Two years ago, when English singer-songwriter Dua Lipa released Levitating from her upcoming album Future Nostalgia (2020), she could never have imagined the trouble it would cause. Nor did she likely expect the global success it ended up being. In the United States, the song reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. But this did not overshadow the negative side. First, she had to deal with homophobic and sexist remarks made by DaBaby, the rapper who guested on the single; and now, in less than a week, the song has been subject to two accusations of plagiarism.
The first band to target the British artist, aged 26, was Artikal Sound System, a reggae group from California. In their lawsuit, they claim that she could not have composed Levitating without inspiration of fragments from Live Your Life, a song released three years earlier. Both songs do indeed share similar chord progressions, typical of pop songs, albeit with a slight distinguishing variation at the end.
In the official video of Live Your Life, uploaded to YouTube by Nusoto Records, even the label jokes about the situation, via a pinned comment reading: “Dua Lipa, nothing hears that sound here! [sic]” with a link to another song from the label. The badly written comment could be interpreted as: “Dua Lipa, don’t listen to this!”
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, is seeking the profits that the artist and label Warner Music have earned from the song, plus compensation for damages. That said, according to data from Google Trends, the band from California had never been as popular as they are since they took the legal action.
This week was the turn of composers L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer, creators of Wiggle and a Giggle All Night (1979), performed by Cory Daye, as well as the song Don Diablo (1980), which was performed by Miguel Bose (the Spaniard is also listed as one of the composers). In their lawsuit, filed on March 4 in Manhattan, Brown and Linzer allege that Dua Lipa plagiarized the “signature melody” of the song. The plaintiffs argue that this part “is the most listened to and recognizable part, playing a key role in the song’s popularity.” “Because video creators frequently truncate the already brief snippets of sound on TikTok, the signature melody often comprises 50% or more of these viral videos,” the lawsuit continues.
Brown and Linzer’s attorneys argue that the artist, while seeking inspiration from vintage sounds for her album, “copied those of the plaintiff’s creation without attribution,” and using a pun in reference to the song title, hold that the composers “have levitated away plaintiff’s intellectual property.” It continues: “Plaintiffs bring suit so that defendants cannot wiggle out of their wilful infringement.” In this second lawsuit, among those named defendants are the rapper DaBaby, besides Dua Lipa and the label.
The creation of ‘Levitating’
It’s no secret that Dua Lipa found inspiration in retro sounds and disco music in combination with current styles to create her album Future Nostalgia – indeed, this mixture is referenced in the album title. The artist has admitted this in several interviews – hence the accusation of “willful infringement.” In 2018, when she began its development, the artist wanted to fill a gap on the radio, as she told People magazine in an interview, as well as experiment with music that is different from her output up to then. “I wanted to touch on memories that I had growing up listening to music that my parents loved, like Jamiroquai and Blondie and Prince – and recreate them for now. It’s a celebration of being able to be open and vulnerable and to dance and be happy. Dance-crying is very much a thing,” the singer explained at the time.
Levitating was the first song created for the album, and was written with the collaboration of three other people: Clarence Coffee Jr., Sarah Hudson and Stephen Kozmeniuk, who also contributed to many other songs from the record. For the star it was “very helpful” to have a song like Levitating, which was the starting point for her creative team to compose the rest of the album. “That song really helped me explain to everyone else – my team and the producers and people that I was working with – like, ‘Okay, this is it …’” Lipa told People. “I felt like it had both elements of the future and nostalgia in it. I just started basing everything off of it. It had to fit in that world and that was the song.”
And everything went smoothly. Future Nostalgia became one of the most listened to albums of that year, won the Grammy for best pop album, and Dua Lipa became the most listened to female artist in the world on Spotify, and fourth overall – behind The Weekend, who remain the first, followed by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber. The overwhelming success of Levitating prompted Lipa to record another version with DaBaby, one of the most popular rappers in the United States. In fact, this version of the song would end up becoming the most played, above the original.
But just a few months later, in the middle of a concert at Miami’s Rolling Loud festival on July 25, 2021, DaBaby made sexist and homophobic remarks that became a major embarrassment for Lipa, leading her fans to ask her to remove the collaboration. In an attempt to work up the crowd, the rapper said into the microphone: “If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases, that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone light up”. He also asked the women in the crowd to turn on their cellphone lights “if your pussy smells like water,” and added: “Fellas, if you’re not sucking dick in the parking lot put your cellphone light up.”
Lipa soon came out to apologize for the episode, via her Instagram account: “I’m surprised and horrified at DaBaby’s comments,” she wrote. “I really don’t recognize this as the person I worked with. I know my fans know where my heart lies and I stand 100% with the LGBTQ community. We need to come together to fight the stigma and ignorance around HIV/AIDS.” To date, the artist has not removed the song with the rapper and Levitating continues to accumulate headlines. It will now be up to the US justice system to decide whether they are good or bad.