Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Ice Ice MAYBE you stole that song...

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer use the phrase “culture industry” to refer to products and processes of mass culture. They claim that the products produced by this industry have two noticeable characteristics: homogeneity and predictability. 

As quoted, “As soon as the film begins, it is quite clear how it will end, and who will be rewarded, punished, or forgotten. In light music (popular music), once the trained ear has heard the first notes of the hit song, it can guess what is coming and feel flattered when it does come…The result is a constant reproduction of the same thing.”

Well Adorno and Horkheimer, I agree with you. These days it seems that I have heard every new song or sat through every plot twist modern pop culture can throw at me. Giving more clout to the theories of The Frankfurt School and the culture industry. One of the best examples in pop culture history is the debate between Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) and Queen/David Bowie and the song Ice Ice Baby.

Odds are that you have heard the chart topping rap delight that is Ice Ice Baby, released in 1990 by Vanilla Ice that topped charts in not only the USA but various countries around the world. Once you listen to the first 30 seconds of the song however, you start to get a bad case of déjà vu back to the collaboration of Queen and David Bowie’s song Under Pressure.

In fact the opening guitar section is almost identical, and it seemed that Vanilla Ice was now the one “under pressure”. Vanilla had altered the rythym of the baseline hoping it would allow him to avoid any question of loyalties or license. Well, turns out that it definitely did not, Queen and Bowie sued the rising star for copyright infringement. The artists ended up  settling out of court for an undisclosed (yet very likely very high) amount of retribution.

Eventually, Vanilla did end up giving credit to Bowie and Queen but couldn’t afford to lose all rights to the song since it was by far his most successful hit, spending a week at number one on the Billboard hot 100 during November of 1990.

Come on Vanilla, did you really think no one would notice? Classic case of Enlightenment as Mass Deception. So what do you think?
  • Do you think cases of “sampling” happen in today’s music culture? Have you noticed any in particular you can mention?
  • Did the popularity of Ice Ice Baby influence the other artists to pursue legal rights? Would this have been the case without its massive popularity?
  • FUN FACT: Robert Van Winkle now hosts a home renovation series on DIY Network and just competed on this last season of Dancing with the Stars. Can you name one other Vanilla Ice song?

1 comment:

  1. Sampling is still a big issue into today’s music world. One of the biggest problems is that not all artist are writing their own songs. There are writers and producers behind the scenes who are putting their own inputs in on a song. This is not to say that there are not authentic music artist out there who can not write and make their own music, but there are some that heavily rely on others. Some artist are the face of the music because of the homogeneity and predictability that the music industry has created for society. It is kind of sad to think that some people are left out of industry that is about sound because their personal appearance does no met the industry standards. Kind of drifted off topic, but here is a website that shows just in the past few years music artist who have been accused of sampling other artist’s music.


    Reading through the cases there are several times it seems like sampling occurs, but artist who claim to have their music stolen don’t always take it to court. Artist settle deals behind the scenes just like Vanilla Ice and David Bowe. There are even times when artist do not push the issue because the artist who sampled their work did not hit it big with the stolen music. Some rules in the music industry even allow a set number of variations to a melody as long as the format is not the same, an example would be a mixtape is not the same as say an album. That can be found reading through the link provided above. It just seems like there is a lot of sampling going on and it just depends on whether or not the artist feels like proving that sampling did occur.

    This answered your second question at the same time and it would be yes. Yes, the more popular a song is that may have sampled from another artist the more likely the original artist will purse legal rights. Sometimes it is in the original artist’s best interest to do so. Their song with the same melody may have not made it big and if they can prove a popular song did steal from their song they are most likely going to get a piece of the pie one way or another.