A Word on Denmark’s 2011 Entry

Every year, one or two entries at the ESC stir up a bit of controversy due to claims of plagiarism by fans.  This year, Denmark’s entry New Tomorrow by A Friend in London is the center of the controversy.  So, in lieu of my typical review of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, I want to use my annual post about the Danish entry to discuss this situation.

To set the stage for this post, I will recap my thoughts about this year’s Dansk Melodi Grand Prix.  I was vastly disappointed in this year’s DMGP.  The production, the staging, the songs, the outcome – no where as good as the last two years were.  Not to mention the whole thing was a sham; New Tomorrow was slated to win from its announcement as a contender and it destroyed the competition.  With that said, I strongly disliked the song, and already know that 2011 will be the first Contest since 2008 in which I will have to suffer through having to listen to an entry – unfortunately that entry comes from my own Denmark.  New Tomorrow is corny, generic song with lyrics better fit for a classroom of four year olds than the stage of a major international song competition.

After A Friend in London’s victory, fans around Europe screamed in outrage, claiming that the song was plagiarized.  There are allegedly four songs from which  the band has “borrowed”: Face 2 Face by Future Trance United, Shine by Take That, Yasashii Uta by Mucc, and Sing For Me by Andreas Johnson.  Despite the fact that I love Shine, I will admit that all of these songs are horribly generic and they all have an eerily similar refrains to one another.  Undoubtedly, all four songs share a similar progression throughout the melody in question.  The questions is: do these notes progress exactly the same between New Tomorrow and any of these (or other) songs?

I think the Eurovision Times blogbest describes the process for musical plagiarism to be determined. “We have to remember that one can not accuse a song of being plagiarism if it just resembles another song. Plagiarism

is not a sentiment of “Déjà vu” and there are clear rules to determine whether something is plagiarism or not.  First a complaint by the other song’s authors has to be filed.  Then the song will be analysed. For a song to be plagiarism it has to have a sequence of eight notes that are exactly identical with the other song.”  As a musician, I have a better ear for this kind of stuff than the average person, but I am still no expert.  I think the strongest case comes in the form of Andreas Johnson’s Sing for Me (though, there is also a strong resemblance to Mucc’s Yasashii Uta).  The key, I think, lies in melody when the lyrics are: “In this crazy, crazy world” – it is at this point that New Tomorrow (and the other songs) separate from each other.  A Friend in London follows this progression in their song (the words in parenthesis indicates the direction the pitch moves between syllables): “In (up) this (up) cra- (same) -zy (same) cra- (same) -zy (down) world.”  Andreas Johnson: “sing (up) for (up) joy (same) sing (same) for (same) eve- (up) -ry (down) man (same) wo- (same) man (same) boy (same) and (same) girl.” Notice the slight difference.  Due to my lack of knowledge of the Japanese language, I can’t do a similar thing for the Yasashii Uta, but I can tell that around where “crazy, crazy world” occurs in New Tomorrow, instead of going downward pitch, Yasashii Uta goes upward.  Again, I am no expert in these things, but that’s how I hear it.  Shine and Face 2 Face deviate enough in the second half of their refrains that there is less ambiguity regarding those cases.

My verdict: New Tomorrow is unoriginal and generic, but in the end, does not meet the requirements for plagiarism as there is no way to prove (or disprove) whether A Friend in London heard these other songs and were influenced by them.  If anything, all of these songs were influenced by Kitarō’s Silk Road Suite (1979).  If you agree or disagree with my opinion, leave a (civil) comment and check out this video on YouTube, where someone has spliced together the similar melodies from Silk Road, Yasashii Uta, Sing for Me, and New Tomorrow so that listeners can judge for themselves whether there is plagiarism afoot.  Obviously, the video’s creator’s opinion is incredibly self-evident (you can see it in the title alone) but I suggest you close your eyes, give the video a few listens, and reach your own conclusion.

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5 responses

  1. Olap Rimlap

    Hey there,

    Was looking for information on this issue and came across your blog.

    I was aware of the similarity between the songs juat hours before Denmark made it into the ESC final.

    First of all, I would change the expression “the band has ripped off” to something else – maybe the composer got a little too inspired (quite possibly unconsciously so, which doesn’t make it less complicated) by another tune – but the band themselves only performed it, as I understand it. So, I guess A Friend in London as a group could not be influenced much by any other song, as they wrote none of it.

    Kitaro from Japan seems to have been an inspiration for at least some of the composers. My guess is that the Japanese Mucc were inspired by Silk Road Suite. Again, this could have been subconsciously (a melody pops up in your mind and you think it is your own) or quite consciously (which could perhaps explain why they themselves have not make a fuss about this, as someone would start comparing their song to e.g. Silk Road Suite).

    I have not found much about the 8-tone rule, but I think that the first 13 notes or so of Kitaro’s song are identical (?) with the beginning of Uta Yasashii, and in fact with New Tomorrow as well. The Swedish song seems not to follow 13 notes but perhaps eight or nine, yet the source of inspiration could easily have been either Kitaro or Mucc. (you missed an “and” between “man” and “woman”, and “girl” comes before “boy” but that does not have any influence on the melody)

    The question of “proving access” seems to have been a major issue in the trials before (at least in the U.S.) and that of course is difficult. Also, the concept of “similarity” is really tricky here – how similar is similar? Besides the rule of a sequence of tones, there are not that many “technical” rules, are there? Chord progression is out of question as the are many, many songs with a similar progression.

    You have probably come across this:

    http://www.gelfmagazine.com/archives/picking_up_what_theyre_laying_down.php

    In my personal opinion, half of the chorus has just too much similarity to the Japanese tunes. Do not know if that is exceptional, I guess it does happen.

