Elvis Costello Doesn’t Care if Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal” Sounds Like “Pump It Up”: ‘It’s How Rock and Roll Works’

Adrian GarroCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

Olivia Rodrigo is everywhere these days. The 18-year-old singer/songwriter/Disney star released her debut full-length album, Sour, back in May and has enjoyed groundbreaking acclaim the world over, led by the single “Drivers License” (which made her the youngest artist to debut atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it stayed for eight weeks).

With such an elevated profile, of course, comes added scrutiny and intense focus on your work — enter claims of plagiarism levied at Rodrigo (and her producer/co-writer Dan Nigro, formerly of the Long Island indie band As Tall As Lions) regarding the song “Brutal,” which opens the album and, at least in the eyes of some, bears a resemblance to Elvis Costello‘s “Pump It Up,” from 1978’s This Year’s Model.

Here’s “Brutal,’ a riffy slab of pop/rock that opens Rodrigo’s album with authority:

And here’s “Pump It Up,” for reference:

After someone pointed out the similarity (before setting his Twitter account private after receiving a flood of replies, presumably from miffed Rodrigo fans), Costello himself chimed in on Twitter — and the singer/songwriter has no problems with the alleged plagiarism, which he dismissed as just how music works:

“This is fine by me, Billy. It’s how rock and roll works. You take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy. That’s what I did,” citing Bob Dylan‘s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (which inspired “Pump It Up”) and “Too Much Monkey Business” by Chuck Berry, which Dylan has said inspired his own tune.

For reference to the two Costello brings up as his own example of this concept, here’s the Dylan classic:

This isn’t the first noteworthy instance of Rodrigo falling target to claims of plagiarism, as just last a few days ago Courtney Love lodged a similar complaint regarding a photo shoot involving Rodrigo and an alleged resemblance to Love’s album cover for Hole’s Live Through This album:

This concept of homage and inspiration, rather than the dreaded “plagiarism” claim, has come up frequently over the years with a modern example pitting the Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ “Dani California” and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”

Around the time of its release in 2006, “Dani California” was in the crosshairs of those who said it was a lift of Petty’s — to which Petty himself dismissed in no uncertain terms in a Q&A with Rolling Stone:

RS: Have you heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Dani California” yet, because obviously it sounds a lot like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”?
Petty: Yes, I have. Everyone everywhere is stopping me. The truth is, I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock & roll songs sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry. The Strokes took “American Girl” [for their song “Last Nite”], and I saw an interview with them where they actually admitted it. That made me laugh out loud. I was like, “OK, good for you.” It doesn’t bother me.

RS: There have been news reports that you were going to sue the Chili Peppers.
Petty: If someone took my song note for note and stole it maliciously, then maybe. But I don’t believe in lawsuits much. I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs.


  • Thomas Byrnes says:

    E.C. is correct. Tempest in a teacup. I don’t like this girl’s music but get a grip. Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull said the same when some wacky fans did an analysis of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” claiming that the chords were a ripoff of Anderson’s song “With You There To Help Me”. The Eagles had been an opening act for Tull. Anderson didn’t care and said it was all silly.

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