By Maura Johnston, a Third Bridge Creative Contribor.
If 2022 at times feels like a rerun, current trends in pop music can shoulder some of the blame. Hits that call back to the past, like Latto’s “Big Energy” and David Guetta and Bebe Rexka’s “I’m Good (Blue),” bring to mind the sampling and interpolation heyday of late-‘90s heyday of Bad Boy Records, when new singles based on old songs like Herb Alpert’s “Rise” and Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” enjoyed chart success.
These samples can turn into big paydays for the writers and producers of the original hits—this interview with music executive Tami LaTrell breaks down where the money goes when samples and interpolations get involved. But how do they affect the awareness of the original songs among listeners who might not have been familiar with them before? Here, we look at four recent songs that turned catalog into gold (and platinum) with their interpolations and samples to get a sense of how the new impacts the old, as well as the variables that help determine these outcomes.
David Guetta/Bebe Rexha - “I’m Good (Blue)”
Officially released at the end of August after being premiered at the 2017 Ultra Music Festival, the David Guetta/Bebe Rexha collaboration “I’m Good (Blue)” interpolates the hook of Italian electro collective Eiffel 65’s earwormy 1998 cut “Blue (Da Ba Dee).” The new track from the French DJ and pop-radio fixture calls back to the 2010s in certain ways—the big-tent EDM flourishes, the lyrics squarely focused on partying—but its hook is unmistakably turn-of-the-millenium when spit-shined Eurodance made its way to American shores. It peaked at No. 14 on the Hot 100 in late November, while its source material reached No. 6 in January 2000.
The big-name “I’m Good” experienced its Chartmetric peak on Oct. 19, when its score hit 4,281. It shot up on the 100-point Spotify popularity measure almost immediately after its Aug. 25 release, going from 0 to 70 on Aug. 28 before peaking at 98 on Oct. 7 and staying in the 97-98 range through the rest of the month and into November. The song’s YouTube views grew at a rapid rate from its release until Sept. 23, then the rate of increase smoothed out a little bit; it’s currently at 12.85M views. On TikTok, its pace of new videos peaked on Oct, 3, when 8,600 new videos were added—like this clip of a puppy channeling the song's party-ready lyrics.
Since “I’m Good” came out, the 1998 DJ Ponte Ice Radio Edit of “Blue” has experienced a slight gain in popularity, peaking with a Chartmetric score of 157 a month after the release of the David Guetta/Bebe Rexha collaboration. (“Blue” is available in a few versions on streaming services—including a glitchy 2020 remix by the Australian DJ and producer Flume—but Eiffel 65 member Ponte’s radio edit is the canonical version that gets played on the radio.) As far as streaming-service gains, it’s done well on Spotify, where plays have increased 5.27% since mid-August; it’s also experienced a 14% gain in usage on TikTok, where Gabry Ponte himself corrected the record on what the song's seemingly nonsensical chorus was actually saying.
Jack Harlow - “First Class”
In April, the Louisville MC Jack Harlow released “First Class,” a slightly reflective boast on fame that pivots on a couple of elements borrowed from former Black Eyed Peas member Fergie’s pillowy 2007 smash “Glamorous.” Specifically, it pitched down and filtered the spelling out of the title word that opens the song and Fergie’s sigh about being stationed in “first class, up in the sky.” The original song hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in March 2007, while Harlow’s flip track debuted at No. 1 on the chart dated April 23. The two performed “First Class” together on the MTV Video Music Awards in late August.
“First Class” experienced a dramatic popularity spike immediately after its release, with its Chartmetric score going from zero to 5,985 during its first weekend in the wild. On April 29, the same day he received four Billboard Music Award nominations, the single experienced a stream increase of 10M. Its Shazam score had a similar outlying spike on May 13, one week after the release of his second album Come Home the Kids Miss You; that Monday, “First Class” returned to the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100, where it would stay for two weeks.
“Glamorous” had been experiencing surges in popularity this year before the release of “First Class,” with its Chartmetric score peaking at 127 on March 27. The interpolation of Fergie’s hit coincided with some major gains in Spotify streams, with its day-to-day increases reaching the 630,000 range on May 21; its Spotify popularity remained in the 90s through August. “Glamorous” also increased its velocity on TikTok; new posts featuring the song went from one to two a day in March to 300 a day during the chart spike of “First Class” in May. Earlier that month, it received the ultimate mark of retro popularity—a sped-up nightcore remix.
