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I just want to preface this by stating I'm not sure if this would be better suited for the music stackexchange site, though I feel it's probably still appropriate here because my question mainly concerns identifying a term.

Question: Is there a term that describes the technique in which an artist repeats lyrics from their previous work in their other/future songs? I know you could technically say they're alluding to their past work, but I'm wondering if there's a more technical term for this.

Note that I'm looking for a term which is neutral in connotation as opposed to something which implies they're being lazy and recycling their lyrics. Also, just to clarify, this is less about an artist reusing the same ideas for the songs and more about them inserting subtle references to their older songs in their lyrics.


Examples:

1) One of Lana Del Rey's songs is titled "Young and Beautiful" (2013). The chorus begins with:

Will you still love me when I'm no longer young and beautiful?

A later song, "Old Money" (2014), has the following two lines:

Will you still love me when I shine? / From words but not from beauty


2) Another one from Lana Del Rey. Her 2011 song "Video Games" has the following line:

Heaven is a place on earth with you

One of her later songs, "Ultraviolence" (2014), has the following similar, albeit shorter, line:

Heaven is on earth


3) Eminem's song "Lose Yourself" (2002) repeats the following in the hook:

You better lose yourself in the music / The moment, you own it, you better never let it go

He says something remarkably similar in "Sing for the Moment" (2003):

That's why we seize the moment / Try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it

And in "The Monster" (2013)

Somebody once told me to seize the moment, and don't squander it


I can't really think of any more examples off the top of my head--these three are the first that come to mind. I'm sure there are lots more, though.

  • It is possible that this also has application to novelists who repeat characters, situations, and themes. – Cascabel Apr 8 '17 at 20:02
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    Another example: Joel Plaskett - Through and Through and Through: "I'm the Berlin Wall, I'm a communist / You're a wrecking ball in a summer dress"; You're Mine: "Every young band wants to build The Wall / but a reall rock record's like a wrecking ball" – wjandrea Apr 9 '17 at 3:11
  • Creativitilessness...the bane of modern music... – Brett Apr 9 '17 at 5:07
  • @wjandrea Nice! That certainly falls into this category. – AleksandrH Apr 9 '17 at 12:43
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    autoplagiarism? – Masked Man Apr 9 '17 at 14:21
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Depending on the context or connotation you have in mind, I would say that the artist is either

  • borrowing material from earlier work (or even work from other artists), assuming the connotation is that the common material was not intended to be an overt reference

or

  • referencing earlier work, if the connotation was that this act was intentional

One could also talk about the intentional use of common themes throughout the artist's works, or state that their work is thematically linked, in which case you would just state that they're returning to that theme or you could talk about theme re-use.

  • I would call it "self-referencing", but apparently that term has a very different formal definition. – wjandrea Apr 9 '17 at 2:42
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    As back-references the examples from the question seemed quite tenuous, so i agree that 'common themes' is a good description. You could also describe a songwriter's output as being 'thematically linked'. – Spagirl Apr 9 '17 at 10:44
  • @spagirl Interesting, I really like the description of the artist's work as "thematically-linked". I'll accept this answer--I think it comes closest to what I was looking for. I've edited Tasos' answer to include something about the artist's work being "thematically-linked". I also think you could describe these as "extended themes", so I added that to the revision as well. Thank you both! – AleksandrH Apr 9 '17 at 12:58
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I don't know a musical term but I've got a close one. See rehash, defined by Oxford dictionary as:

A reuse of old ideas or material without significant change or improvement.

Also look up basic words such as rewording.

  • That's pretty close, though I'm looking for something that doesn't have a "cheap" connotation (that is, implying that the author who rehashes the lyrics is being lazy). I'll edit my question to clarify this – AleksandrH Apr 8 '17 at 18:30
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To be honest, the phrases "Will you still love me...", "Heaven is ...", and "... the moment ..." are so common in spoken English that there is no rehashing of old lyrics going on with these artists.

