It's tough at the top
One year after the release of her self-titled album, Beyoncé’s music is being closely analyzed yet again — and not, this time, from her Beyhive.
The singer is one of many who’s been accused of sampling without permission throughout her career. Questions of authorship and of sampling are particularly pernicious and difficult to solve in the recording industry; just this month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Beyoncé’s husband Jay Z for his sampling of a single syllable from a funk song. A new lawsuit filed by Hungarian singer Mitsou alleges that Beyoncé, Jay Z, and producer Timbaland used her song “Bajba, Bajba Pelem” at the start of “Drunk in Love.”
While musicians of all stripes can get hit with lawsuits given the unclear standards around sampling and the ephemeral nature of authorship, Beyoncé’s been hit more frequently than many of her contemporaries. Being queen, it’d seem, has a headache-inducing cost — as several of her songs and videos have come in for criticism.
- “Baby Boy”: One of Beyoncé’s first solo singles was alleged by songwriter Jennifer Armour to bear substantial similarities to her “Got a Little Bit of Love for You,” which had been submitted as a demo to Beyoncé’s label. “Armour cannot prove Beyoncé had access to Armour’s demo tape before composing the allegedly infringing elements of her own song,” the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in a decision declining even to address the songs’ similarity.
- “If I Were a Boy”: The lead-off single for Beyoncé’s album I Am… Sasha Fierce was penned by songwriter BC Jean, whose own version of the song was rejected by her record label. After Beyoncé discovered the song and recorded it, a Fox News gossip columnist wrote that Jean had been “strong-armed by Beyoncé’s people.” That seems a bit overzealous: For her part, Jean told an interviewer that she’d been surprised her first-ever song had been recorded by another artist, but that the Beyoncé version had “opened so many doors, it’s amazing.”
- “Countdown”: Beyoncé took inspiration from contemporary ballet in her “Countdown” video, but one of her muses was far from flattered. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker claimed “plagiarism”; though it’s difficult to cite a source in a music video, Beyoncé took it upon herself to credit De Keersmaeker in a statement after the choreographer spoke out. “I’ve always been fascinated by the way contemporary art uses different elements and references to produce something unique,” Beyoncé said.
- “Run the World (Girls)”: The apocalyptic, disturbing clip for this 2011 single was specifically compared to the work of photographer Pieter Hugo, down to imagery of pet hyenas on chains. And her performance of the song at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards was compared to the similar work of choreographer Lorella Cuccarini. “Thank god for YouTube or I would have never been exposed to something so inspiring,” Beyoncé later said.