The Wrecking Ball singer has brought the new year in with the powerful self-love anthem Flowers. This hit single is from her upcoming album Endless Summer Vacation and has earned her her first No.1 debut and broken the Spotify record of most-streamed song in a single week.
The song owes part of its success to its catchy hook:
“I can buy myself flowers/ Write my name in the sand/ Talk to myself for hours/ Say things you don’t understand/ I can take myself dancing, and I can hold my own hand/ Yeah, I can love me better than you can. “
Familiar, right? The romantic imagery, the melodic cadence…
Fans on all platforms have very rightly made the connection to Bruno Mars’ 2012 song When I Was Your Man. From side-by-side comparisons on TikTok to mash-ups of the two songs circulating on Twitter, the song’s chorus is undeniably reminiscent of the popular ballad both lyrically and melodically.
Take a look:
“I should’ve bought you flowers/ And held your hand/ Should’ve gave you all my hours/ When I had the chance/ Take you to every party ‘cause all you wanted to do was dance/ Now my baby’s dancing, but she’s dancing with another man.”
While the lyrics are inverted to make it seem like a kind of feminist response to Bruno Mars’s song, the question of infringement does come up. Has Bruno Mars given her permission to do this? Does he need to?
If she had sampled the song, i.e., used snippets of the original recording, the case would have been more straightforward – recording use and copyright licenses would have had to have been involved. What Cyrus has done, however, is called interpolation – the act of taking an existing piece of music and recreating it within a new piece of music. Imagine buying a cake from your local bakery versus using their recipe to bake your own.
Interpolation has become an increasingly popular songwriting technique. It can be as blatant as Anne Marie’s hit song 2002, or more subtle like Portugal The Man’s Feel It Still. Some think it is a cool, nostalgic way to revive older pieces of music, while some say that it’s a loophole that musicians use to avoid plagiarism issues and give financial credit to the original artist.
Many musicians speak of other artists as their influences, but where do we draw the line?
When it comes to all things legal, interpolation is a little more nuanced than sampling. Permission from the owner of the underlying composition of the musical work may be required, but it is not required from the copyright owner, “regardless of how similar the new recording may be,” says the United States Copyright Office.
This basically means that it’s up to Bruno Mars – whether he’s flattered by the reference or insulted by it.
While there has been some speculation amongst fans as to whether Cyrus has gotten permission or not, it doesn’t seem like a legal battle will ensue.