Harry Styles is currently one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. With countless hits as part of the band One Direction, Styles is in the midst of making his solo debut, and has so far drawn praise for his more mature, musically sophisticated sound. Singles like “Sign of the Times” and “Sweet Creature,” have taken a polar opposite approach to the sugary pop of 1D, proving that if nothing else, Styles is trying to establish himself long term.
With that being said, the success he’s received thus far has been somewhat tainted by allegations that he’s been ripping off sounds and riffs from other artists. In the last two months, these allegations have reared their ugly head a total of three times. So, with that in mind, and the release of his self-titled album set for May 12th, we decided to take a look at five times Harry Styles was accused of plagiarism.
1. ‘Perfect’ (2015)
One Direction spent their entire musical career borrowing melodies from classic rock and pop artists. What makes this particular single special, however, was that it was heavily compared to the sound of a contemporary artist– and one Styles used to date– Taylor Swift. “Perfect,” which was released as a single off the band’s 2015 album Made In The A.M., received backlash almost immediately for its similarity to T. Swift’s song “Style.”
To be fair, “Perfect” was meant as a retort to Swift, as “Style,” which dropped lyrics that were allegedly aimed at Styles and their brief relationship, but that didn’t stop listeners from dropping both songs into their audio software to note the similarities. Check out a video comparison below. “Perfect” would go on to become a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and Styles, the obvious point of attention here, would be directly linked to talks of plagiarism.
2. ‘Live While We’re Young’ (2012)
As was previously mentioned, One Direction has had a long history with “rip off” claims. Categorizing all of them would make for a sprawling list of tracks, so we decided to stick with those that were more oriented towards Styles. And arguably the best example of this came with the song “Live While We’re Young,” off their 2012 album Take Me Home. This one was accused of pilfering from The Clash‘s classic single “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (1981).
The classic punk outfit never brought charges against One Direction, and the song’s co-writer, Julian Bunetta said that “at the end of the day, the lyric and the melody have nothing to do with any other song that I have ever heard.” Despite this, Styles did fess up to their influences, telling BBC Newsbeat that they did in fact copy the iconic riff from “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” saying that it was “kind of on purpose.” The 1D song would go on to peak at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. ‘Ever Since New York’ (2017)
After the positive reception to Styles’ debut single “Sign of the Times,” fans were eager to hear what the newly solo artist had in store. Unfortunately, the live performance of “Ever Since New York” on Saturday Night Live drew attention not for its musical quality, but for the similarities it had to the 1971 Badfinger song “Baby Blue.” According to The Sun, “Ever Since New York” has an almost identical arrangement to “Baby Blue,” and Twitter wasted little time in taking Styles to task over it. Check out some of the reactions here.
An insider close to Styles said: “This is the last thing Harry needed. His solo launch hasn’t quite gone to plan and this is another distraction. He takes real pride in his new material and to be accused of nicking a riff will really hurt.” Badfinger has yet to respond to the comparison, but fans feel that Styles should, at the very least, credit Badfinger lead singer Pete Ham for lifting the basic riff. Listen to “Baby Blue” below.
4. ‘Harry Styles’ Artwork (2017)
Controversy returned later in April when Styles was accused of copying his album artwork from the British band Shed Seven. And unlike past cases, it was an accusation thrown from the band’s lead singer himself, Rick Whitter. According to The Daily Mirror, Whitter said: “When I first saw it I genuinely thought: ‘Are you ripping us off?’ It’s very close to the mark.” Whitter alludes to the artwork of the band’s 1994 single “Ocean Pie,” which, like Styles’ cover, features shirtless men leaning over a sink with their hands in their head.
Whitter went on to say that while the artwork is eerily similar, it is a “nice compliment.” He also spoke on whether or not there would be legal ramification involved: “They really do say imitation is the biggest form of flattery. I’m not going to get the lawyers involved… if he keeps our name alive then fair game to him. He can come and see on tour and get as many tips as he likes on being rock and roll.” Styles has yet to respond to Whitter’s comments.
5. ‘Sweet Creature’ (2017)
Styles currently faces the wrath of the internet due to his latest single, titled “Sweet Creature.” While the song, like those before it, were received warmly by the fans, it didn’t take long before accusations of plagiarism appeared yet again. This time, it’s in reference to the greatest rock and roll band of all time: The Beatles. The Evening Standard reports that Styles used a nearly identical guitar riff to that of the The Beatles’ 1968 classic “Blackbird.”
A source for The Sun says of Styles: “He’s only put out three songs so far and two of them have been compared to very famous tracks. Given he is keen to be seen as an original artist it’s not good to have fans drawing all these similarities.” These claims arrive less than a year after Styles sat down with former Beatle Paul McCartney, and discussed going solo in a Dazed Digital interview. Needless to say, they will have lots to talk about the next time they meet up. Listen to a demo of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” below and decide for yourself whether its an act of plagiarism.