Olivia Rodrigo is arguably the biggest breakthrough pop artist of 2021. Her song “good for u” surpassed over 240 million views on YouTube and stayed as one of the top two songs in the country on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart for nine consecutive weeks.
As critics pointed out later on social media, however, the track sounded very similar in style to Paramore’s “Misery Business” from 2007. Olivia Rodrigo agreed and added Hayley Williams and Joshua Farro of Paramore as additional writers on “good for u.”
Acknowledging the similarities and crediting Paramore was a safe move for Rodrigo, but the plagiarism claims have opened up a larger conversation about what is considered stolen in the music industry and what is considered creative inspiration.
Weighing in on the drama, Maroon 5’s lead singer Adam Levine chimed in and said that he believed the 18-year-old former-Disney star deserved the benefit of the doubt.
Calling it “tricky,” Adam Levine posted in his Instagram story on Friday that “it’s a natural thing for it to happen” when artists “rip something off inadvertently.”
“Sometimes it’s warranted that people take legal action, and sometimes it’s not,” he continued. “And I think there’s definitely become more of a gray area that’s reared its ugly head these days.”
“I do think that we should probably meet this with a little more compassion and understanding and try to find a way,” Adam Levine pleaded. “All this calling out, it’s like, music is a creative thing and I just hate to see it crushed.”
Other than retroactively adding Paramore as additional writers on “good 4 u,” Olivia Rodrigo has yet to speak about the song’s similarity. The singer has received complaints before for copying other people’s songs but has openly acknowledged in the past that she merely interpolated a similar chord progression.
In her song “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back,” Olivia said that she used the same chord progression from Taylor Swift’s 2017 song “New Year’s Day,” and even included Taylor and her producer Jack Antonoff as additional writers. Olivia Rodrigo did the same for her song “Deja Vu,” which interpolated Taylor Swift’s 2019 song “Cruel Summer.”
Nevertheless, Olivia Rodrigo’s openness hasn’t stopped critics from claiming plagiarism. When people on social media brought attention to an alternative album cover for her debut record Sour that resembled Hole’s classic record Live Through This, the grunge band’s lead singer Courtney Love seemed to agree in disappointment.
Courtney Love called it “bad form” in a Facebook post, declaring that, “stealing an original idea and not asking permission is rude.”
The young pop singer has also been accused of ripping off Courtney Barnett and Elvis Costello on her song “Brutal.” Elvis Costello later wrote on Twitter however that it was fine with him, claiming that, “it’s how rock and roll works.”
“You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy,” he said. “That’s what I did.”
Other than directly lifting a portion of a song, which is how many artists lose copyright cases due to unlicensed sampling, no artist owns the rights to a chord progression. In the song “Misery Business,” Paramore used the same chord progression as Olivia Rodrigo’s “good for u,” just a half-step down.
Many other songs use the same chord progression, such as Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Blackpink’s “As If It’s Your Last,” and Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro,” just to name a few, and if an artist had the right to own the chord progression, hundreds of songs would cease to exist.
It’s possible that any one of the artists mentioned could sue Olivia Rodrigo and claim stolen copyright, but these kinds of cases are often very hard to win. It’s quite easy for music lawyers to find a song written even before there’s that used the same progression, even dating back to classical compositions.
With Paramore and other artists added as additional songwriters, they will now earn a portion of the royalties, which for most musicians is more than enough acknowledgment of their contribution.