    Maybe it is time that we revise the laws anyway? I mean, as it is, can I take a Beatles song, take a 7-note sequence here and there, change some notes, perhaps make my own lyrics in an entirely different language, and voila? (I know I would be ridiculed in the actual case, but you get the point)

    Anyway, with the song as it is, I think coming into the final is a success in itself. I would not hesitate a second to swap it for the Cypriot entry, although I don’t know who would take the Irish, Moldavian or Swedish place:)

    Like

    May 12, 2011 at 9:52 PM

    • Howdy!

      Thanks for your thoughtful response! I edited the post following your suggestion, it’s sometimes too easy to forget that most of these performers don’t write or compose the songs themselves.

      The 8 note rule. Notice, it’s 8 notes, not tones, as notes have both pitch and time, and therefore, a sequence would be a full melody, pitch + rhythm. I’m not sure if that’s an international courts’ rule or an EBU rule, but its been mentioned in this case and when 2007’s winner Molitva was accused of plagiarism (and another ESC plagiarism case that eludes me at the moment). I think, when analyzed note by note, the Japanese song and the Danish song are similar, but not the same – but that is a matter of opinion and something we can’t figure out without the proper equipment and professionals. I had not seen that article before (thanks for posting it!) but even the experts disagree on what similar is and is not.

      You’re right about the proving access; I’m American so naturally I assume we do the same thing as everyone else. But since that is hardly the case, maybe I shouldn’t have assumed that. Coincidences do happen, and so does thievery. Though, the more I think about it, I think both tunes were heavily influenced by Silk Road and things with common ancestors tend to be alike.

      I definitely get your point! Laws are so difficult because a) these kind of cases commonly cross, not just country lines, but culture lines (think West vs. East vs. Africa vs. Arabia vs. Latin America, etc…), and different parts of the world have different levels of respect for international rules and regulations. b) As you said, coincidences do happen, so how can we take those into account? Or do we just have to know some innocents will be caught in the crossfire/some guilty will go free?

      I completely agree with you (which you’ll see when I post my Notes from the Contest in a few days), A Friend in London should count itself lucky. I’m willing to give Moldova a pass since its entry is so fun, but I would take Israel and Netherlands (or even Belgium!) over Ireland and Sweden any day, especially given that both IRE and SWE artists have stated that they want to take the Contest back to the days when performance overruled music. Ruslana was fun at the time, but the Contest needs to continue down its current path of quality music, not turnaround and take steps backward.

      Thanks again for your comment! And I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Semi-Finals and Grand Final when I post my notes.

      Like

      May 13, 2011 at 11:36 AM

  2. Olap Rimlap

    Oh, for some reason I thought that you were Danish:) I wrote in English to be polite to the readers:)

    You write somewhere that you favoured Bosnia’s entry in the second semi, and I am glad you did. I have just had a look at the votes, and it seems Denmark awarded them 0 points, which disappoints me. It even becomes strange when you look at the votes from the semis – there “Love in rewind” got 7 points from Denmark. I almost suspect something having gone wrong…

    But my jaw dropped even more when I compared “the winners” from the first semis with the results of the finals. Greece actually won the first semi, Finland was nr 3, Iceland 4, Lithuania 5. In the finals Greece finished on spot 7 and the other three countries were nowhere to find. This is really interesting. I know there were more voters and more songs to choose from but still…

    My biggest disappointment of the night (apart from that I never would have awarded Sweden, Italy, Ukraine and Denmark the spots they got) was that Estonia finished 24th. I mean.. gosh!

    As for the winner, I am okay with that. As every year, there is the discussion of geopolitical voting, but the fact is Azerbaijan got points from 30 countries (out of 42 possible), i.e. everywhere from the world. Only the Swedes beat them in that – by 2 countries – but there were a lot of 1-pointers in there.

    Finally, I also find it interesting that even though Running Scared has a very Scandinavian sound, it only got 3 points from Scandinavia (all came from Sweden, where the composers of the song come from). Also, the Danish voters gave no points to the closest contenders in the end – except Sweden, to whom they are bound to give points. Add to that France (0 points), the favourite by the bookmakers, and it looks a bit suspicious – to me at least. They did, however, award a 12 to the two brothers from Ireland, which made me go like WTF? :))

    Like

    May 14, 2011 at 8:23 PM

    • You’ll see this in my Final notes, but I think this is the first year that we will see marked differences between the jury votes and the televoting. In fact, I would bet money that Sweden won on televotes (and was slaughtered by the jury) and that Italy won with the juries (and was smashed in televoting). Azerbaijan probably got second or third in both and was able to make up to capitalize on the other two canceling each other out. I personally liked the Italian entry, I got chills the first time I watched the Final.

      I am American, but I spent a semester in Denmark, and that is where I learned about the Contest and first fell in love with it, so Denmark is my “home” country for the ESC. Thanks for the English, though, my Danish is not what it used to be! Am I to assume, then, that you are a Dane?

      Every year we’ve had two semi-finals, the first one has always been much weaker than the second, and I don’t know why that is. Is it luck of the draw? Is it that the second semi-final tends to get more press because people aren’t yet used to a Tuesday show? This year also seemed to group more voting blocks together than in year’s past, I blame the ridiculously big spheres used to draw positions. This is why they should just get one of those lotto machines to truly randomize the countries.

      I was also disappointed for the 12 points to Ireland. If Skype had allowed me to vote, I definitely would have done everything in my power to ensure those went elsewhere. Though, I’ve watched enough DMGPs to know that, while I may be able to decently pick Europe’s votes as a whole, I suck at guessing where the Danes will choose to through their love – sometimes it almost seems it happens at random.

      Like

      May 14, 2011 at 9:25 PM

  3. Pingback: ESC2011: Semi-Final Two | Eurovision Obsession

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