On her last album, Taylor Swift was inspired by her birth year, 1989. But on her just-released, internet-breaking new single, “Look What You Made Me Do,” she’s partying like it’s 1991. Pop-savvy fans of a certain age may be surprised to see three names alongside Swift and Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff in the song’s credits: Richard Fairbrass, Fred Fairbrass, and Rob Manzoli.
Yes, the guys from Right Said Fred.
“Look What You Made Me Do” interpolates, albeit subtly, the verse of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” and now the trio’s catwalk-strutting ’90s dance hit has been, quite out of the blue, introduced to an entire new generation. And the trio’s singer, Richard Fairbrass, is as surprised as anyone else.
— Right Said Fred (@TheFreds) August 25, 2017
Yahoo caught up with the famously shirt-eschewing frontman over the phone from his home in England to discuss how it feels to be a new member of Swift’s squad, his thoughts on cases like the “Blurred Lines” lawsuit, and if he’ll ever hop onstage with Taylor when Right Said Fred release new music and tour the States in the coming months.
Yahoo Music: I think lots of people were surprised to see your names in the songwriting credits. The obvious first question is, how did this come about?
Richard Fairbrass: Well, they approached us a while ago, and they didn’t have any real details because they were, understandably, very nervous about stuff getting leaked on the internet and gossip going around and killing the moment for them. So they were quite cagey about what they were going to do. But basically, they said they’d like to work with the track, and we let them get on with it! We weren’t very paranoid about it, to be honest. And I completely understood their unwillingness to be open about it or when they were going to release it. So I didn’t hear the track until this morning! I heard it along with everybody else.
What did you think of the song?
Well, what I really liked, the first thing that got me, were the lyrics. I thought the lyrics were really interesting. Not fluffy, a little bit dark and cynical and angry. It seemed to me that she was drawing a line under her past: “That was the old me.” And there’s a thing in the song about how she’s “dead” and that kind of stuff. She’s obviously addressing things in the past that have bugged her, and it seems to be that the song is declaring her intent to move on. I like that it was not all “I want your body, baby” and all that nonsense.
That’s ironic, because I think a lot of people think of “I’m Too Sexy” being an “I want your body, baby” kind of song…
I know they do. That’s partly our fault. When you’re a kid, you don’t know what you’re doing. You have no clue about how what you do will be interpreted in 10 or 20 years’ time. If I’d known the consequence of taking my shirt off in that video, I would not have done it! It’s a bit like Jim Morrison, who did something even more extreme at a gig, and then was confronted with the expectation of doing it at every show!
Do you think “Look What You Made Me Do” will introduce Right Said Fred to new fans?
Yes, it’s good, because a song like “Sexy” — despite its sales — has been slammed by people who think that it’s not cool. That it’s not a “serious” song, so it can be easily dismissed. What Taylor has done is remind people that maybe there’s more content to it than they imagined. That’s what pleases me.
Artists interpolating other artists’ songs has become a hot topic. No one wants to end up in a “Blurred Lines”-style legal battle. Do you think Taylor gave you credit as a preventive measure, to make sure you wouldn’t sue?
I think so. I can’t read their minds. But they don’t know who we are, what we’re like, whether we’re litigious or gossipy. They have no idea what sort of people we are. So I think from their point of view, it would have been unusual for them not to have been a little bit cagey right from the beginning. The industry these days is — for all the wrong reasons, I think — far too paranoid. Like, I’m a big fan of [Fleetwood Mac’s] Peter Green, and I’ve got some old footage of him playing a ’60s club, and he’s playing blues riffs [that belong to another artist]. And he’s using them in his songs. That’s cross-fertilization. So I think the Robin Thicke thing was not a happy thing to happen at all. Musicians should feel relaxed with each other. Yes, if someone rips off an entire chorus, blatantly, then obviously you need to deal with it. But for the most part, musicians [should understand]. Like with the George Harrison “He’s So Fine” thing. He didn’t intentionally rip that off; it was just in his head. So I think people need to chill out a little bit.
That being said, the fact that Taylor gave you credit means you stand to make a lot of money from her song.
Yes. One of the things that has come across to me about Taylor is she’s a very nice person. Her and the people we have been speaking to have all been incredibly friendly and easy to deal with. She didn’t have to send us a big bunch of flowers with a note. She didn’t have to do that.
— Right Said Fred (@TheFreds) August 25, 2017
She actually did that?
Yeah, I’ve got the flowers in front of me; I’m looking at them right now. Massive bunch of flowers with a lovely note saying, “We’ll see you soon to celebrate. We love you.” It’s just nice! It’s nice when people are nice.
It’s interesting, because with some of these cases, it’s very obvious what part of the song was borrowed. With “Look What You Made Me Do” and “I’m Too Sexy,” it’s much more subtle. Can you explain, to us laypeople who aren’t musicians, exactly what she did with your song?
First of all, on the original version of “Sexy,” the verse is the bit that everybody sings, not the chorus. “I’m a model, you know what I mean” — that’s the chorus. The verse is the “I’m too sexy for my shirt” part. But people sing the verse as if it is the chorus. What Taylor has done is taken the rhythm and the meter of the verse and turned it into a chorus, but interpreting it in her own way. She didn’t sample it; it’s a complete rerecord, a reinterpretation. Essentially, it’s the rhythm of it. The minute I heard it, I could see what it was.
Given that this was a more subtle interpolation than some other cases out there, like, say, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” this is the million-dollar question, so to speak: Had Taylor not willingly given you songwriting credit, would you have taken legal action, or just let it go?
To be honest, life is short. Let’s fast-forward to what might have happened. OK, let’s say we don’t get a credit, and we get all arsey. We phone up our lawyer. Five-hundred quid down the pen, straightaway, because he’s going to fire a letter off. And then they get all bad-tempered and defensive, and they fire a letter off. It doesn’t do anybody any good. The only people that win in those cases, very often, are the lawyers. So if they hadn’t phoned us and just done it, we would have thought, “Well, that’s a bit cheeky,” but I think we would have just shrugged our shoulders and moved on.
Do you know how she and her team even came up with the idea to interpolate “I’m Too Sexy”?
I honestly don’t. But I hope we’ll get to meet [producer/co-writer] Jack [Antonoff] and Taylor and ask them. … I just hope we can hook up and have lunch or dinner with them or something.
I would love it if you guys could perform together — a “Look What You Made Me Do”/“I’m Too Sexy” mashup!
That would be great fun, absolutely. It would be beauty and the beast! [laughs]
If that happened, would you take your shirt off onstage?
It depends what’s shape I’m in. How many hamburgers I’ve eaten. I’ll let you know.