Interpolations Add Instant Familiarity to New Songs by Artists Like Dua Lipa, Drake and Anitta… but Not Without a Cost

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Interpolations — which incorporate elements of familiar songs into new ones — are a phenomenon that’s here to stay in many genres. Like using gonzo remakes of classic tracks in trailers, it’s a way of catching the ear of older listeners, and as long as the mashup still works for younger music fans who don’t immediately know the reference, they can give a song a significant leg up.

But the varieties of interpolations are vast. For example, Paul McCartney had nothing to do with Drake using a bit of “Michelle” in “Champagne Problems” — it’s actually a sped-up sample of Masego sampling the Beatles classic from a 2017 track. At even more of a remove, there’s inadvertent interpolation — as when Olivia Rodrigo ended up giving co-writing credits to Paramore and Taylor Swift for songs on her debut album that had elements that were originally conceived as blink-and-you-miss-it homages, at most, before it was determined they’d crossed a line. But interpolations can be collaborative with the original artist: Elton John was co-billed alongside Dua Lipa when she and producer Pnau sang or sampled “Rocket Man” and three other Elton oldies on “Cold Heart”; he wound up including it on his recent duets album, and the track became his first U.K. No. 1 in years.

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For today’s artists, that sense of familiarity can come at a significant cost; you’ve got to really believe in a song to give up some — or occasionally all — of the publishing credits and royalties. Anitta, who used “Girl From Ipanema” as the basis for “Girl From Rio,” reached out to the fellow-Brazilian families of writers Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes for permission, and she says, “They are amazing people — we are friends now.” But that didn’t preclude hardboiled negotiation. “I don’t have any [part of the] publishing, but I’m fine with that,” she adds. “The main reason this song exists is because of the original one. I only cared about putting this great art out, not rights and percentages.”

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