BUSAN, South Korea — While accusations and explanations fly and a buzzing hive of fans rises up on their chosen sides, the central question remains: Did Korean megastar Rain, with his newly released musical ode to Busan Women, bite off of Rapael Saadiq’s 2004 song to the girls in Detroit?
The short answer: No. It hops along at a similar gait, but they are two different songs.
The long answer is that while Detroit girls and Busan girls battle it out with California Girls, Brown Eyed Girls, Fat Bottomed Girls and Jessie’s Girl, the Song Remains the Same; the gods gave us only so many notes to choose from. From those we create whatever we can manage — by the millions.
For those who can’t fathom that concept, and are fighting with complete strangers on the internet, let’s throw a little fuel on the fire while winning no friends on either side of the growing spat.
First, we should note, that the plagiarism charges aren’t coming from anyone associated with Saadiq, but rather from netizens harping on the song since its August 16th release. Enough badgering that Rain was forced to deny it publicly this week. The domestic press picked up on it and it might well break internationally by next week. Bad timing for the 29-year-old rain who will soon enjoy military duty. Twenty-one months out of the public eye is an eternity with the ‘P’ word hanging around your neck –even for Korea’s most recognizable male star.
The now 45-year-old Raphael Saadiq, who made his name with 90’s New Jack Swing group, Tony! Toni! Toné!, opens his unacclaimed 2004 single, Detroit Girls, with a basic kick beat, layered with two alternating Rhodes chords and a DJ scratching a footstep beat back-and-forth holding the pace.
Rain’s song first raises suspicion with the plagiarism patrol with its exact rhythm of the DJ scratching –using synthesized percussion in place of a turntable. Sure, it sounds very similar but no one has a copyright on basic percussion. If so, it is some hairy brute on the savanna 40,000 years ago and no fans are fighting over him on YouTube.
As each song progresses, both Rain, and Saadiq begin the tiresome spoken boasts — that played-out trend of which both should have the good sense to help put an end to.
You know, where they open the song saying things like, This goes out to all my boys in Little Rock, or whatever. The first time I heard it, I thought it was cool. Twenty years later, it’s just played out.
Saadiq, after reminding us that indeed, Detroit is also known as The Motor City, lays down his creds for being from Oakland, which I guess gives him some authority on Detroit girls.
Rain one-ups him and names (in an otherwise all Korean song) New York, LA, Paris and Tokyo in his tune about Busan women.*
As the songs hit stride, the differences become more obviousl. What manifests most is the deeply funky, and much more loosely put together groove of Saadiq. So laid back that at times it sounds like he just walked in the studio and was handed the lyrics in the middle of a jam session. Grab yourself a beer and a rib off the bbq, we need one more track for the LP.
What Rain and his production team have composed is a highly stylized, very polished, video-ready arrangement bereft of the soulful backyard groove laid down by Saadiq, but with more flash and some well practiced dance moves.
In their most obvious contrast, one is completely soul, and the other completely pop. And neither is that great.
In reality, both songs are generic forms of the genres in their respective countries. Raphael Saadik lifts from Teddy Pendergrass, Prince and several others of an earlier generation, much as many of his contemporaries do and have done.
Just the same, Rain continues with the long-running trend of Korean balladeer style vocals with several reverberated layers of his own voice in the exact tone and pitch of the lead vocal laid on top. Most of it is synthesized and rarely acoustic, with a digital precision that reeks of one guy and a computer on the back end of the final edit. Rain does well in this environment with his limited vocal range. (But boy is he a handsome).
Regardless of your taste or distaste of either lack or wealth of style, the musical masses continue sallying up to the tune trough and digging in heartily. Why cut off the money spigot when it’s flowing? Art? Originality? No, no. You want to make enough money so you can move out of Detroit or Busan, right? Both have really long winters.
Getting back on point, neither song is uniquely original and neither will change the world for Detroit or Busan girls. If either Rain or Saadiq were pinning their hopes on a classic, they slightly missed the mark. Other than the 15-minute news buzz about their vague similarities, there will prove little that is memorable about the two songs.
In the end, we ask ourselves: was there ever a time we didn’t imitate someone else whether consciously or non?
And the obvious segue to Picasso: Good artists borrow, great artists steal, he said. The relative accomplishments of either artist’s theft will borrow little mention in the future of greatness. But that’s ok, at least they tried.
Oh. I wouldn’t look for Raphael Saadiq to jump into the fray. As a seasoned musician he will hear the songs have something similar but are outgrowths of different genres altogether. Old school soul, with the new wave of pop picking up where it left off. Just as it did with blues before it. If Saadiq says otherwise, then it will be a case of baby needs a new pair of shoes.
*While the comparisons flatter, Busan holds its own charm and I would put her up against Detroit any day of the week. New York would be tough.
Interestingly, Rain plans to change the title and lyrics of Busan Woman to fit each city stop he makes on the rest of his tour, serenading Korea’s women with each performance. I am grabbing my candle.
‘You know, there have been a lot of casualties in rock-n-roll.’