How the Alleged Hannah Wants Plagiarism Scandal Became a Conversation About Gender
Was the whole thing blown out of proportion simply because the artist in question was a woman?
Last week, the blog Data Transmission premiered a pumping new EDM track by UK producer Hannah Wants called "Found The Ground." The song was up for only a few days when a Facebook video posted by DJ Patrick Nazemi started going viral. The video showed Nazemi comparing the track to a 2013 Boddika/Joy Orbison song, "Mercy (VIP)", and pointing out that the two songs had a nearly identical beat.
The scandal lit up electronic music Twitter, with multiple commenters accusing Hannah Wants of plagiarism. THUMP reported on the scandal too. Online vigilantes even changed her Wikipedia page to describe her as "a British DJ from Birmingham and former professional music thief."
On Monday, Wants responded to the social media firestorm with a statement on Facebook, writing that she was "inspired" by the Boddika/Orbison track, and that the similarities were intentional. This didn't get her very far in the court of social media opinion, though, where DJs, producers, and fans continued to drag her name through the mud, with one Facebook commenter writing, "If I opened up Ableton and gave it to my deaf grandmother with no explanation, she would no doubt create dance music that showed more innovation and creativity than what you have managed to 'produce.'"
Hannah Wants—born Hannah Alicia Smith in Birmingham, UK in 1986—is a former professional soccer player who spent more than ten years on England's national women's team. Her DJ career kicked off in 2010, when she played a gig at Es Paradis in Ibiza. Since then, she's achieved fame through a steady touring schedule as well as original releases. One of her biggest hits is "Rhymes" with Chris Lorenzo, which reached #13 on the UK charts in 2015.
Fans have revisited this song in the light of the accusations—Lorenzo has been known to ghostwrite many bassline house tracks, so some electronic music fans saw this incident as the final proof that Wants outsources her productions to uncredited musicians. Boddika responded to the situation by tweeting that he creates all his tracks himself, as an apparent dig at Wants over the ghostwriter claims.
Rapidly, what began as a plagiarism scandal turned into a debate about gender equality in electronic music. Jubilee, a Brooklyn-based DJ and producer, was one of many people who tweeted that the reaction to the scandal seemed overblown—and that people seemed to be especially eager to pass judgement on Hannah Wants because she is a woman.
Her tweets spread quickly, and many artists responded in agreement, including Laurel Halo, Nightwave, and The Black Madonna.
When THUMP reached out to Jubilee for comment, she explained her line of reasoning: "Every allegation is different if you are a man," the artist, whose real name is Jess Gentile, told THUMP in an email. "It's dance music, which is based on sampling; it's not that deep. Do you know how many songs are considered 'stolen tracks' if this is?"
Gentile also expressed her disappointment that conversations like these take up space that could be used to promote female producers. "We are tired," Gentile wrote. "This article being written right now could be about something good one of us are doing. Instead it's article #73633 about a stolen track most of us would have never payed attention to."
The situation wasn't helped by the trolling remarks of certain online commenters. In one particularly nasty instance, a user named @VariantWolfe wrote, "You've pushed back ALL the efforts of real female musicians in edm back to the stone age @hannah_wants." Then he issued another, pretty unspeakable Tweet that has since been deleted; you can read it in the mentions of Jubilee's tweets above, though an apology he subsequently issued paints an approximate picture: "I made a simile between her and false rape victims and I admit that was dumb and inappropriate and I'm sorry."
As the hours ticked on, the online debate grew into conversation among female DJs and producers about what constitutes plagiarism in dance music, which is based heavily on samples and remixes. Several people, for instance, brought up the countless uncredited female vocal samples that have riddled dance music's history.
Some male DJs agreed with the female artists' sentiments, pointing out that many house tracks from the last few years would look similar under scrutiny, while others piled on the derision over Wants' act of alleged appropriation.
The conversation is still swirling on Twitter, where voices from all over the electronic music map are weighing in. If this kerfuffle has proven anything, it's that what it means to "steal" a dance track is far from straightforward. As with many instances of appropriation in music, the ethics of the matter come down to perception—something that is itself subject to all sorts of cultural blindspots and biases.
Among the many female artists who chimed in, one argument seemed to recur the most: in a world where women aren't respected as equals, they're less likely than men to receive the benefit of the doubt. As The Black Madonna tweeted, "If it comes down to who or what we like as the deciding factor in whether using uncredited works are ok or not, then we have an issue."
Since Nazemi's video surfaced online, "Found The Ground"—which was supposed to be released by Rinse on the 16th and appear on her Fabriclive 89 mixtape—was taken down from Data Transmissions' Soundcloud, and everywhere else it was available online. Rinse did not respond to THUMP's request for comment, and the future of the song is still unclear. The comparison video has been taken down from Facebook, but for now, it's still available on Twitter. We have reached out to the teams of Hannah Wants, Joy Orbison, Boddika, and Patrick Nazemi for comment, and are still awaiting a response.
Correction: A previous version of this story spelled Patrick Nazemi's name incorrectly