MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
This summer, Lady Gaga has taken a little heat for her steamy single "Alejandro."
(Soundbite of song, "Alejandro")
LADY GAGA (Singer): (Singing) Don't call my name, Alejandro...
KELLY: Now, some critics say: Hang on, that sounds exactly like a dance hit from 16 years ago. Remember "Don't Turn Around" by Ace of Base?
(Soundbite of song, "Don't Turn Around")
ACE OF BASE (Band): (Singing) Don't turn around, cause you're going to see my heart breaking. Don't turn around...
KELLY: The fine line in pop music between homage and stealing. That's today's discussion from our Pop-Off Team, Maura Johnston and Jay Smooth.
Mr. JAY SMOOTH (Blogger, IllDoctrine.com): When I first heard "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga, I thought of "La Isla Bonita" by Madonna.
(Soundbite of song, "La Isla Bonita")
MADONNA (Singer): (Singing) And when the samba played, the sun would set so high ring through my ears and sting my eyes. Your Spanish lullaby...
Ms. MAURA JOHNSTON (Music Writer, IllDoctrine.com): And there was Shakira's "Whenever Wherever" from a couple of years ago. And definitely you can hear that in here, too.
(Soundbite of song, "Whenever Wherever")
SHAKIRA (Singer): (Singing) Whenever, wherever. We need to be together...
Mr. SMOOTH: You could also go with "Fernando" by ABBA.
(Soundbite of song, "Fernando")
ABBA (Band): (Singing) There was something in the air that night the stars were bright, Fernando...
MS. JOHNSTON: Every time I listen to it, I hear another influence.
Mr. SMOOTH: I mean a lot of people hear "Alejandro" and they think of the Ace of Base song from the '90s. But whenever I heard those Ace of Base songs, I felt like they were a carbon copy from a song from my childhood, "The Tide is High" by Blondie.
(Soundbite of song, "The Tide is High")
Ms. DEBORAH HARRY (Singer, Blondie): (Singing) The tide is high but I'm holding on. I'm gonna be your number one. I'm...
Mr. SMOOTH: But when "The Tide is High" came out, people who were older than me saw that as a carbon copy of the reggae songs that had preceded that. You know, you can trace that back to John Holt and the Paragons, 12 years before.
JOHN HOLT AND THE PARAGONS (Band): (Singing) I'm not the kind of man who gives up just like that. No...
Mr. SMOOTH: But when the Paragons came out, you know, many people could arguably see that as a Frankie Lymon song with a different beat underneath.
(Soundbite of song, "Diana)
Mr. FRANKIE LYMON (Singer): (Singing) Thrills I get when you hold me close. Oh, my darling you're the most. I love...
Mr. SMOOTH: All of that early reggae-ska rock steady was drawing heavily from American soul doo-wop traditions. And even beyond 20th century pop, you can go back through the history of Western music; some of the very first polyphonic compositions.
(Soundbite of a Gregorian chant)
Mr. SMOOTH: The organum and the motet were based on taking a pre-existing Gregorian chant and putting a new melody on top of it in a higher register. So that's hundreds of hundreds of years you see that going on.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. JOHNSTON: You know, I mean this could sound very fresh to people who were born far after Ace of Base's chart moment in the States waned. Which is, you know, a fair amount of people who do listen to Lady Gaga - like, they're younger; they might not know that "Don't Turn Around" and "The Sign" were really big over here.
Mr. SMOOTH: Right. But in that case, what is Lady Gaga's responsibility for letting them know? Is she culpable?
Ms. JOHNSTON: Does she have a responsibility to sort of lay out in the liner notes of all of her records, like: I listened to this and this, a sort of bibliography, as you might say.
Mr. SMOOTH: Right. But as far as whether that constitutes stealing, I'm not sure how to feel about that. Because I recall thinking that those Ace of Base songs were so derivative themselves, I feel like to accuse Lady Gaga of stealing from Ace of Base is like saying she's stealing money from Bernie Madoff, or something.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. SMOOTH: I'm not even sure - does that even count as stealing?
KELLY: That's Jay Smooth who blogs at IllDoctrine.com, and music writer Maura Johnston. And there's more from the Pop-Off Team at NPRMusic.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.