Let’s chat everything surrounding Doja Cat’s live metal rendition of ‘Say So.’
Recently, Doja Cat delivered a very different version of her immensely popular song, ‘Say So,’ at a live performance for the MTV European Video Music Awards. Gone was the bubbly, moody pop vibes of the original, in its place was a live backing band turning it into a rock remix with heavier instrumentals. Unsurprisingly, this turned A LOT of heads, seeing music media labelling it as a “heavy banger” even though that’s highly contestable. (Heavier doesn’t always equal better.)
However, as has since dominated headlines, a particular segment of this live ‘Say So‘ rendition – starting at 2:55 – has been stolen out of ‘Handmade Cities,’ a 2016 instrumental progressive-metal piece by Australian guitarist and composer, Plini. Note the section starting at 3:27. Seriously, it’s so on the nose that it’s not even remotely funny. (I can see this being the new Coldplay vs. Joe Satriani melody comparison. But let’s be real, no one cares about Satriani songs.) Since raising awareness of the uncredited and uncanny likeness, to the point that it was almost a sample, Plini seems cool about it, sharing a lengthier statement.
It’s a shame that Plini wasn’t contacted about this intentional musical quote before the performance occurred. But that’s how these things always go. It’s rarer than finding a wild Gible in Pokémon GO to find artists being properly credited when situations like this arise before release. And the worst part? The drummer and music director of this metal version of ‘Say So,’ Darion Javon, admitted to ripping it from Plini’s and calling himself as a genius in the same breath. The fucking balls on this guy.
No one owns a scale, chord, key or riff, but sometimes things are far too close for comfort. In this case, the blatant thievery of a notable section from a Plini song is extra bitter and ironic given the fact that the original ‘Say So‘ also lifted instrumental and arrangement ideas from a 2014 song, ‘Fiona Coyne‘ by Skylar Spence. (Also, pretty shady that Doja worked with producer Dr. Luke after all the things that came out about him during his lawsuit with Kesha.) Skylar’s video has over 1.2 million views, whereas Doja Cat’s ‘Say So‘ has a whopping 240 MILLION. Just so we’re keeping proper score here, ‘Handmade Cities‘ sits at a respectable 1.3 million at the time of writing, with both videos since been eclipsed in views by this new live performance of ‘Say So.’
Then there was the reaction. People defending Plini’s art isn’t the problem, obviously, but what is the problem is how metal fans perceive and talk about Doja Cat and other pop artists. Because it doesn’t even have to be an instance of song theft to bring out the malice. Just look to the comment section on any social media post about a pop singer or rapper from any big music site – MetalSucks, Loudwire, Consequence Of Sound, etc. – to find plenty of snark and disgust towards the artist in-question. These people can’t even let Rihanna wear a goddamn Pantera shirt because “my culture is not a costume” apparently, and yes, I’ve seen people actually say that about these Rihanna and Doja examples. (Even though Ri-Ri has done that before and apparently loves Slipknot.) Which got me thinking about the relations between pop and metal and their listeners, bringing us to what this piece is really about.
Metal and rock aren’t sacred art-forms that are arbitrarily above other genres. They’re just a different form of music. Rock and metal aren’t purer; they have just as many abusers, predators, bigots and song thieves in their folds as any other facet of the music industry. Most fans of heavy music and even heavy music publications often perceive anything that’s not rock, prog, metal or hardcore as being “lesser.” As if it’s somehow not artistic because there are no riffs or screaming in it. This perception views metal and rock as “elevating” other styles, and not the other way around when neither one is true. It’s always “wow, X singer can rock, hope they stay that way, more of this.” Always the non-rock and non-metal artists trying to meet new listeners halfway, while the “real” fans of rock/metal stubbornly don’t, sitting where they’ve always been, listening to the same shit ad nauseum.