For musical echoes of these phrases, look here:

The Shirelles had a big hit in 1960 "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." written by Carole King.

"Heaven Is" is a song released in 1993 by Def Leppard.

Then there's Tame Impala - "The Moment"

  • 1
    But to be fair, it's not just about "will you still love me", "heaven is ___", and "the moment". If you look at the lyrics in such a narrow view, then they're obviously ordinary phrases that many artists may have used at one point or another. In this case, though, they're very clear references to past songs. Also, the technique I'm referring to is not about multiple artists referencing the same lyrics but rather a single artist alluding to lyrics from their prior work. – AleksandrH Apr 8 '17 at 19:05
  • OP's quotes repeat other phrases/themes too. The first two Lana Del Rey quotes mention beauty, and the two Eminem lyrics talk about "owning the moment" and capturing it. – wjandrea Apr 9 '17 at 3:14
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The general term for texts which refer to other texts (either by the same or another author) is intertextuality.

Intertextuality is the shaping of a text's meaning by another text. Intertextual figures include: allusion, quotation, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody. Intertextuality is a literary device that creates an 'interrelationship between texts' and generates related understanding in separate works. These references are made to influence the reader and add layers of depth to a text, based on the readers' prior knowledge and understanding (...)

from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertextuality

2

I think the term might be "reprise".

Reprise can refer to a version of a song which is similar to, yet different from, the song on which it is based.[citation needed] One example could be "Time", the fourth song from Pink Floyd's 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, which contains a reprise of "Breathe", the second song of the same album.

Reprise refers to both an acting role and music. On music, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reprise, the source of the quotation above.

From the Macmillan Dictionary, defining reprise:

to perform a part or the whole of a work again

In the movie, she successfully reprises the role she played in the stage musical.

  • That's really close as well, though I wonder if it can be used in this context to refer to the repetition of just a few lyrics from one's previous work. From the links you referenced and what research I conducted on my own, it seems most reprises are a bit lengthier and are usually whole repetitions of several lines of a past song. Interesting! – AleksandrH Apr 9 '17 at 0:37
  • A reprise connotes something different, at least in popular music. It's a return to an old theme later in the same album -- which could be a repetition of part of a line, but it's usually a repetition of a melody or a whole stanza, or most often, a modified version of the whole song. – wjandrea Apr 9 '17 at 2:32
  • The "return to theme" within a musical work is a basic use of reprise; my impression, and it's only that, of course, is that the word is being used more and more loosely or flexibly in both music, literature, and acting roles. You'd have to follow up a lot of NGram hits to confirm this impression. – Xanne Apr 9 '17 at 2:43
  • It actually has become a more popular term over time, though the trend has died off a bit after 2000 – AleksandrH Apr 9 '17 at 12:36
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I would consider it to be a case of quotation. Wikipedia has an article titled "musical quotation". However the Oxford dictionary states that the repetition has to be done "by someone other than the original author or speaker".

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Though unconventional (and perhaps a tad archaic) in this particular scenario, I think an argument could be made for leitmotif. The word is more about a melody than lyrics, which is why I would argue on its behalf and not consider it a definite answer.

From Merriam-Webster,

  1. an associated melodic phrase or figure that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person, or situation especially in a Wagnerian music drama
  2. a dominant recurring theme

See also Wikipedia's article on the phrase.


On a related noted, Portugal. The Man (for those unfamiliar, the period is part of the band name) uses the sort of technique you describe a fair amount, taking verbatim parts from one song they write and interjecting them into another. An example from their latest album Evil Friends (2013) is this lyric shared by "Creep in a T-Shirt" and "Evil Friends."

It's not because the light here is brighter

And it's not that I'm evil, I just don't like to pretend

That I could ever be your friend

Lyrics to Creep in a T-Shirt and Evil Friends.

  • There's also riff. A riff on your own music/lyrics. – Xanne Apr 17 '17 at 6:24

protected by tchrist Apr 10 '17 at 12:32

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