Ariana Grande is the latest chart-topping recording artist charged with ripping off a visual artist in a music video.
Russian-American artist Vladimir Kush filed a lawsuit in a Nevada court accusing the pop star of plagiarizing two of his paintings in the video for her hit single “God Is a Woman.”
In two paintings from 1999 and 2000, The Candle and The Candle 2, both copyrighted by Kush, a giant candle burns in front of a cloudy blue sky, with a woman in silhouette standing in place of the wick.
At three points during Grande’s video, she dances inside the flame of a candle. Kush discovered the striking resemblance to his own work after encountering a PopSugar listicle examining the various visuals in the music video.
“This depiction of Ms. Grande is strikingly similar to Plaintiffs’ copyrighted Works,” contends the lawsuit, filed by Las Vegas entertainment attorney Mark Tratos. The suit notes that Kush was never approached about the possible use of his work in Grande’s production.
“While there are many ways to depict a woman dancing in the wick of a candle—even with a heavenly background—defendants clearly copied Mr. Kush’s expression of this idea,” the suit insists. “Specifically, defendants chose to use the same color palette, the same background of a cloudy sky, the same ring effect of the clouds around the flame, the same light beams radiating from the flame, and the same color candle, light fading to dark.”
The video also includes art historical allusions to Michelangelo’s famed fresco The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. (Grande wore a custom Vera Wang gown based on the Renaissance great’s The Last Judgement to last year’s Catholicism-themed Met Gala, and enacted an all-female version of Leonardo da Vinci‘s The Last Supper performing the song at the MTV Music Video Awards over the summer.)
Kush’s lawsuits names several defendants beyond Grande, including the music video’s director, Dave Meyers, and a California company, Freenjoy Inc. Both “were sued in 2018 by another well-known visual artist, Lina Iris Viktor, for copying her distinctive paintings and using them without permission in a music video,” the suit alleges.
That case, against Kendrick Lamar and SZA for their music video “All the Stars,” was settled late last year. In the current proceeding, Kush is seeking damages and calling on Grande to remove the video, which has over 200 million views on YouTube, from the internet.
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