By Joelle Silvestri
2021 has been a great year for the singer and former Disney Channel star Olivia Rodrigo. She has had numerous hit singles, “Driver’s License,” “Deja Vu,” and “Good 4 U” topping the charts, and her debut album, Sour, continues to break records on the Billboard Hot 100 and Spotify. In addition, she has performed at numerous award shows, and she was even a musical guest on Saturday Night Live. However, Rodrigo’s critical acclaim does not make her authentic. While her fans may believe that her music and style are original, it is easy to see that she plagiarizes almost everything she does.
It all started in June of 2021 when Olivia Rodrigo first faced some controversy for a promotional prom-themed photoshoot she did for her debut album. In the photos, Rodrigo is posed as a crying prom queen, carrying a bouquet and looking off into the distance. After she posted these photos on Instagram, people began to draw parallels between this photoshoot and the alternative rock band Hole’s Live Through This album cover which also depicts a crying prom queen with a bouquet. Rodrigo’s post even caught the attention of Hole’s lead singer, Courtney Love. Love did not like what she saw and wrote online, “it was rude of her and Geffen [Records] not to ask myself or [Live Through This cover photographer] Ellen von Unwerth for permission.” Even if Rodrigo did not intentionally copy Hole, the whole “crying prom queen” trope has been done before. It’s not unique.
Shortly after her first accusation, people again noticed similarities between Olivia Rodrigo and another band, The Pom Pom Squad. In late June, a fan of the Pom Pom Squad made a thread on Twitter accusing Rodrigo of copying the aesthetic of the indie rock band. The post included pictures and videos comparing the aesthetics of the two artists, including a profile picture of letter hairclips used to spell the name of a song and a photo of a smashed birthday cake. The similarities are suspicious. There are other similar posts, including cheerleaders wearing long latex gloves and, once again, crying prom queens. The Pom Pom Squad has not released a statement on the situation, but it was found that a member of Olivia Rodrigo’s artist and repertoire team has followed The Pom Pom Squad on Instagram since 2020.
Evidently, she and her team are not creating unique ideas but are taking from other artists, calling them their own. Some might say that she is just taking inspiration from the artists she likes, but the issue there is that she is not crediting the original creators. If almost everything she does has been taken from somewhere else, where is the originality?
More recently, the plagiarism accusations took a more serious turn when Rodrigo had to give songwriting credits to numerous artists such as Paramore, Taylor Swift, Jack Antonoff, St. Vincent, and more. Rodrigo allegedly had to pay millions of dollars in royalties to these artists. By listening to a couple of Rodrigo’s hits, you can hear the similarities between her songs and the songs of the previously mentioned artists. If you listen to one of Rodrigo’s hits, “Good 4 U”, and then compare it to Paramore’s 2007 hit, “Misery Business,” the instrumentals in “Good 4 U” sound almost identical to those in the Paramore hit. The chorus of another Rodrigo song, “Deja Vu,” sounds almost exactly the same as Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” This is because Rodrigo interpolated (repurposing an existing melody with new lyrics/ content) the melodies of “Cruel Summer” and “Misery Business.” Interpolation is quite common in the music industry, but a crucial part of interpolating, sampling, or covering an existing piece is to credit the original artist. Rodrigo did not. It took people listening to it and holding her accountable to get her to credit these artists.
Rodrigo’s fans often argue that we should not judge her because she is a new and young artist, but that is no excuse. There are still many young artists (ex. Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Nas, Ed Sheeran) that although they were new to the music industry, write their own music and have their own style.
Olivia Rodrigo certainly has a great voice and is a multi-talented musician in guitar and piano, but it is still hard to understand all of the hype around her music. It seems that Rodrigo is always trying to sound like someone else in her music instead of developing her own sound. As a result, her music has that very generic pop (occasionally pop-punk) sound. Rodrigo should stop striving to be the next Taylor Swift or the next Hayley Williams and put more focus into creating her own signature style in her music.