Pop singer Beyoncé has debuted a new music video for her song “Run the World (Girls),” and because it seems to reference the work of other artists, The Guardian newspaper of London has raised the question: Is it homage or appropriation?
“The most obvious influence is the work of South African photographer Pieter Hugo,” The Guardian says, on the basis of some footage in the video showing Beyoncé with a couple of hyenas. But to compare those fleeting video images to Hugo’s “hyena men” of Nigeria is quite a stretch, and a little insulting to Hugo’s fine work.
“The work of another photographer, Ed Kashi, can also be discerned in shots of buffalo, sand, and burning cars,” The Guardian writer continues.
Sand? Wait. Are they sure Beyoncé didn’t appropriate scenes of sand from David Lean’s film, Lawrence of Arabia?
Lest anyone think The Guardian writers are completely dotty, they note that their rival, The Daily Mail, compared the choreography in the video to Riverdance. “The words Mad Max were bandied around, too,” says The Guardian.
Not that The Guardian needs help here, but I thought the opening dance moves looked a little Michael Jackson-esque. Watching the video over my shoulder, my 13-year-old daughter declared Beyoncé’s costumes “a total rip-off of Lady Gaga.” And those hyenas “appropriated” from Pieter Hugo were leashed with chains. Perhaps that’s a rip-off of Rihanna’s S&M video, which is allegedly a rip-off of David LaChapelle’s work. What’s next? Is Helen Reddy going to come out of the woodwork with a charge that “Run the World (Girls)” is a rip-off of “I Am Woman”?
If Pieter Hugo had a monopoly on pictures of hyenas, and Ed Kashi a monopoly on pictures of burning cars or sand, the courts would be clogged until the end of time with squabbling artists. Fortunately for everyone, though, ideas are not protected–only the executions of ideas are.
In the end, Beyoncé’s video may be an unoriginal pile-up of cultural references. But it almost certainly doesn’t rise to the level of a copyright crime.