Ariana Grande is currently enjoying her fourth UK Number 1 with 7 Rings, and while the lyrics may be totally fresh and up-to-date, there's something a little familiar about the melody, right?
Sampling songs – along with interpolations, which lift parts of songs and reuse a rerecorded version of them in new ones – has been a part of pop for decades, so if you're wondering why it feels like you know a song the first time you hear it, that might be why.
It's easy to see why it's a popular trick: it lends a new song an air of familiarity, plus has the added bonus of reaching a new audience – those who loved the original song it was based on. (Obviously some of those fans of the original might be furious and boycott the newer version but that won't stop everyone else loving it.) Let's look at a few, shall we?
Let's start with 7 Rings while we're here. Fans of The Sound of Music will have clocked this one straightaway, as Ariana's tongue-in-cheek love letter to capitalism started out as My Favourite Things, sung by Julie Andrews in the 1965 musical. It's not the first time the tune has inspired a pop hit: Big Brovaz released a reworked version in 2003, reaching Number 2.
Speaking of The Sound of Music, JLS used the title track to pep up The Club is Alive, going all the way to Number 1 in 2010, while Gwen Stefani also got her hands on the soundtrack and re-purposed yodelling classic The Lonely Goatherd for her 2006 hit Wind It Up – nobody could quite believe it at the time, tbh. This wasn't her first plundering of the musicals, either. The previous year she hit Number 4 with Rich Girl, which borrowed the melody from the iconic If I Were a Rich Man, from Fiddler on the Roof.
Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places, and a good chorus is a good chorus, regardless of its origin or genre. For example, part of Jason Derulo's Goodbye is lifted from the pop-opera crossover hit Time to Say Goodbye, a duet between Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman, which reached Number 2 in 1997. DJ Khaled peered into other genres for Wild Thoughts, featuring Rihanna, using the melody from Santana's 2000 Top 10 Maria Maria, and Aloe Blacc reused Elton John's Your Song in The Man.
Dance music has always been keen on sampling, originally bringing more obscure hits to a new audience, but recently, more well-known nostalgic hits have been part of the dance revival. James Hype and Kelli-Leigh's More Than Friends – a Number 8 hit in 2017 – lifted most of the lyrics from En Vogue's 1997 Top 5 Don't Let Go (Love), and Jess Glynne's All I Am will have sounded familiar to any '90s clubbers; that bassline started out in 2001 Top 40 hit Finally, by Kings of Tomorrow.
Sampling has long been a staple of hip-hop too, taking its inspiration from a series of genres. There are too many to mention to do the process justice here, but if a song is particularly powerful, it might find itself being the backbone of more than one hit at a time. Former Fugees' singer Lauryn Hill's 1999 Top 5 Ex-Factor found its way onto both Drake's chart-topper Nice For What and Cardi B's Be Careful in 2018.
Anne-Marie's 2002 was a recent Top 5 hit with a different approach – why use one hit as inspiration when you can use a whole range? Instead of borrowing the melody, writer Ed Sheeran included famous lyrics from classic hits: "If you wanna go and take a ride with me, better hit me, baby, one more time" melds Nelly's Ride With Me and a relatively unknown track by underground buzz artist Britney Spears (joking!) to great effect. Charli XCX and Troye Sivan namechecked Britney too, in recent hit 1999. The impact.
A whole other ballgame, of course, is the unintentional influence – you hear a song and think, hang on, isn't that a sample of…? It can get pretty complicated – and costly – if it's not spotted before release. The chorus of Taylor Swift's first Number 1 Look What You Made Me Do had an unusual source of inspiration in Right Said Fred's saucy 1991 hit I'm Too Sexy, and Ed Sheeran's Shape of You bared enough of a resemblance to TLC's No Scrubs for the producers to get a credit on it. Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke learned the hard way that there's nothing new under the sun when the family of Marvin Gaye took them to court claiming million-selling Blurred Lines borrowed from Marvin's Got to Give it Up. It was a victory for the Gayes.
So next time you hear a new track and have a feeling you've heard it before, do a spot of googling – the chances are it's a case of pop reincarnation!