Tons of casual observers with youtube channels are getting stroked today as Kandi Burruss & Tiny Harris who wrote TLC’s Billboard topping hit “No Scrubs” are getting a song writing credit on Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” But don’t read too much into it.
Sure, there has been tons of internet chatter about how Sheeran lifted the track and how they’re in the same key, and that you can mash them up and so forth. Of course, anyone who has read more than one or two of the articles here on Musicologize knows we don’t care about your mashup. It’s great that Sheeran is putting their names on the track, but it doesn’t mean Sheeran stole the song. And it certainly doesn’t mean that they would’ve won an infringement case.
Let’s do a bit of musicologizing though. While the two tracks do begin on the same chord, Db minor, they’re actually in completely different keys and have different chord progressions. They’re not merely non-identical, they’re DIFFERENT. Do they mash? Yep. Can you sing one’s melody over the other? You can, and if you’re a 17-year-old Disney Channel star on one of my daughters’ favorite shows, Girl Meets World, it sounds like this…
But mashups are a crappy way to argue infringement. Truth is there ain’t a correct chord playing at any time while you’re overlaying “No Scrubs.” It’s deceptive to the layperson, I get it, but look here…
Sabrina Carpenter is playing these four chords…. || C#m | F#m | A | B ||
That’s “Shape Of You.”
“No Scrubs” would correctly be || F#m | C#m | G#7 | C#m ||
Not a chord in common anywhere.
But there’s something to it, right? Sheeran is sharing the credit for a reason, isn’t he?
First off… geeze Ed! How on earth do you begin the tune on the same Db minor and begin with the the words “The club?” We’ve got “No Scrubs” in our heads instantly! After two syllables we’re trying to DISPROVE you stole the track. But won’t be easy. You wrote this crappy static melody over this crappy static progression.
“Boy, let’s not talk too much
Grab on my waist and put that body on me.”
“Boy, let’s not talk to much??!” Practically interchangeable with “No, I don’t want no scrub,” which isn’t a lyric from the TLC tune, and yet, when you sing your “Boy, let’s not talk to much,” line, I sure hear it like it was. Ouch, and that rhythm is essentially the same too.
Could Sheeran have fought this one and beaten the rap? Maybe. But a “constellation” of similarities can certainly be argued. Or as I’ve been putting it lately, “there’s no obvious fire, but there’s all this smoke so we should probably keep looking.” And you’re already fighting how many wars?
Thanks to the first two words of “Shape Of You,” you’re in confirmation bias hell from the get go. And casual observers, like Ms. Carpenter, hear what they hear.
Ed Sheeran probably did the right thing heading this off before he had a third simultaneous infringement suit going.