Saturday, October 26, 2013

Plagiarism – a primer for k-pop fans and netizen dummies

This blog was inspired by the latest controversy surrounding that dastardly devil-may-care trouble-magnet IU.

FISTy

I'm sure getting some blog value out of IU lately.  If I ever meet her I'll have to offer to go down on her.  I owe her that much.  I won't even ask for a handjob in return (although I admit I'm also considering where that hand has been).

So, the latest allegation concerning the "Nation's Little Troublemaker" is that IU's "The Red Shoes" rips off part of Nekta's "Here's Us".  Here's the video that's circulating:


When I saw this video I thought "I wonder if netizens will just brush this off, or wade into this issue with absolutely no knowledge and make themselves look utterly stupid and uneducated".  Then ten seconds later I thought to myself "what am I thinking - it's Korean netizens we're talking about here, OF COURSE they will just wade in and look stupid!".  Sure enough, they've all got an opinion, and as usual, it's the most cynical and least informed opinion that they could possibly have.  My favourite comment:

fisty3

I love this comment because this is a straight-up admission that netizens really are heavily stroking themselves off over some witch-trials bullshit, and that popular opinion actually matters more to them than facts and truth, which is everything that's wrong with netizen culture the world over.  No, you fucking douchebag - plagiarism, just like murder, theft and arson actually has to be proven in a court of law.  Also, kill yourself, but make sure you buy a machine gun and lots of bullets so you can take the 1257 people who upvoted you along for the ride before you turn the gun on yourself.

Of course LOEN released an official statement about it:

A portion of the melody for 'Here's Us' and the melody of the second measure [B part] in 'The Red Shoes' sound similar but the chord progression of the two songs are totally different."

"'The Red Shoes' uses a B-flat minor scale chord progression with a B-flat minor-bm7-cm7-cm6-f7sus4-f7 but 'Here's Us' uses a dominant scale chord progression of B-flat major. Also, the chorus and first measure [A part], the song's latter-half bridge part, as well as the overall melody, composition, and instrumental arrangement reveal it to be a totally different song."

...but gosh netizens were having none of that:

fisty2

Now, since I generate most of my music-related income these days by being a music teacher, and seeing as how a lack of education about music terminology seems to be the underlying issue preventing any sensible dialogue, I feel like it's time for me to step in and bring some sanity and knowledge into this debate.

Firstly, it's interesting that this topic comes up NOW.  Nobody raked IU over the coals back in 2012 when she released "Sea Of Moonlight" with Fiestar, a song that blatantly rips off (and in my opinion vastly improves on) Swedish pop group A-Ha's 1980's hit "Take On Me":


Oh but netizens turned a blind eye to that, because they loved her back then because she still had the "Nation's Little Sister" image and hadn't rimmed Eunhyuk's asshole accidentally uploaded a picture of her and some guy on Twitter yet, so everything she did was golden.  Now things are different - IU has emerged as a threat to the crushes of stupid fangirls, so they will reach for whatever is convenient to take that oppar-stealer down a peg, no matter how factually incorrect.

Now here's where this blog is going to get a little bit technical.

LOEN's statement about the chord structure of the two songs, while technically correct, is actually a little bit cheeky.  Chord progressions can't be copyrighted, so they can't be plagiarised by definition.  There's a reason for this -  most songs use the same chords all the time.  There's thousands of possibilities of chords, but there's really only a few combinations that people actually like to hear, so they tend to get recycled all the time.  Watch comedy troupe Axis Of Awesome demonstrate this perfectly with the common pop music progression I-V-vi-IV:


Let's not get on our high horse about how unsurprised we are that pop music is super-generic though, because this isn't just common to pop music.  Blues music recycles the same chords so damn often that they even have a special term for it - the "12-bar blues". which any blues or rock guitarist should be familiar with and which refers to a progression of I-IV-I-V-IV-I.  The majority of blues songs use this progression (or a very slight variation) exclusively.  Jazz music favours slightly more complex chord structures but is equally guilty of recycling the same chord progressions all the time.  Classical music isn't exempt either - the same types of progressions are stunningly common and music of the classical period follows some fairly strict pseudo-mathematical rules.

