Okay, so, first of all: I’m sorry for the video above. But you can’t write about Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and not Rickroll your readers. So, enjoy.
It’s relevant, though! The song’s at the center of a lawsuit filed by the English singer against emergent Minnesota rapper Yung Gravy. Gravy’s breakout song “Betty (Get Money),” is based heavily on an interpolation of “Never Gonna Give You Up,” but according to Billboard, Gravy went too far despite licensing the song for interpolation purposes. Here is the video, which YouTube actually brings up when you search for “Rick Astley”:
If that’s a little confusing, here’s my interview with industry vet Naima Cochrane in which we talk exactly this subject and Cochrane breaks down the differences between interpolation and sampling. Basically, if a musician reproduces parts of an original recording, it’s an interpolation. If they use the original recording, it’s a sample, even if they manipulate it.
In Astley’s lawsuit, filed Thursday (January 26), Astley claims Gravy so closely imitated Astley’s voice, that it basically counts as a sample, if it already isn’t actually one, and this violates Astley’s right of publicity because it fooled the public into thinking it was actually Rick on the newer song (the YouTube search results might lend some credibility to that one).
The suit reads, “In an effort to capitalize off of the immense popularity and goodwill of Mr. Astley, defendants … conspired to include a deliberate and nearly indistinguishable imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice throughout the song. he public could not tell the difference. The imitation of Mr. Astley’s voice was so successful the public believed it was actually Mr. Astley singing.”
Now, Gravy and his producers cleared the instrumental from “Never Gonna Give You Up,” but couldn’t license Astley’s voice. So, they hired Nick Seeley, aka Popnick, to imitate Astley — but his imitation might have been too good, opening the door for Rick to submit this suit.
The precedent for the suit comes from a 1988 federal court ruling that Bette Midler’s right of publicity was violated by the Ford Motor Co. after Ford used an impersonator in a series of television commercials. Although Ford cleared the song, it did not get permission to use her performance; trying to circumvent this with an impersonator still amounted to using her likeness, according to the court.
In some bad news for Gravy, the litigator behind the suit is Richard Busch, who helped the Marvin Gaye estate win its case against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for “Blurred Lines.” You may remember that song was criticized for sounding a lot like Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” Gravy’s defense better be rock-solid or his signature hit could end up being a black mark on his career.
And if you remember Gravy telling Billboard that Astley “f*cks with the song” last year, here’s some bad news: Astley says in his lawsuit, “These statements were all false.” Yikes.