Elvis Costello defends Olivia Rodrigo over Brutal plagiarism claim

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

  • Published
Composite image of Elvis Costello and Olivia RodrigoImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Fans noticed a similarity between Costello's Pump It Up and Rodrigo's Brutal

Elvis Costello has defended pop star Olivia Rodrigo after she was accused of lifting one of his guitar riffs.

Brutal, a track on Rodrigo's number one album, is based around a punky chord sequence that also featured in Costello's 1978 hit Pump It Up.

But when a Twitter user said Rodrigo's song was "pretty much a direct lift", Costello replied: "This is fine by me.

"It's how rock & roll works," he wrote. "You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy."

He added: "That's what I did."

The veteran singer-songwriter also included hashtags referencing Bob Dylan's 1965 classic Subterranean Homesick Blues, which inspired Pump It Up; and Chuck Berry's 1956 single Too Much Monkey Business, which influenced the Dylan song.

You can compare the Costello and Rodrigo tracks below. The guitar riff first appears 14 seconds into Brutal, and at 15 seconds in Pump It Up:

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Costello's relaxed reaction comes despite a surge in music copyright cases in recent years.

Perhaps the most infamous case was over the hit song Blurred Lines - in which the family of Marvin Gaye accused Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams of plagiarising Gaye's song Got to Give It Up.

The jury's controversial verdict found that Thicke and Williams had copied the "vibe" of Gaye's 1977 hit - rather than lifting a melody or chord sequence, which is usual bar for plagiarism.

Since then, stars like Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry and Childish Gambino have all been sued for millions over similarities between their songs and earlier hits.

Others have taken the precaution of crediting writers who might have a claim, even a tangential one, to protect themselves against legal action.

Notably, Taylor Swift gave Right Said Fred a share of her song Look What You Made Me Do because her chorus melody followed a similar rhythmic pattern to their 1990s novelty hit I'm Too Sexy.

Rodrigo and her co-writer Daniel Nigro have not done the same for Brutal - but it seems Costello is honoured, rather than annoyed, by the hat-tip.

Costello previously gave permission for Pump It Up's riff to be sampled in Rogue Trader's 2005 dance hit Voodoo Child.

Image source, DCG/Geffen Records
Image caption,
Courtney Love has complained about similarities between Rodrigo and Hole artwork

Meanwhile, Rodrigo has faced separate accusations of plagiarism from Courtney Love.

Love highlighted similarities between the artwork for her band Hole's 1994 album Live Through This and the images used to promote Rodrigo's Sour Prom, a livestream concert taking place on Tuesday.

Both images show a prom queen holding flowers while mascara streams down their faces.

"My [album] cover was my original idea," Love wrote on Facebook. "A thing you maybe have to actually live life to acquire?

"I've informed her I await her flowers [and] note."

Love also shared the Sour Prom photo on Instagram with the caption: "Spot the difference," eliciting a reply from Rodrigo.

"Love u and live through this sooooo much," the 18-year-old commented, to which Love replied: "Olivia - you're welcome. My favourite florist is in Notting Hill, London! Dm me for deets! I look forward to reading your note!"

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