Rihanna Plagiarizes Beyoncé’s Plagiarism

Back in October, Grantland made a plea: Let’s All Stop Complaining When Beyoncé Steals Dance Moves From YouTube. Bey had just faced her latest plagiarism charges, for the “Countdown” video (it was “inspired” by the work of a Belgian choreographer named Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker), but enough was enough. A full exploration of her plagiarism history — from “Single Ladies” to her Billboard Awards performance — proved conclusively: awesome stuff happens when Beyoncé steals. That meant Beyoncé officially gets Grantland’s coveted “I’m Famous and Awesome Enough Where I’m Allowed To Rip Stuff Off” exception.

Now, as with much of Beyoncé’s groundbreaking career, even her plagiarism has proved inspiring. With the release of last week’s “You Da One” video, the quantity of fellow pop diva Rihanna’s plagiarism has reached Beyoncian heights.

Let’s take a look at the history of allegations against Rihanna. The first notable situation arose in early 2010, with the “Rude Boy” video, and its similarities to M.I.A.’s “Boys.” At the time, the video’s director Melina Matsoukas explained “that the [‘Boyz’] video lends from a lot of Rasta culture and ’80s Atari vibe and that’s what we went with too… It definitely wasn’t trying to rip anybody off at all — it was just our approach and the animation stuff, it had a similar vibe. We’ve seen that before with Grace Jones and Andy Warhol, so I don’t know if anybody can lay claim to anything. We’re all inspired by similar elements and it came together in that way.” See, Warhol did it! Sensible enough, if not quite convincing. The next time up, though, was harder to shake off: the video for “S&M,” also directed by Matsoukas, led to two lawsuits, from photographers Philipp Paulus and David LaChapelle. The latter ended in an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed sum.

Which brings us to “You Da One,” and its similarities to the work of an awesomely named Norweigan photographer, Sølve Sundsbø. Billboard explains: “Back in 2008 Sundsbø created these manipulated light and shadow skin creations in an editorial for Numero titled ‘Points a la Ligne.’ In the spread, model Edita Vilkeviciute poses nude with the light projections slithering on her body and rocking a remarkably similar bowl cut wig to the singer.” (Check out the side-by-sides here). That one, by the way, was helmed by Matsoukas too.

So: should Rihanna get to steal, too? It’s a murky situation. She’s plenty famous and awesome, but it’s not quite the same: while Beyoncé’s plagiarism led to out-and-out classics, Rihanna’s more often leads to out-and-out lawsuits. And sort-of boring videos. And similar bowl cuts. Similar bowl cuts! Maybe its time to fire Melina?

Filed Under: Beyonce, Love and theft, Music, Rihanna

Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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