Blurred lines: why Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are paying homage to pop’s past

After Swift’s Right Said Fred reference, we look into the world of artists interpolating previously released music

While images of Right Said Fred drum up feelings of muscular guys in Lycra, Taylor Swift found the chorus to their 1991 hit I’m Too Sexy to be the real treasure, using it for current single Look What You Made Me Do. In recent years, Ed Sheeran, Mark Ronson and Miguel have all taken to interpolating previously released music – whether recreating the rhythm of a chorus, a melody, or even word-for-word re-singing of a hook. While sampling has been commonplace in music for decades, the popularity of interpolations, or replays as they’re also known, has grown significantly.

Why? “In order to clear a sample, you technically have to clear both the master use and the composition,” says Barry Simons, a San Francisco-based entertainment lawyer. “So there’s two clearances.” Or to quote bellowing chanteuse Jessie J, it’s all about the money, money, money. Simons says that an artist is able to bypass paying a music publisher for the underlying composition by recreating the sound recording; the only payment is to the record label for the masters, therefore avoiding copyright infringement.

Look what she went and did ... Taylor Swift’s latest single, which samples Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy.

In a post-Blurred Lines world (Robin Thicke was successfully sued by Marvin Gaye’s estate for the song’s similarities to Got to Give It Up), some artists have had to backdate their “tribute”. Ed Sheeran came under fire for his pre-chorus to Shape of You having an uncredited similarity to TLC’s pre-chorus of No Scrubs (Sheeran later added No Scrubs’s songwriters to the credits); Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars later credited the Gap Band’s five songwriters of I Believe You Want to Get Up and Dance (Oops Upside Your Head) on Uptown Funk, while Miguel added Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan to the credits for Leaves owing to its similarity to 1979.

The nostalgia from musically “homaging” a bygone era is far from new, though Swift’s fascination with the 90s as a creative muse is perhaps just the latest reference point. As awkward 90s fashion and reboots of 90s films and TV series have seemingly become en vogue, it’s no shock why present-day artists would take to diving back to the future of this same era for their throwback inspiration.

The caveat to any interpolation is that the original artist can always say no. “And once they say no, you’ve painted yourself into a corner where you kind of can’t do it,” says Simons. In most cases, however, an interpolation is manna from heaven. A jubilant Right Said Fred have publicly thanked Taylor Swift for her cheeky borrow, especially since it temporarily thrust them back into the spotlight. Look what she went and did, more like.

Kathy Iandoli

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Is pop ready for Beyoncé's rap alter-ego?
Queen B recently dropped bars on DJ Khaled’s Top Off – a risky move from singer to MC that not many pop stars are capable of pulling off

Issy Sampson

16, Mar, 2018 @12:59 PM

Article image
How to stop Taylor Swift from turning Cats: The Movie into a dog’s dinner
With a big-screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical under way, here’s how #MeToo, Zac Efron and DJ Khaled could make purrfect movie memories

Hannah Verdier

17, Aug, 2018 @11:55 AM

Article image
Why artists such as Anderson .Paak and Taylor Swift are already considering their legacies
From tattooed pleas regarding posthumous releases to rerecordings of old material, younger musicians are getting their estates in order early

Rhian Jones

03, Sep, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Guest again? Why it's time stars such as Taylor Swift and Drake cut the cameos
Since the pop singer’s 1989 tour, star-studded sets have been all the rage. But have we finally passed the tipping point for unnecessary collaborations?

Peter Robinson

05, May, 2017 @12:30 PM

Article image
Most streamed tracks of the decade reviewed: Ed Sheeran, Drake and Post Malone
In a one-off special we bring you the top five streamed tracks on Spotify, and it’s no surprise Ed Sheeran appears twice

Sam Wolfson

27, Dec, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and more announced for BBC's Biggest Weekend festival
Noel Gallagher, Beck and Manic Street Preachers also announced for four-city summer festival attended by 175,000 people

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

30, Jan, 2018 @12:26 PM

Article image
Faux real: Taylor Swift, Jay-Z and the ‘leaks’ that are too good to be true
Pop fans have started creating fake album tracklists, often with more revealing results than the reality

Issy Sampson

29, Sep, 2017 @12:30 PM

Article image
Teleman, The Saturdays, Palma Violets: this week's new tracks

Teleman | The Saturdays | Lucy Spraggan | Palma Violets | Taylor Swift Feat Ed Sheeran

David Whitehouse

28, Jun, 2013 @12:00 PM

Article image
Lethal Bizzle, Alice Levine and Peace's Harrison Koisser on the biggest tracks of 2014
This year’s chart behemoths dissected by our expert pop panel

The Guide

20, Dec, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
From Ed Sheeran to Sam Smith: does credibility by association work?
In order to have longevity in pop, stars must align themselves with A-list collaborators to erase their uncool history

Issy Sampson

05, Jul, 2019 @12:00 PM