What Links Olivia Rodrigo, 50 Cent and The Cure? One Word: Interpolation
Interpolation is taking over pop music right now with artists borrowing inspiration from older songs but what are risks with emulating ‘vibes?’
When you hear a song with a sample, that sample has been lifted from one song and transported to another and it can be super easy to spot, like Stevie Nicks ‘The Edge of Seventeen’ into Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bootylicious’ or ABBA’s ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ into Madonna’s ‘Hung Up.’
But the difference between sampling and interpolation is that interpolation is mostly copying an essence or the a hint of a melody, so it can feel like you’re listening to a song you’ve heard even if it’s your first time hearing it.
“Interpolation is a very slippery concept and it’s been around for basically as long as there’s been recorded music but it’s older brother sampling is much more well known,” says Music Junkee Editor Jules LeFevre.
“So you think of sampling like a copy and paste of one song into another song but interpolation is a little bit slipperier because instead of a copy and paste it’s more of a recreation of melodies and lyrics. So you’re not taking the recorded snippet of a song and slapping it in your own song.”
Charli XCX’s new single ‘Beg For You‘ is interpolated from September’s ‘Cry For You‘ and even though Charli’s new track was released this year it gave me a That’s So Raven moment transporting me back to 2005.
A great way to describe the feeling of an interpolated song is like reliving a memory.
“If you heard Olivia Rodergio’s ‘Good For You‘ the moment you would’ve heard that song, if you’re an emo kid in the 2000s, you would’ve remembered Paramore’s ‘Misery Business.‘ It sounds very much like it and it invokes the feeling of the song.”
“It can be really overt but it can also just be a tiny snippet that kind of gives you the feeling that you’re like, “oh, I’ve heard this before,” but I don’t really know where it’s from” says LeFevre.
It feels like interpolation is everywhere at the moment with a lot of pop icons like Doja cat, Dua Lipa and Charli XCX all using it in their music and there’s a couple of reasons for it.
First up there’s currently a drive for nostalgia within pop music and it’s leading artists like Olivia Rogergio to bring nostalgia into their music. This connects people with their past and takes them back to what they were listening to in their childhoods.
On top of this hunger for nostalgia interpolation is practically a lot easier than sampling.
To sample a song artists have to jump through a lot of hoops with permissions, fees and access to the master recording but interpolation on the other hand is just inspiration from lyrics and melodies.
However this idea of ‘inspiration’ feeds into a much broader conversation around who owns music.
When Katie Perry was it court for copyright issues on ‘Dark Horse‘ the judge ruled that “allowing a copyright over this material would essentially amount to allowing an improper monopoly” on basic “musical building blocks.”
However sometimes creativity just happens and artists are constantly building and taking inspiration from other people’s work. But this doesn’t mean artists can copy whatever they like.
“Robin Thick and Pharrell Williams were sued and they lost over ‘Blurred Lines’ because they were accused of copying the feel of the song, not even actually any specific lyrics or melodies about it, but the specific feel of the song, which is a very tenuous as it now opens up a whole new level of precedent for artists to be stung for stuff like that” says LeFevre.
Like anything, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due and when credited interpolation is a really beautiful musical device that can make one of your old favourite songs feel brand new again.