Can Taylor Swift’s “Delicate” music video be considered plagiarism?


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2016 saw unorthodox director Spike Jonze return to filmmaking since his Oscar-winning Her back in 2013 with a perfume ad giddily extolling primal free-spirited silliness.

A tour de force of spatial direction and committed performance, the video for Kenzo World saw actress/model Margaret Qualley bursting with uncontrollable energy as she contorts her body every which way to the tune of a pulverizing dancehall track.

As she convulses her way through the bourgeois stuffiness of a high-end hotel, complete with ostentatious architecture clashing with her maverick dissent, you get how much of a unique treat this video is. So when the equally beloved and derided Taylor Swift does something similar two years later, people are bound to get up in arms over it.

It’s not as if elements from Spike Jonze’s short film cannot be seen represented in Swift’s “Delicate” video, it is just a matter of how conscious the cribbing was from her side or how much of it was honest-to-God parallel thinking.

Yes the concepts are most assuredly cut from a near identical cloth of a solitary free-spirit dancing to the beat of their own soundtrack, happily unconcerned with the pressing matters of reality.
   Though not exactly an inspired concept, Swift does little to help her case as she contorts her face and engages in a similar kind of simian-esque dancing as Qualley in an equally posh hotel.

All this circumstantially points to is an open and shut case of plagiarism, if that is what you want it to be classified as, but the truth of the matter is it’s a shaky call at best.

Are we so quick to crucify Ms. Bad Blood that we are just going to overlook how bankrupt of originality this concept really is? In this scenario, Swift as the preeminent persona non grata of the pop world is absolutely a plagiarist for her “Delicate” video, but no one would accuse Jonze of being a hacky self-plagiarist for recreating this video frequently throughout his three decade career.

The timing and similarities notwithstanding, it is very likely the videos were a result of parallel thinking where they independently came to a homologous conceptual base without intending to.

Yes, the single dancer gimmick is a well-worn concept, but looking over the director’s music videography reveals he has recycled this idea with Bjork (“It’s oh so Quiet” 1995), The Pharcyde (“Drop” 1996), The Chemical Brothers (“Elektrobank” 1997) Sean Lennon (“Home” 1998) and most famously with Fatboy Slim and a jitterbugging Christopher Walken in an empty hotel no less (“Weapon of Choice” 2000).

With all of them following a similar concept, they do fit well with the director’s penchant for DIY quirkiness and lo-fi whimsical surrealism and I don’t mean to minimize the artistry  involved in producing these videos. Let’s not pretend, however, that Jonze isn’t above pulling this card out of a deck whenever it suits him, even doing it again  this year for a charming Apple Music ad with FKA Twigs.

It is a common music video trope, but it seems it was just too easy to call Swift a manipulative rip-off artist because it conveniently fits the circulated profile she has cultivated over her decade of playing the victim and shifting blame.

We all remember how she orchestrated the outrage over Kanye West’s “Famous” video by approving it in private, only to trash it once the cameras started rolling.

She got the sympathy she wanted and the methods she utilizes to maintain her star persona privately and publicly border on Machiavellian at times, but to think every move she makes as an artist is to be coded sinister seems excessive.

The timing and similarities notwithstanding, it is very likely the videos were a result of parallel thinking where they independently came to a homologous conceptual base without intending to.

What I say won’t stop many of you from thinking the worst of Taylor Swift and I didn’t even intend to come to her defense over one of my favourite film directors of all time. I’m willing to admit plagiarism exists in this case if that is explicitly what you are looking for, but that’s having the conclusion and working backwards from there.

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