May 12, 2019 Musicology No Comments

Well, it’s not completely ridiculous.

“I Don’t Care” is Justin Beiber and Ed Sheeran’s brand new single (as I type this, it came out yesterday.) I’d be hard pressed to think of another combo more certain to reach #1 as fast as Billboard can refresh? So everyone has heard the hell out of this track already. And already social media is lit up with slews of Cheryl Cole fans posting, “That chorus sounds just like… it’s… what’s that called?… um…”

“Oh right, it’s called, “I Don’t Care.” Here are both for your consideration.

What’s going on here mostly is that Bieber and Sheeran sing the three words “I Don’t Care” over pretty much the same pitches as Cheryl Cole does in her own “I Don’t Care.” And by “pretty much” I mean, “identical except that her “care” glides from C# down to A#, and theirs stays up on C#. Rhythmically the same; lyrically obviously the same.

It’s also similar in a structural way. A lyric that begins, “I don’t care,” the way both of these do is bound to then follow with a line or two about which you don’t care, and a melody and shape that goes along with your grooves. That part kinda writes itself, particularly I’d say if you’re Ed Sheeran.

But these two grooves are different. They’re both upbeat, but they’re not the same. The chord progressions are different. Not wildly different because, again, the derivative accessible catchy limitations. Sheeran and Bieber are playing the same four chords over and over for the entire song. And they’re the same four chords you played if you ever learned Heart and Soul on an piano. Or a zillion other songs.

Cole’s “I Don’t Care” employs its own four-chord progression over and over too. And three of those four chords are the same ones the gentlemen used. Hmm…

The other thing is the way they both end their phrases on the tonic chord. On paper, there’s nothing novel about ending on the tonic. Quite the contrary. But the way both of these tracks do it, an extended stay that’s almost like killing time in the song, it’s interestingly similar. That’s where Bieber and Sheeran do that falsetto staccato cooing, “ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh!” and where Cole, at the endings to each half of her choruses restates, “(but) I don’t care.”

What’s really weird is that they’re both in F# Major. The chances of that? Not huge; a real gift to mashup guys on the internet; can probably already find these two songs layered on youtube.

So, is Sheeran gonna get sued yet again? I’d have to say, yeah.

But did he lift the song? I doubt it. I don’t think he lifts songs. I think this is just a consequence of who he is, what he’s influenced by and how he writes. But that’s not mine to say, certainly not in a legal sense. What’s mine to say is, “are they significantly similar?” It’s far from ridiculous.

Written by Brian McBrearty