Legal representation for Arcade Fire has confirmed that the “Everything Now” hitmakers have filed a series of intellectual property and copyright lawsuits this week. In what could be a precedent-setting decision, the band has left it up to a judge to determine whether or not they invented the so-called Millennial Whoop.
“After careful and sometimes agonizing consideration,” says Jared Fleming, Arcade Fire’s longtime lawyer, “the band contends their signature ‘Wa-oh-wa-oh’ sequence has been plagiarized by several top acts, and therefore seeks fair and just compensation.” Arcade Fire claim that artists from Katy Perry to Fall Out Boy owe their success in part to their wrongful use of the euphoric snippet. Proof, they say, comes in the form of their 2004 hit “Wake Up,” which showcases the rousing sequence, which the band created in the summer of 2002 in a church in Montreal that served as their rehearsal studio. A video of the precise creative process has been submitted as evidence along with their legal actions.
Musician and product manager Patrick Metzger coined the phrase “Millennial Whoop” in a blog post in 2016. “I can tell you, upon reading Mr. Metzger’s canny analysis, the band felt quite vindicated,” says Fleming. “In fact, it motivated them to finally pursue the case and defend what is undoubtedly their intellectual property.” As both Metzer and the various suits filed by Arcade Fire argue, the Millennial Whoop musical sequence alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth, while the rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, starting either on the downbeat or on the upbeat. A singer typically belts these notes with an “Oh” phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern—precisely, the band claims, the trademark sound of “Wake Up,” which appears in nearly all their subsequent hit songs.
An abbreviated list of performers who have been served, and their contested songs, includes Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time,” Demi Lovato’s “Really Don’t Care,” Katy Perry’s “California Girls,” Fall Out Boy’s “She’s My Winona,” Twenty One Pilots’s “Ride,” CHVRCHES’s “The Mother We Share,” Chris Brown’s “Turn Up the Music,” Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” and Imagine Dragons’s “Monster.” All have been sent cease and desist letters. The band is considering adding a host of “soundalike” songs which they allege feature their Millennial Whoop which have been used in commercials for products, such as cars and online dating sites, specifically targeting the millennial demographic.
Earlier this year, Arcade Fire singer Win Butler tweeted a cryptic message that may or may not be related: “These people owe us their careers! Show us the receipts – and the royalties!” The tweet has since been deleted.
“The band has a high level of regard for these artists,” Fleming says. “They only wish that instead of being copycats, they would have honored their copyrights.” The band has filed a trademark application for their whoop and have also been in talks with Harmonix and MTV Games, the creators of Rock Band, to incorporate their sonic hallmark into the game’s first VR release, due October 2017.