Surely you’ve heard the saying “imitation is the highest form of flattery.” But is there a point when the imitation goes too far?
The moment you release a video, photo, or some other form of art, you become open to imitation of any kind. Someone could see your art and become inspired. They could make their own art with that inspiration in mind but put their own spin on it.
They can also completely copy it.
Being inspired by another artist and trying to imitate what they do isn’t necessarily a problem. However, when something is flat-out copied, stolen, or profiting from a completely different culture…well, some problems might arise.
Jessi Vs Daina
This has been a huge issue lately in the music industry, especially with the release of K-Pop artist Jessi’s new music video, “Drip.” Jessi is a rapper, singer, and songwriter based in South Korea, though originally from New York City.
After its release, some people were quick to point out that the video was familiar to UK artist Daina’s latest visuals.
Do y’all see this?! A black womans work being stolen from her YET again.
On the Left is UK artist Dainá who released her music video on the 9th October and on the Right is Korean Artist #Jessi
RT this and get Dainá her recognition please 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/Qbln6fqYUx
— 𝙎𝙖𝙫𝙖𝙣𝙣𝙖𝙝 | STOP STEALING FROM CREATORS. (@teamsupergrande) November 1, 2019
Daina herself has responded to the comparisons, finding another example of Jessi possibly copying her.
— Dainá (@MoreDaina) November 1, 2019
Fans of Dainá quickly agreed that it looked like Jessi was copying her. Others, however, have claimed Dainá was reaching and even used this opportunity to essentially call her a nobody (Jessi herself provided a “classy” reply on Instagram, saying, “Oh wow I haven’t heard of you till now” in response to Daniá’s comment).
Unfortunately, Dainá has had to respond to fans of Jessi attacking her for speaking out. She has told her Twitter following that she never believed Jessi herself copied the video, but she suspects her team of stylists may have taken inspiration.
We put the vote to Instagram where 85% of you concluded that there had indeed been some copying.
But why is this a problem?
It’s not uncommon for urban artists, especially black women, to have their style stolen or mimicked by non-urban artists. While these lesser-known artists are creating new and interesting visuals, they are not the ones to profit. It isn’t until those who are “inspired” by them bring those visuals to light that people care…all while the originator doesn’t receive credit.
It’s an issue in the music industry that is becoming more and more visible, but it’s certainly not new.
This Is Not a New Thing in K-Pop
Jessi isn’t the first South Korean artist to be accused of copying the style of urban acts. In fact, this is an issue that has been around for probably as long as k-pop has.
In a piece for the South China Morning Post, writer Michael Hurt describes k-pop like this: “And this is what K-pop is. It’s a Shibal car cobbled together from elements of Western boy/girl bands (who were themselves borrowing from the Motown bands), a good helping of bubblegum pop, glued together with some rap and all smoothed out in the style of hip hop.”
Korean artists such as Rain and CL have faced criticism for incorporating African-American elements into their own music, and so have plenty of white artists. Elvis Presley is one of the most well-known examples of this, but one could also argue that every white rapper (or at least most of them) appropriate black culture for their own gain as well.
Simply put, K-pop, from the music to the style, relies largely on black culture. Kai, a member of EXO, has sported cornrows, and BTS’s RM has often been seen with an afro. These styles are not natural for the culture. Instead, they are seen on urban artists and appropriated for many k-pop stars’ visuals. CL, a singer and rapper, has often been criticized for perpetuating “black” stereotypes through her style and videos as well.
So When Does Taking Inspiration Go Too Far?
Where do we draw the line between “inspired by” and “copying”? Can we?
It’s a difficult subject. You can’t prove that one artist is copying another…unless, of course, you have emails, text messages, etc. to prove it, which is doubtful.
But generally, if an artist is taking from another culture, that’s a problem. While some may argue they are just paying homage to that culture or the artist they are mimicking, the issue is deeper than that.
When Miley Cyrus shed her Disney image by twerking in her videos and onstage, she was taking from and profiting off of a culture that she did not belong to. The same can be said for k-pop stars like Jessi: even if she didn’t rip off Daina, her visuals were still a direct result of urban culture.
Jessi is the better known artist of the two, so of course more people will associate the styles in her videos and photoshoots with her. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give credit where it’s due. Support the originators where you can: hype them up just as much, if not more, as you would those who are “borrowing” elements of their style and music.