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Did Beyoncé's "Drunk in Love" Rip off a 90s Hungarian Folk Song?

A Hungarian folk singer called Mitsou has started pointing fingers at Bey and Hov for plagiarism.

by Joe Zadeh
16 December 2014, 11:05pm

It turns out that lush opening vocal on “Drunk in Love”—the bit that sounds like an exotic female snake charmer luring you to a carnal death—might not be so original after all.

Taking 2014's 90s revival into levels of comical overdrive, a Hungarian folk singer called Mitsou has started pointing fingers at Bey and Hov for plagiarizing her 1995 song “Bajba, Bajba Pelem” in a case slightly reminiscent of when Lana’s “Video Games” was accused of ripping off a rare Greek pop song. Although the blame for "Drunk in Love" probably lies with Timbaland, who was on production.

The supposed originator, “Bajba, Bajba Pelem,” is like one big wandering isolated vocal melody, in Romani Hungarian, so it’s hard to even pinpoint the moment accused of plagiarism. The intonation certainly sounds pretty familiar, but the usage in “Drunk In Love” is so chopped up and re-pitched that it’s not overtly obvious to the passing and distracted internet user.

It’s not just the plagiarism, either. The Hungarian star is also pissed off that her original was about hopelessness and despondency, yet Beyoncé has used it “to evoke foreign eroticism alongside sexually intense lyrics” said the original story on TMZ. In other words, she’s turned her despair into a sweaty bang jam. I'm guessing Mitsou hasn’t properly listened to Jay Z’s verse though, because the line starting “I’m Ike, Turner, turn up” basically channels the scene from the Tina Turner biopic in which her abusive husband forces her to eat cake before enacting a harrowing level of domestic abuse. That’s a pretty harsh injection of hopelessness.

So what happens next? We chatted to a music law expert earlier in the year during a similar case when Hugo Boss ripped off The xx’s “Intro”. We asked him what happens when cases like this go to court, and he said this:

“Two things. Firstly, you need to prove that the person who supposedly ripped you off has ever heard your song. Secondly, a musicologist or academic will come in and make scientific statements about how similar they are. Ultimately it is for the judge to decide on the day whether that constitutes copyright infringement and whether damages are due. Tom Waits famously won against a car company a few years ago, but we never got to hear the actual result. In those cases, you can assume someone has been given a big fat cheque.”

Whether Mitsou gets some cash, or an elite legal team make sure we never hear about this again, you got to love the idea of some hot shot American producer trawling through old recordings of mid-90s Hungarian folk music before suddenly blurting: “‘Whoa... YONCE GOTTA HEAR THIS!”

Have a listen to "Bajba, Bajba Pelem" below...