Another thing that can't be copyrighted is rhythms.  Just like chords, there are only a few rhythm combinations that sound good to the western ear and that people actually like to hear.  Even in very rhythm-centric music styles like heavy metal, where you might expect a lot of variety, the same rhythm forms are actually recycled all the time with only minor variations:


What however CAN be copyrighted is melodies.  If hypothetically Nekta were going to sue IU, for the charge to stick, the style of the song is irrelevant.  So they're both "swing" songs, well, so fucking what, there's plenty of swing songs.  The chords used doesn't matter either, the drumbeat, the type of backings... none of that matters.  What needs to be proven is that the same melody is used for a "reasonable portion" of the song - a reasonable portion is not a timeframe legally set in stone but we're talking a fair bit of time here, more than just a few seconds.  So, are they the same?

No they're fucking not.

Since I know nobody will believe me unless I go into some form of detail, I took the liberty of transcribing the melody as both singers sing it, so you can see the differences visually.
 
iuiuiuiu2

IU's part is on lines 1 and 3, Nekta's part is on lines 2 and 4.  Since I'm not going to assume that any of you can read music, I'm going to break down all the differences:

1.  Nekta adds a lead-in note before the start of the bar (also known as an anacrusis) in the first and third vocal phrase.  IU adds one only on the second vocal phrase.

2.  IU raises the pitch of the third vocal phrase up by one semitone, to F#, whereas Nekta stays on F.

3.  IU oscillates between E and F in the first two phrases with very accurate pitching (possibly Autotune-assisted but we don't know this for sure), while Nekta has more of a talking kind of delivery and just stays on F with a bit of natural pitch bend.

4.  IU moves a high Bb into the beginning of the second phrase, Nekta does this at the start of the third phrase instead.

5.  The melody in the fourth phrases is different, Nekta hits four distinct notes whereas IU hits three.  Nekta also starts on the low Bb before climbing up and then down, whereas IU starts on the highest note of the phrase, the F, and plateaus there for longer before moving to the other notes.

Then you've got to add the effect of the backings.  Even though chords in themselves can't be copyrighted, the effect of chords and basslines underneath a melody does change the way you hear a melody, and the chords and bass in the two songs are substantially different.  Think of a plane flying in a straight line at 1000ft.  Now, if the ground under the plane rises 500ft because there is a hill or something, is the plane still cruising at 1000ft above ground even though it's still going straight?  No.  Even though the plane (melody) hasn't changed what it's doing, it is perceived as relatively "lower" because the ground (bass and chords) underneath it has risen.  IU's harmony has a rising structure, Nekta's is more flat.

That's why netizens are wrong and why IU's songwriters will not have any legal problems with this.  It's also why they were able to get away with "Sea Of Moonlight" being similar to "Take On Me" - the melodies are substantially different.  Is it similar to the other song?  Yes, of course - but it doesn't matterYou can use the same textures, rhythms and concepts all you want - if the melody is different, it's a different song, and that's all there is to it.  Otherwise Black Sabbath could sue pretty much every single heavy metal band that ever existed between 1970 and 1984, and John Lee Hooker could have sued about three generations worth of blues guitarists.

If you didn't understand all that technical shit, remember this: for a song to be considered as plagiarised, it doesn't have to sound the same, it has to actually be the same, to a very substantial extent.  These are two fairly different things, especially when accounting for all the different ways that different people hear music.  Someone vocally trained would have easily noticed the differences between the two vocal lines without me having to break it down, but to a layperson it might just indeed sound exactly the same.  Just like two different chocolates might taste the same to someone who has never tasted chocolate before but might actually be pretty fuckin' different.

I hope this wasn't too boring for you.  Here's your reward for sitting through this.


