Katy Perry's Latest Track Is Evidence That Pop Is Out of New Ideas

Perry's first single after losing a copyright infringement lawsuit illuminates an issue in pop music: it all sounds—and looks—too similar.
August 9, 2019, 8:22pm
Katy Perry
Photo credit: Jeff Hahne/Getty (L), Kevin Mazur (Center), Michael Kovac (R) 

Fresh out of the courthouse after losing a four-year-long battle against a copyright infringement claim, Katy Perry is back with a new single, "Small Talk."

Two weeks ago, Perry was forced to pay out 22.5 percent of her profits from her 2013 hit "Dark Horse" after gospel rapper Flash (real name: Marcus Gray) heard Perry's track and found it a little too close for comfort to his 2008 song "Joyful Noise." In the ensuing lawsuit, his team claimed "Dark Horse" was anchored on a beat identical in length, rhythm, and pitch to that of his track. While a side-by-side comparison of the two songs does show some similarities, Perry's defense team argued that the similarities were too "commonplace" to be a copyright issue. Even so, the jury sided with Gray and determined that he was owed nearly a quarter of the cash earned by the track—equal to a cool $2.8 million.

This case—and its precursors, such as the infringement case against Pharrell and Robin Thicke for "Blurred Lines"—highlights major issues within copyright law. But even with this defeat, Perry had to move on, and she's done so with "Small Talk."

But wait… does this one, too, sound vaguely familiar?

"Small Talk" is a cheery track about the chit-chat shared between former lovers. While the song is ostensibly "new," it's not very original. In fact, it sounds like not just one, but in fact several other hits of the last few years. Is it just us, or are all the new pop slappers starting to blur together? Below, a brief list of songs that "Small Talk" resembles.

"22" by Taylor Swift

Former sworn enemies Perry and Swift recently reconciled with the aid of some tragic-looking cookies and McDonald's Extra Value Meal cosplay, but the love may once again turn to bad blood once Swift hears "Small Talk." Just three seconds in, it's clear that Perry's new jam bears a striking resemblance to Swift's "22," from her 2012 album Red. The over-enunciated, fluttering vocals when Swift sings, "We're happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time" is mirrored in Perry's delivery of "All the highs and lows and in-betweens / And now you see me and just say hey." It's pretty spot on! And also, while we're at it...

"Blank Space" by Taylor Swift

The punctuated vocals in "Small Talk" are also reminiscent of those in "Blank Space," from Swift's seminal, Grammy-winning album 1989. And wait, now that we're on the subject...

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"Dress" by Taylor Swift

"Small Talk" also kind of has the same pacing as Swift's "Dress," as well as the breathy delivery. Though "Dress" is more downtempo, the pauses and airy negative space on "Small Talk" feel awfully familiar. But by the way...

"You Need to Calm Down" by Taylor Swift

Wow. Swift's anthem dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community "You Need to Calm Down" (which itself is pulling a Single White Female on The Knife's "Heartbeats") is also a close relative to "Small Talk." The song, released in June and will be included on Swift's forthcoming album Lover, has the same quick, staccato vocal delivery and synth-laden, atmospheric crescendo. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but this might be a bit too sincere.

"Too Much" by Carly Rae Jepson

It's not just Swift that should have her ears on high alert. Canadian pop queen Carly Rae Jepsen may also want to perk up her ears, because "Small Talk" sounds like a musical cousin to "Too Much," her single off 2019's Dedicated. The breakdowns are rhythmically similar, with both employing synthy beats and breathy falsettos. Actually, the same can be said for...

"OMG" by Carly Rae Jepson and Gryffin

Jepsen only just released this single—a collaboration with DJ and producer Gryffin—last month, and maybe Perry was taking notes, because they also have the same vocal pacing in certain sections, as well as bass-heavy synth. They're not exactly carbon copies, but "OMG," "Too Much" and "Small Talk" are close enough that they could have listeners scratching their heads.

And, naturally….

"Never Really Over" by Katy Perry

Maybe the more uptempo fraternal sister to "Too Much," "Never Really Over" shares the same synth beats and high-pitched, whispered vocals. Friends, this is all starting to feel pretty formulaic.

Perhaps it isn't that Perry is copying a bunch of other female pop stars' songs, but rather that pop music—particularly led by marquee female pop singers—is getting a little lazy and relying on the same production tricks and styling on repeat. With the stylistic differences between Swift, Jepsen, Perry, and their contemporaries (Selena Gomez, Camila Cabello, etc.) starting to get blurrier and blurrier, it's time to start thinking about pushing pop music out of its comfort zone once again.

Artists like Billie Eilish and Lorde have found success by defying the conventions of the pop landscape, as have more experimental artists like Grimes and FKA Twigs; they may have lss at stake, but they aren't afraid to get weird. But for all her outside-the-box fashion choices, Perry, an extremely talented performer and songwriter, has failed to do the same, and is at risk of being labeled a one-trick pony. This is all beginning to sound a whole lot like the musical version of this:

In the act of borrowing musical tropes and even aesthetics, pop stars are increasingly feeling like Xeroxed copies of each other, right down to the sequined unitards. Our current pop queens should aim higher, lest they all end up in a Spiderman-pointing-to-an-identical-Spiderman situation. We all—artists and fans—deserve better.

Alex Zaragoza is the senior culture writer at VICE and believes Kylie Minogue lead us all to this place. Follow her on Twitter.