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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Got to say, even LeBron James cannot make as much as the movie Avatar. Around the world, people have spent more than $1 billion to see a human who defends the blue-skinned natives of a moon called Pandora. So thats one of two big hits were about to discuss. The other is the number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 right now: "Tik Tok," by Ke$ha.

NPRs Neda Ulaby and Zoe Chace say these two hits have something in common. They are both totally derivative.

NEDA ULABY: Okay, Zoe, when I saw Avatar, I was overwhelmed by how everything in the story has been in some other movie - every other movie.

(Soundbite of movie, Avatar)

Mr. STEPHEN LANG (Actor): (as Colonel Miles Quaritch) Youre not in Kansas anymore, youre on Pandora, ladies and gentleman.

ZOE CHACE: The Wizard of Oz, The Last of the Mohicans.

ULABY: You know, Pocahontas had the Tree of Life, just like Avatar."

CHACE: Right.

ULABY: And the movie is just the ultimate mash-up of colonialist fantasies that weve all seen, like The Last Samurai, Lawrence of Arabia.

CHACE: Outsider wants to be the natives...

(Soundbite of movie, Avatar)

Ms. ZOE SALDANA (Actor): (As Neytiri) To become (Na'vi spoken) hunter, you must choose your own (Na'vi spoken), and he must choose you.

(Soundbite of roar)

Mr. SAM WORTHINGTON (Actor): (as Jake Sully) When?

Ms. SALDANA: (as Neytiri) When you are ready.

CHASE: Outsider wants to save the natives.

ULABY: Outsider becomes king of the natives. Dances With Wolves...

(Soundbite of movie, Dances With Wolves)

Mr. KEVIN COSTNER (Actor): (as John Dunbar) Id never really known who John Dunbar was. Perhaps the name itself had no meaning. As I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was.

ULABY: So Zoe, do you suppose that James Cameron was purposefully trying to reference all of these movies when he made Avatar?

CHACE: One would hope so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHACE: Neda, theres this song at the top of the pop charts right now, and it's called Tik Tok, and its also incredibly derivative of basically every major theme thats ever run through pop music - ever.

(Soundbite of song, Tik Tok)

Ke$HA (Singer): (Singing) Dont stop, make it pop, DJ blow my speakers up, tonight...

CHACE: Tonight, I'm-a fight til we see the sunlight. The lyrics mean nothing, and the song is about nothing. And its not actually a very good song, in my opinion, but it sounds enough like a good song so that you cant quite tell the difference.

ULABY: You know, when you listen to that song, you cant help but notice how heavily produced it is.

CHACE: I know. The producers took her voice and just ran it through over and over and over, and the production process is kind of the same with Avatar. You know, its just laid on so thick, you cant help but think about how produced it is.

ULABY: Yeah.

Ke$ha: (Singing) You build me up, you break me down, my heart it pounds, yeah you got me...

ULABY: Whats the singers name again?

CHACE: Its Ke$ha and yes, that is spelled K to the E to the dollar sign, to the H to the A.

ULABY: She spells her name with a dollar sign?

CHACE: Yeah.

ULABY: When you channel and put together so many pop, cultural and hip-hop names but you dont have a real story to tell, you kind of got - nothing. Which is why Avatar is an unbelievably brilliant picture to look at, but the story just doesnt match the visuals in terms of the sophistication. And, you know, if it did, it would be Best Picture.

CHASE: And thats exactly what you hope for in a situation like this with a movie like Avatar that has so much behind it, or in Tik Tok, which everybody is listening to, is that some genius producers created this montage of tropes next to each other like a bunch of movie scripts in a blender to make a larger point. But if you're just employing a bunch of tired old tropes and you dont have a smart point to make about it, then youre just tired.

ULABY: You know, at least theyre provoking us and probably tons and tons of other people to have a conversation.

CHASE: Im Zoe Chace.

ULABY: Im Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, Tik Tok)

Ke$HA (Singer): (Singing) Dont stop, make it pop, DJ blow my speakers up, tonight...

INSKEEP: This is the montage of tropes we like to call MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

MADELEINE BRAND, host

And Im Madeleine Brand.

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