I like how that left hand just keeps moving after she gets busted jerking off the guy who is just out of frame.  She doesn't even care that the camera is there.  Can you believe she was going to be in T-ara?  That would have accelerated the fapworthiness of that group into the fuckin' stratosphere.

46 comments:

  1. No one said anything about fiestar because their popularity is lower than dal shabet and rainbows.

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    1. Still has IU on the track though and she sings the majority of it IIRC.

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  2. Excuse me if I'm wrong but didn't AKF say that Jiwon looks like Frankenstein's daughter or Ms. Potato-head? The real question is though would Frankenstein/Mr. Potato-head be mad if I jacked it to her?

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    1. I dunno who said what about whoever in the past, but I'd bake those potatoes.

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  3. wait, who's going to be in t-ara? who are you talking about? i lost there...

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    1. Jiwon (now in Spica) was actually in T-ara's pre-debut lineup. She didn't make it to debut.

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    2. Jiwon actually appeared in one of Eunjung's We Got Married episodes before she debuted in Spica, so there was a reunion, kind of.

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  4. replace her with boram & t ara would have surpassed snsd....(no butthurt fanwar replies, im not into that thing)

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    1. Gotta have the Ram though. I don't know many Ram fans but the ones who ARE Ram fans are crazy into her. It's a blowjob-height thing.

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    2. Jiwon = 1 million Boram. Hell, even Jiae, who has debuted as one half of the vocal duo Jevice and changed her stage name to Hana, equals at least half million Boram. If T-ara stuck with the original 5 members (Jiwon, Jiae, Jiyeon, Eunjung and Hyomin), the group could easily go down in Kpop history as one of the most awesome girl groups (vocal and visual wise).

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    3. I'd rather have someone who looks pretty like Qri than actual singers tbh.

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    4. Ex-fucking-scuse me? 1 Boram = 1 billion any other idol ever. She does absolutely nothing whatsoever, she's not the fapfeul of the group like Qri or Hara, and she still get to live of one of the most successful girl groups in the world (at the present time) and she gets paid at the end of the day by doing literally no work at all. She is an inspiration to this generation.

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    5. See, I told you Ram fans are crazy.

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  5. Amazing and very sharp post. Thank you for the share!

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  6. Wouldnt that mean that the pop industry is not that all creative?

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  7. I would've thought for "Sea of moonlight" they would've sought permission of some sort cause it's obvious as shit. My attention span is too low, gave up when the music sheet came in, props for the JiWon gif though.

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    1. I own a copy of "LOEN Tree: Summer Story" which features that track, and A-Ha is not mentioned.

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  8. Such a professional piece of work, especially for someone as musically illiterate as me..........But plagiarised or not, "The red shoes" is such a borefest. If anything, the LOEN composer should choose to be "inspired" by something more interesting next time..........

    And you are right about one thing: there was a time when IU could do no wrong. To be more specific, prior to her inadvertently uploading the "after/before sex" pic with oppar to twitter. In some sense though, she should count herself lucky because it's probably one of the least sordid pics taken that night. At least it's better than pics with IU stuffing her mouth full of oppar's dick....

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    1. IU has an older audience so you gotta take that into account. I liked it anyway, but then I'm practically nursing home age so that makes sense hahahahaha

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    2. Nonetheless, IU's popularity has taken a dent. She absolutely KILLED the chart back in 2011, so dominant was her digital sales you might as well name it the "IU Chart". Her digital score, although still impressive, is a shadow of its former self. I mean, SHINee outscoring IU in the digital charts? this very notion sounded blasphemous a year ago but has come to eventuate since...............In short, you have to be an android (for example, Seobot) to be spared of the venom of K-netizens (aka rabid fangirls/boys).......

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    3. Yeah it's definitely not what it was, but then that's the nature of the pop music game. Nobody is the latest and hottest thing forever.

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    4. I am actually surprised that not many people actually like IU's new song, I really think IU's song crushes T-ara's.

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    5. I loved the Red Shoes, but I really like show tunes and swing music; that and IU's voice isn't as grating as it used to be

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  9. Why oh why did you post that gif of Jiwon? It's going to take all the spotlight of this wonderful article of yours oppar.
    Now I have to fap.