Take Miley Cyrus, who over the last six or so years has covered numerous rock classics, more recently taking on hits from Blondie, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails (as seen on Black Mirror), and Metallica, and to be frank, absolutely knocked them out of the park. She’s a great singer who will never get full recognition outside of her own fanbase for her insane tone and singing range because of her Disney past and dumb memes about ‘Wrecking Ball.’ Elsewhere, look at Denzel Curry’s ‘Bulls On Parade‘ cover for Like A Version from 2019. An artist like Denzel or Miley performing a decent cover of a beloved rock song suddenly means they’re cool in the eyes of such people. Which was the majority of responses to the pair, usually delivered in some variation of: “why don’t they make more music like this? They are wasted on pop.” Which is bullshit, as most people making those comments likely wouldn’t care or even like the rock-orientated releases such pop or rap artists might hypothetically create.
As a result, when a larger mainstream artist gets embroiled in something like this Doja–Plini scenario, the backlash is harder than if it was the other way around. Because it’s definitely not hypocritical when the reverse happens, right? And even if the inverse is noticed, it will never blow up like this. For instance, the chorus melody in Make Them Suffer’s ‘Erase Me‘ being eerily similar to the refrain from ‘Empire State Of Mind‘? Or Bring Me The Horizon’s ‘mother tongue‘ blatantly lifting melodic and harmony ideas from Coldplay’s 2014 song, ‘Ink‘? Or Tim Henson from Polyphia pulling HUGE cues from songs by Kanye West and Jaden Smith for ‘O.D.‘ and ‘GOAT‘ respectively? All fine, apparently!
This isn’t even considering how many rock and heavy bands love to jump on the bandwagon of well-known songs’ popularity. Our Last Night desperately covering anything that’ll get them clicks, I Prevail blowing up after re-working a Tay-Tay hit, Hacktivist covering that immensely popular Yeezus/Jay–Z collaboration, members of Korn remixing Rihanna’s ‘Bitch Better Have My Money,’ and the entirety of those (mostly) god-awful Punk Goes Pop compilations. If you’re going to criticize pop artists for just simply chasing clout, let’s call a spade a spade and highlight that shit when it happens in this scene.
I’m talking about people like drummer Luke Holland, who pompously stated on Twitter that “lmao all these pop artists going heavy/metal,” adding in a lame eye-roll emoji. This is disgustingly rich coming from someone who frequently produces renditions and drum covers of chart-topping pop and EDM hits, from Skrillex and BTS to Ellie Goulding and Usher. All these metalcore drummers going pop, aye? Because “all these pop artists“? Citation needed, bro. There’s Doja Cat, Miley Cyrus nailing those aforementioned rock renditions, Denzel’s Rage cover, and at a huge stretch, Machine Gun Kelly’s new pop-punk album, ‘Tickets To My Downfall.’ And while I’m on it, I personally dislike that MGK release, but it’s definitely a record he made with love; he clearly enjoys that kind of music deeply and wanted to write something in that style. That should be clear to anyone who’s heard that particular album, whether they loved it or hated it.
The idea of “staying in one’s lane” is reductive and boring. People will, typically, see through something cynical. As what matters most when a pop artist goes heavy or a heavy band goes poppier is the authenticity of it. The question being: how genuine is it? And those Denzel and Miley covers seem pretty damn genuine to me! On the flipside, Linkin Park and Ulver remain two of my main examples of bands genuinely changing their sound over the years because it’s what they actually enjoyed. Same goes for Bring Me The Horizon, and even if I don’t love their changes, I still respect their creativity. (And no, Linkin Park didn’t sell out on ‘One More Light.’ It’s impossible to do that when your first album shifts over 10 million copies, you collab with Jay-Z, and have not one, not two, but three songs in the live-action Transformers franchise.)
The final takeaway here is this: pop music isn’t something to feel ashamed or dirty about, and neither is metal. The pair can be blended over one another to any degree, often quite seamlessly by many bands, but neither one is inherently better than the other. Neither one needs to lift up the other in order for the latter to become more “legitimate.” Take it as a case-by-case basis of which artist is doing what, and judge it by that merit. So long as they’re not outright ripping off smaller artists!
Anyway, here’s Plini: