Imitation, Inspiration, and Change

People have a sour taste in their mouths whenever someone “copies” something or someone else; basically whatever preexists. Yet we’re encouraged to seek inspiration to fuel creative output.

I think it’s a relatively easy issue to deal with, at least from a creative’s perspective. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with imitation as long as the intent to make cheap money doesn’t underlie. It should rather be to amplify the effect of whatever someone intends, whether that be to build onto an already good idea, preferably to amplify the effect of what’s intended. That's essentially what drawing inspiration is.

I find this issue particularly intriguing within the music space, where drawing inspiration through experimentation should be looked upon more positively. It doesn’t just create variety in an artist's discography for variety’s sake, it’s a journey by which we observe that artist succeed (or fail multiple times, then eventually succeed) at creating something beautiful. It’s especially amazing when it comes full circle and creates a whole new thing that’s simultaneously familiar, fitting the artist’s style.

However, this isn’t the case. Instead people tend to react negatively, saying that “they’ve sold out” or given into the demands of record labels to make it more radio-friendly, especially with the incorporation of what could be coincidentally popular themes or genres. While that may be true in some cases, at least for promotional intentions, some might not be able to see past that erroneous notion and quit listening to that artist altogether, thinking that boycotting them could spark some purist revolution.

An often crapped-upon band by the name of Coldplay has been known to change styles and image over the years, yet their message of sentiment over conformity still prevails, at least by their tone. I quite like the band taking different themes and becoming them, usually to an effective degree. When frontman Chris Martin sings the anthem Viva la Vida, he wholeheartedly takes on the character of the king he sings about, divulging explicit sorrow over his position of power as a warning to those willing to lend an ear. Then when you hear Hurts Like Heaven which opened their last album, the same emotion is communicated with explosive and upbeat emotion through the completely different motif of vibrant, rebellious street art.

Now they’ve pretty much gone EDM on their recently released song, A Sky Full of Stars. I might not necessarily agree with the genre or like the artist they collaborated with, but their message and enthusiasm which make up the essence of Coldplay is easily still there. Besides, I’ve rarely heard Martin sing as powerfully as he does in this song, which I think shows that they’ve still got a little bit of it in there. Regardless of whether or not I like the song (I actually kind of don’t), they haven’t lost a bit of my understanding towards their intention. If they’re doing it partially to sell a few more records to the clubbers out there, then so be it - I can see more of their ambition to create something beautiful that could be celebrated by more people rather than line their own pockets.

On the other hand, you’ve got another extreme in the band Muse. They don’t tend to divert away from previous themes, instead they build onto it album after album: armageddon on Absolution, revolution on The Resistance, and now deterioration and endless greed in The 2nd Law. Needless to say, don’t expect their next album to be about ponies.

Yet they went dubstep on album-closer The 2nd Law: Unsustainable. They said they were influenced by Skrillex, who I don’t know anything about at all besides him being that guy who did Bangarang. But what Muse did was basically what I consider not just using the genre, but stealing it and making it their own. When performed live, to me that’s when it’s shown best, for the world to see and acknowledge as an inherently Muse product.

Experimentation is present thematically as it is through artistic craft. What better example could I use than Radiohead? After all, they’re basically synonymous with the word “experimentation” when associated with music, so much so that they’re controversially ambitious in regards to this. While I have yet to delve into Kid A, I’ve had a taste of their predominant electronic side that’s engulfed the latter part of their discography.

Their indubitably signature sound is subtly crazy and hectic, quite often too: messing about with time signatures (in the album In Rainbows especially) and cold, almost soulless, computer noises. This is why they’re so loved, though. To me, their sound in general isn’t exactly what I find easy to digest or let alone sit through a few minutes of, but I can tell that they hadn’t skipped through or dismissed any second of every song they’ve released. Their focus on craft is something I have immense respect for. While I struggle with them most of the time, when I do end up getting hooked to a song, it’s like boarding a runaway freight train: absolutely no going back for me.

This time last year I got into Daft Punk, who are pretty much the archetypical EDM duo. I watched a multi-cam YouTube recording of their Alive 2007 concert, which just blew me away instantly. I could tell that they had a strong sense of artistic direction, focusing on the experience and image of their performance rather than just the music. But were they steering away from their musical endeavours, in favour of a futuristic, almost hallucinogenic extravaganza? I don’t think so - in fact, Alive 2007 is perhaps the best suitable visual representation of sound achieved by any musical artist to date.

Last year they came up with Random Access Memories, in hope to “give life back to music” by taking inspiration from the dance/disco scene of the 80’s, while spicing it up with classic Daft Punk background voices. Obviously, it’s another divergence from what’s expected of them, but like Coldplay the essence of their message and intention is still very much in tact.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I’ve said that change for the sake of creating change is never good (see previous post), there is change out there that is probably more necessary than maintaining stagnancy. Whatever change that is, there’ll be accusers or even alienation - that’s just a byproduct of the never-ending creative process of artists and people in general. All it takes is a little sticking to one’s roots while looking out for inspiration in the world. While not everyone may agree with what you’ve done, you’re certain to gain credible respect, which I think is the most important thing you could strive for.