Lorde v. Kanye: Battle of the Boxes

Kanye West and Es Devlin
Photo courtesy of @esdevlin

Lorde Have Mercy

Kanye West is an easy target, and he’s the subject of some much-deserved criticism as of late. But don’t touch the man on the music front. Lorde recently took to Instagram to proclaim that Kanye and Kid Cudi (the Kids See Ghosts rap duo) lifted Lorde’s floating stage in the shape of a box, saying:

“I’m proud of the work I do and it’s flattering when other artists feel inspired by it, to the extent that they choose to try it on themselves. But don’t steal — not from women or anyone else — not in 2018 — or ever.”

Is it the Set Designer’s Fault?

After a twitter deep dive and some helpful updates from TMZ, it appears that esteemed set designer Es Devlin worked on Lorde’s Melodrama tour and according to Es Devlin’s own Instagram, Kanye and Es have been collaborating since 2005. Devlin designed Kanye’s much-lauded floating stage, in addition to many other tours. Devlin herself did not take kindly to the Kanye callout, posting a photo of a floating box she designed for the English National Opera in 2007, proving the idea was launched long before Lorde’s tour. Additionally, one could argue that the floating stage was actually popularized by Kanye, and any variation of that concept is in fact biting on Kanye’s box of tricks (pun intended).

An interview unearthed by The Spinoff indicates that Lorde might have been unaware of the box’s backstory, saying,

“It’s hard to come up with stuff that feels new, and with the tank it felt weird and interesting and quite specific to me. The two of us [Lorde and Es Devlin] just built it from the ground up, bouncing ideas back and forth.”

Perhaps Es should have educated her client on the previous incarnations of this idea? And if Lorde was going to use a public forum for this type of allegation, maybe she should have done a little more research on that box given that there are in fact many other examples of its use.

The Twitter universe also brought to my attention that Lorde is/was a huge fan of Kanye, often covering his songs on tour (see below). In fact, during a Pigeons and Planes interview, Lorde said:

“I look to Kanye for inspiration in a lot of things, and his ability to kind of reinvent and keep throwing curveballs with each record. He’s able to keep things interesting, and keep people following him, after what has been quite a lengthy career.”

Are Concert Ideas Copy or Inspiration?

Though Trask House, not Es Devlin, was behind the Kids See Ghosts box that appeared at Tyler the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw festival over the weekend in question, Trask House has this to say:

“Lorde wasn’t the first person to use a floating glass box, she won’t be the last. She doesn’t own it, her designer didn’t invent it.” He added: “Cubes and floating aren’t new to Kanye West, stage design or architecture. A quick google of floating glass box brings up many instances of suspended glass cubes.”

It’s an interesting point, and it’s one worth exploring. At what point does inspiration become a copy, and are ideas really proprietary? Let’s not forget that fantastic idea from Coldplay to make audience wristbands that light up to the beat of the music, which was ultimately used by Taylor Swift. When Coldplay got wind that the idea was picked up by team Swift in the form of “Swiftbands,” they said:

“It’s been amazing to watch her succeed. But it has meant we have had to update our wristbands, so we’re coming up with this new thing… We have to adapt them, make a mark too, otherwise we’re copying Taylor.”

And let’s not forget when Beyonce was accused of copying Lorella Cuccarini’s 2010 performance during the Billboard Music Awards.  There are endless examples of this, and the only way to answer it is to judge it on a case-by-case basis. In this case, Lorde is out of line (IMHO).

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