Sparking a bickerfest practically engineered to go viral, Kelis called out fellow R&B diva Beyoncé yesterday on Instagram, saying that Bey’s use of her 2003 smash-hit “Milkshake,” on the newly-dropped Beyonce album Renaissance is “not a collab, it’s theft.”
In her post, Kelis claimed to have only found out about Beyoncé’s use of her song from a July 25 post on IG fan page @kellistrends. “I heard about this the same way everyone else did,” the musician and chef wrote. “Nothing is ever as it seems, some of the people in this business have no soul or integrity and they have everyone fooled.”
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While a potential diva smackdown surely amplified attention to this story, the real target of Kelis’s ire is a much more usual suspect in a cases of infringement, uncredited borrowing, and lawyer-enabled musical theft, namely one Pharrell Williams. While Kelis said she was hurt that no one from Team Bey reached out to inform her they’d be repurposing her song, her longstanding complaint is with Williams.
In 2020, Kelis told the Guardian that she’d been “blatantly lied to and tricked” by Williams and his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo into signing contracts that kept her from earning off her first two albums. The pair also coproduced Kelis’s smash-hit “Milkshake,” and are the sole writers and producers credited on a song whose chorus Kelis wrote and performed, and whose suggestive title she told one newspaper “was just a word we came up with on a whim.”
Kelis called Williams “petty” in her recent IG post and said he does “this stuff all the time.” Four years ago, a judge ordered him and Robin Thicke to play Marvin Gaye’s estate nearly $5 million in copyright infringement fees, for their over-liberal use of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” in their otherwise tin-eared sexual consent song, “Blurred Lines.”
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Other artists sampled on Renaissance, like rapper Big Freedia and singer Robin S, expressed gratitude to Beyoncé for using their work. Robin S told a UK chat show that she didn’t mind not being contacted by Bey’s people prior to use of her 1993 house track, “Show Me Love,” saying “A singer knows her songs.”
But neither of these two tracks approaches the recognizability of the Kelis song in question, which is “Milkshake” and not her 1999 song “Get Along With You” as other outlets reported earlier.
“[‘Milkshake’] alone is one of the most licensed records of our generation,” Kelis said. “I am a creator, I’m an innovator, I have done more than left my mark on an era of music and style that will go down in history.” She’s also slick with a high-school biology dis, calling Chad Hugo “really an amoeba, he’s spineless, it’s a miracle he can keep his neck up.”
For their part, Team Pharell seems to be getting a fair amount of mileage from the word “interpolate,” a term for a recent edge-pushing, not-quite-plagiarism practice, endorsed by some music publishers, for using hit songs without sampling or paying the original artist’s royalties. An “interpolation” of “Milkshake” requires approval only by the credited songwriters, who may or may not have actually written the song. Apparently Kelis, who’s listed as its performer, doesn’t quite merit a “hey-whassup?” DM.
“I know what I own and what I don’t own,” Kelis said in her IG post. “I also know the lies that were told. I also know the things that were stolen. Publishing was stolen, people were swindled out of rights. It happens all the time, especially back then.”
Kelis wisely closed her statement with: “It’s not about me being mad about Beyoncé.”
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