Why Beyonce can't keep biting other artists' style

OPINION - Beyoncé should readily acknowledge the smaller artists who have enabled her greatness, share the wealth both literally and figuratively...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but has Beyoncé gone too far? The pop diva is being accused of stealing choreography in the new music video for her single “Countdown” — and the troubling thing is, this isn’t the first time Beyoncé’s been accused of being a copycat.

Beyoncé’s been known to borrow heavily from other artists and communities, but her most recent album, 4, has been particularly plagued by rumors of plagiarism.

First there was her performance at the 2011 Billboard Awards. Beyoncé’s phenomenal performance of her lead single “Who Run the World (Girls)” featured the pop diva interacting with black and white images on a video screen behind her. However days after her performance savvy pop culture experts pointed out her performance was less than original — Italian singer/actress Lorella Cuccarini utilized the same imagery and gave a similar performance a year earlier.

[youtubevid http://youtube.com/watch?v=3HaWxhbhH4c]

Then there was the actual music video for the “Who Run the World (Girls).” It’s believed that the imagery used (specifically a shot of Beyoncé with two large chained Hyenas) copied that of South African photographer Pieter Hugo.

Now, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker is claiming that Beyoncé blatantly ripped off choreography from two of her works, “Rosa danst Rosas” and “Achterland.”

“I’m not mad, but this is plagiarism. This is stealing,” Keersmaeker told a Belgian radio station. “What’s rude about it is that they don’t even bother about hiding it. They seem to think they could do it because it’s a famous work.”

Beyoncé has admitted in a statement that Keersmaeker’s work did serve as inspiration, though she also credits the work of Audrey Hepburn, Diana Ross, and Andy Warhol as references for the video. Not that she could deny the similarities if she wanted to, but this imitation of other artists is becoming a bad habit for someone who aspires to be one of the greatest entertainers of our time.

Perhaps Beyoncé needs to stop passing off other people’s work as her own and start giving credit where credit is due.
On one hand, there could be some altruism in her actions — after all Beyoncé is broadcasting these unknown works of art and performance, exposing the masses to creativity that we may not have otherwise experienced if it wasn’t for her wide reach and international stage.

Still, this unauthorized broadcast is unfair to the original artist from which she imitates. Beyoncé never asks for permission in advance, and only gives credit after everyone calls her out for it. She’s exploiting her celebrity and taking advantage of the little guy by blatantly ripping off their work because they may be unknown to the wider population. Beyoncé wouldn’t imitate a Lady Gaga performance, so why is it okay to steal choreography from a Belgian artist? Because she thinks no one will notice or care?

Understanding that no idea is original, and all art is derivative, many artists today owe a lot of their career to someone else — Lady Gaga might not exist if Madonna hadn’t preceded her, Michael Jackson may have danced a whole lot differently if it wasn’t for James Brown, and this whole conversation probably wouldn’t be taking place if it wasn’t for the blues.

The difference between inspiration and blatant imitation is the capacity to evolve that artistic conversation. Can you make it your own? Can you elevate and extend that creativity to a new place?

Michael Jackson took James Brown’s shimmy and morphed it into the moonwalk. Hell, even Beyoncé transformed Tina Turner’s signature figure flaunting costumes and impassioned performance into her very own Sasha Fierce.

An artist’s creative inspiration should be so one may understand where they are coming from, but also further drive the audience towards a curiosity of where they are going. Not a blatant replication of what someone has done before, lacking personal perspective or opinion. That’s cheaper than a Chinatown knockoff bag, and lazy to boot.

Even with the best intentions, Beyoncé’s imitation falls flat. She should readily acknowledge the smaller artists who have enabled her greatness, share the wealth both literally and figuratively. And note to her creative team — you could stand not to be so heavy handed with the inspiration. At least change the wardrobe, lighting, something.

In the end, too much copying is a disservice to herself — instead of challenging herself and growing artistically, Beyoncé risks becoming an amalgamation of the creativity of others. In the end, it’s always better to be the creator, not the imitator.