I've been pondering this for a while: Taylor Swift (and Jack Antonoff) shared credit on “Look What You Made Me Do,” with the writers of the Right Said Fred song “I’m Too Sexy,” a 1992 Billboard #1 smash.
What’s interesting about the offering is that Taylor reached out before the release of her single to ask permission of the Freds…obvi, she must have thought (or the thought was put into her head), there was enough likeness to warrant the gesture, especially in the wake of several unpleasant, public and time consuming lawsuits involving some of her colleagues (Robin Thicke and the Marvin Gaye estate with “Blurred Lines”, Sam Smith and Tom Petty with “I Won’t Back Down” (although this one wasn’t so unpleasant), and Ed Sheehan with multiple filers.)
I wonder what would have happened if Right Said Fred said no.
When the group’s Fred Fairbrass was first sent “Look What You Made Me Do,” he said he saw the similarity in the cynicism of the 2 compositions. As far as I know, you can’t copyright an attitude. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if we could? Thankfully, it wasn't the cynicism that raised question but rather the similarities in the rhythmic pattern of (the part where Taylor sings) "Ooh, look what you made me do" and (where the “Freds” sing) "I'm too sexy for my shirt.” (Videos below.) IMO, without the "Ooh" up front she probably would have been fine. But who's kidding who? — A good "Ooh" is hard to resist.
For anyone who follows me, you may recall that in the previously mentioned lawsuits, I was in the minority (within the boundaries of my songwriting community), in that I heard a resemblance between each 2 songs in question (as did the courts, as well as, in one case, the 'morning after' conscience of an alleged infringer himself, Sam Smith). So it may surprise you to know that in this case, I DON’T GET IT.
Yeah, I see the phrasing likeness, but but but…really? The phrasing is not that unusual. There has to be prior art. Even I venture to ask, what in the world is the future of the writing room coming to?
Taylor is an accomplished role model. Say what you want about her—many of us do…and it’s not always favorable—I believe she has a thing about, well, doing the right thing…whatever her motives. Or perhaps she's hyper-mindful of her brand or her...Reputation (the title of her new album).
On another note, I’m thrilled for the Freds who signed away their publishing on “Sexy” in the early 90s for (if I remember correctly and I'm pretty sure I do, but I could be wrong, tho I don't think I am), a $500 advance from Hit & Run Music, when no other publisher or record label would get near the song.
“I’m Too Sexy” then went on to be the phenomenon that it was and the Freds made tons of coin from their writers share. True, they might have made millions more if they held onto that copyright or entered into a publishing agreement after the song was a hit, but there was no guarantee that it would be a hit. And...we have our reasons for doing what we do.
Hit & Run Music was known for signing aspiring songwriters and artists they believed in, regardless of whether the act had yet to have any success. I know, because they signed me. There’s a lot to be said for a signing when there’s nothing in the pipeline. I miss Hit & Run.
Another interesting detail is that Taylor called her song an interpolation of “I’m Too Sexy.” That’s pretty generous. Usually an interpolation is substantial…an obvious or unmistakable nod to a past hit. For example…the same chorus with different verses. Or a change of half the lyric over the same music. To me this didn’t come close to that criteria. It's been suggested that it's getting to be more of a common practice for artists to label a new work “an interpolation” because that way it doesn’t appear as if they’ve actually written with the additional writers, (God forbid.)
It’s not been publicized as to what the co-write split was. Could be 5%. Could be 50%—tho I HIGHLY doubt it was 50%. When it comes to an interpolation the owner of the original copyright holds the cards (especially if it was an iconic hit), and often demands up to 90% of the new work. In this case, I'm sure it was the writers of the new work that held the aces. Fair enough. Because...the thing is...Richard Fairbrass, Fred Fairbrass and Rob Manzoli are now co-authors of a Taylor Swift song and even tho “Sexy” is an evergreen copyright (having been synched into dozens of TV spots, performed at strip bars, lip synched at karaoke and is now bracing for yet another surge), the writers have inherited a slew of Swifties—Taylor Swift’s ginormous Fanbase—and that alone may be more valuable than any percentage of any current hit song. (Is anyone out there privy to what the actual percentage was? Dying to know.)
Funnily (I love that word—it is a word you know), and ironically enough, in April 2008, "I’m Too Sexy” was on "The 50 Worst Songs Ever" list. Boo hoo. If there are any regrets by the Freds for being included on this embarrassing list or for accepting such a modest advance way back when, this new sexy development has got to have cheered them up.
Check ‘em out. LMK what you think.