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Earlier this year, Rina Sawayama released the single “This Hell” from her upcoming album Hold the Girl. The pop-country track opens with a prominent guitar riff that sounds similar to the melody of ABBA’s 1979 song “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).” In a new interview with the BBC, Sawayama said she noticed the similarity between the two songs while recording, and took action to change the melody before receiving “the blessing of ABBA,” allowing her to release the original version of the song.
In the interview, Sawayama said that she “freaked out” when she realized how much her song sounded like “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight).” “Then I contacted my publishers, and they freaked out, too,” she told the BBC. “They were like, ‘ABBA are absolutely going to say no to this, and you have to change it.’”
Sawayama reached out to Elton John, who sent her song to the band, along with a handwritten letter from the SAWAYAMA vocalist. “I love your music. I’m happy to split the publishing,” Sawayama’s note read. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean [for] this to happen.”
Just a few days after sending the letter, Sawayama received a response from ABBA’s Benny Andersson. “No problem,” the letter read. “Absolutely fine. All the best.”
ABBA have reputation for reluctance on matters related to copyright. In 2005, Madonna sent a member of her team to personally deliver a letter she wrote to the band, pleading them to let her sample “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” on her Confessions on a Dance Floor song “Hung Up.” While they ultimately agreed, few others have ever gotten away with sampling ABBA.
Sawayama’s upcoming album Hold the Girl is due out September 16 via Dirty Hit. In addition to “This Hell,” she’s also released the singles “Catch Me in the Air” and the title track. She’s also currently on tour, with dates in Europe and North America this fall.
Read Pitchfork’s Rising interview “Rina Sawayama on Her Wildly Eclectic and Disarmingly Personal Debut Album” from 2020.