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    1. I understand that not all readers are interested in reading technical blogs. I try to accomodate everyone.

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    2. Love your technical blogs more than your fanservice gifs

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  10. Funny stuff, it brings memories of when Albano sued Micheal Jackson (it's hilarious how this article calls him "Bano" supposing it was his second name http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1221902.stm ) ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVbNd_nenUs

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  11. And that The Axis of Awesome clip was great, thanks for that.

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    1. Yeah it's a great video, I use it for teaching quite a lot.

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    2. I love showing that to people when they say I ripped off some random person's song with one I've composed because the chord progression is the same :3

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  12. Eurgh Netizens really need to learn what qualifies as plagarism: exactly four bars of a song have to match - and these do not. Also, if this was so isn't all jazz music plagarized, then?

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    1. I tried to find a reliable courtroom-worthy reference for the "exactly four bars" rule and I couldn't. I would have used it in the blog if I did. Do you have one? Just curious.

      And I agree, re jazz etc which was partly my point - if we're gonna bust IU's balls for this then using that same standard we pretty much gotta rewrite the entire history of jazz and blues music.

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    2. Oops, couldn't find one. I only know this because my Uncle is a lawyer and got a client acquitted on the account that four bars of the song didn't match.

      Exactly! Like there's that thing I learned in music called the Blues Bar Scale smth like that, I can't quite remember, but almost everybody's song sounded similar.

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  13. love how seriously people take these issues that they're so far removed from <3<3<3
    love netizens who act like they're going to get paid money if iu plagiarized the song <3<3<3

    seriously though it amazes me every time

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  14. Great post. Netizens should read it, yes, even the great and glorious i-netizens.

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    1. Maybe they will now that it's on Asian Junkie instead of just here where the majority of retarded I-fans just think we're anti-kpop.

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    2. Got the shock of my life when I saw an edited version of this post up on AJ - I missed IAFTB's message to me about it. I think he did really good though by picking the eyes out of my ramble and editing it in a style that works well for that site - something so far I've been unable to do on my own! I just like rambling too much heh.

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  15. I bow down to the awesomeness of this article!

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  16. "Someone vocally trained would have easily noticed the differences between the two vocal lines without me having to break it down, but to a layperson it might just indeed sound exactly the same."

    Not very vocally trained here, but I could definitely hear the differences between the songs. And when the video played them together, I was about ready to toss my computer into an incinerator (okay, it wasn't *that* bad, but I can't stand when people do that mess). And here's a question for you, Kpopalypse oppar; would that section of Nekta's song being in a major key (or using more major chords) and IU's being in a minor key (or using minor chords) really matter? I suppose you could say it's what clued me into this being a load of bullshit, but I was just wondering.

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    1. Oh lordy, I'm about to get technical.

      It does make a little bit of difference to the way you hear the melodies yes.

      IU is singing "minor scale" melody in a very strict way to match the tonality of the chords, and then modulates over to the major degree when the chords modulate, whereas Nekta is actually singing "blues scale", and blues singing is a little major/minor ambiguous. You can plop a blues scale vocal line over both major keys (like in 50s rock and roll) or in minor keys (like in heavy metal) and it works over both for this reason. Blues singers will deliberately pitch the minor 3rd of the blues scale with a bit of upward bend so it sits somewhere between the minor 3rd and major third degree, it's considered more "bluesy" to do that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that IU and Nekta have two very different vocal approaches to a similar melody, and yes, it does make a difference.

      If you read the above paragraph and actually understood it and live in my area, get in touch, I might have a vocal teaching job for you hahahahaha.

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    2. Actually, I kind of understood that. IU's melody is written in such a way that it matches the chord progression she's singing over (minor when it's minor; major when it's major), but Nekta's could be sung over either and it fits. Is that right? (Like I said earlier, I'm not very trained, but I can still track through most of the theory)

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  17. Guuurl you know what you're talking about.

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