exciting her concerts would be if we hadn’t already seen the various costumes, light shows and routines performed by other acts. I guess we’ll just have to keep dreaming because as her documentary stated, Beyonce’s life and her originality are but a dream.
Another popular copycat in the music industry is Chris Brown. He is a fantastic dancer and his moves certainly rival those of Jackson. Yet, is Brown as good as the latter or do people only draw such parallels because of his many recreations of Jackson’s old performances?
Think about it: How many times has Brown executed a routine onstage or in his videos that wasn’t previously done by Jackson? We all know that Jackson borrowed the moves of many of his own inspirations – he learned the moon walk from Soul Train dancer Jeffrey Daniels and his “Smooth Criminal” video was heavily inspired by Fred Astaire’s “The Band Wagon” – but at least he combined each element in incredible new ways. Brown, on the other hand, copies his idol move for move.
Even Brown’s music follows the formula of other artists, especially that of Usher, and his most recent hit, “Fine China”, sounds as though it could have been a demo for Jackson’s Invincible album. Well, minus the strained falsetto notes and the slurred lyrics.
Our final example of an industry copycat, as you may have guessed from the main image above, is Ariana Grande. Relatively new to the music scene, this 20 year old is taking the charts by storm with her sugary voice and sweet high notes. However, the only reason that she has made any impact this far, aside from the hordes of tweens who watched her on Nickelodeon, is because she looks and sounds almost exactly like a young Mariah Carey.
Grande’s team has styled her to look like Carey in her prime (1993-1996). Also, following Tommy Mottola’s model of success that made the latter a megastar in the 1990s, they have branded Grande as the innocent, ambiguous girl next door with the big voice yet polite demeanour that even the most conservative consumer would appreciate.
Finally, to complete the perfect clone, Grande’s music is a direct imitation of Carey’s material. It’s almost as though there is a camp of writers and producers operating under the specific instruction to recreate Carey’s biggest hits so that Grande could give the former fans of the diva a sense of nostalgia. That would be a clever move because as Britney Spears stated during her On Air with Ryan Seacrest interview, she misses “old school Mariah Carey.” So, since Carey refuses to give the people what they want, Grande’s team have provided them with a substitute.
Still, it is important to note that although the problem is more rampant today, blatant imitation isn’t new to the music industry. For instance, when Natalie Cole started her career, she ripped off Aretha Franklin’s sound and many people thought that her breakthrough hit, “This Will Be”, was performed by the latter. To be a fly on the wall in Franklin’s dressing room when Cole took home Best Female R&B Vocal Performance title at the 1976 Grammy Awards by using her singing style…
The real point of this article is closely related to the issue of mediocrity we discussed early this week. With few acts trying to take music and entertainment forward, the industry has come to a halt. As we previously stressed, labels aren’t developing their signees as true artists and those with the potential to reach new heights are refusing to take risks as they release generic material just to score a hit.
So, music industry is in limbo. Most artists are nothing more than copycats who imitate those who came before them and rarely contribute anything to this culture of what we call popular. No wonder most of the songs of the charts are so uninspired; we’re all sitting in a cesspit of the old and recycled.