Yung Gravy - “Betty (Get Money)”
Rick Astley’s sparkling debut single “Never Gonna Give You Up” has been part of the online world’s fabric for 15 years thanks to the phenomenon of “Rickrolling” — offering up a link, usually with click-now context, that turns out to call up the song’s YouTube page. While it started as a joke, the song’s catchiness helped the gag stick, and the video topped the billion-view mark in July 2021. The prankster rapper Yung Gravy piggybacked on the joke with “Betty (Get Money),” which slows and filters Astley’s hit.
“Betty,” released in June, quickly became a hit on TikTok, with this video from a user asking her grandmother's opinion of the MC's looks (posted in July) racking up 13.3M views. It didn’t reach the chart peak of its sample source, which hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 in March 1988 and stayed there for two weeks; “Betty” peaked at No. 30 in late September. Yung Gravy’s much-talked-about VMAs appearance in August, which included a performance of “Betty” on the preshow and the unveiling of his relationship with the mother of influencer Addison Rae, did little to boost the velocity of “Betty,” although it did garner him some Page Six mentions.
The sustained popularity of Rickrolling means that Astley’s song is always experiencing gains in views on YouTube—in its original form and in videos like this one from the REACT channel, which captures various popular YouTubers like Justine and Jack Douglass being Rickrolled. The various versions of “Never Gonna Give You Up” (including radio edits and versions on greatest-hits comps) spiked in popularity on April 20, with the version on the 2008 greatest-hits comp The Very Best of Rick Astley hitting 234. In the months before the release of "Betty," "Never Gonna Give You Up" played a key role during a funeral scene on Apple TV+'s popular Ted Lasso, while The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon Rickrolled its audience in May and June. This summer’s Mixtape Tour, the New Kids on the Block-led package that featured Astley, as well as feisty hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa and R&B vocal group En Vogue, put the spotlight on “Never” as well—its curtain-call song was Astley’s hit, sung by the entire tour together.
"Never Gonna Give You Up" is enough of a well-known hit that Yung Gravy's usage of it seemed like the younger artist trying to surf a trend than an older artist getting the rub from a current hit.
Latto’s “Big Energy”
Originally released in September 2021, the Atlanta MC Latto’s playful “Big Energy” samples the post-punk act Tom Tom Club’s sun-drenched 1981 cut “Genius of Love”—a song that was also used as the bedrock for Mariah Carey’s 1995 carnival ride “Fantasy.” (Googling “Big Energy” summons this question to the top of its search results: “Is ‘Big Energy’ a remake?”) While Tom Tom Club’s members are included in the songwriting credits of the new song, Latto wrangled Mariah Carey (and the aphorism-dispensing producer DJ Khaled) for the remix, which came out on March 28 and cemented the status of “Big Energy” as an heir to “Fantasy.”
“Big Energy” peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in April, bolstered by the inclusion of Carey, while “Fantasy” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in late September 1995. The Chartmetric score for Latto’s track had peaked at 907 two weeks before the remix’s release; the remix came out and the original’s score bounced back to an April peak of 972, and it eventually peaked with a score of 1,151 on Sept. 14.
“Fantasy” in its various forms (both with and without the cameo from the late Wu-Tang Clan dynamo Ol’ Dirty Bastard) gained some momentum after the March release of the remix, although its Chartmetric score had been in the 60-75 range before that. During the week of May 30, it experienced a significant increase in Shazam queries (the Switched on Pop podcast broke it down on its May 31 episode, and it was the answer to Spotify's daily song-snippet game Heardle on June 4); it already had a fair amount of traction on streaming services thanks in part to its inclusion on playlists like Spotify’s Filtr US-curated "90s Smash Hits," which has more than 2M million followers, and Apple Music’s '90s Club Essentials.
The Sampling Effect
Borrowing from the past may help an up-and-coming artist gain traction among listeners who have an affection for old songs, and TV performances or officially released remixes that bring together the sampled and the sampler can signal a passing of the torch. The Guetta/Rexha's "Blue" and Harlow's "First Class" showed how interpolating songs that might have had a bit of retro popularity, whether on radio playlists or on streaming services, can give a slight boost to the originals, even among younger audiences. If the sample source, like “Never Gonna Give You Up,” is already hugely popular, the newer track might feel like it's a bit coattail-riding. The Latto/Mariah Carey example, meanwhile, shows how interpolation can result in the original artist getting involved—and, if that star happens to be at the level of Carey, using their star power to give the new song a chart boost. At the end of the day, it will largely depend upon whether or not listeners even realize there is an older source track that a newer track is sampling.